Technology has taken a world of about 7.4 billion and made it feel, well … small. Consider the ways in which we now recruit candidates. We’re no longer limited by geography. Thanks to the Internet, which paved the way for social networking sites like LinkedIn, talent can be found in all parts of the globe. And thanks to mobility solutions, that talent can work from wherever they live in the world, driving corporate strategy as if they were sitting in headquarters.
Technology has changed everything, from how we communicate and learn, to how we network and collaborate. Part of that change includes how we mentor and develop employees.
Those of us who came up in the pre- or mid-digital era have likely experienced some form of traditional workplace mentoring. This is when a mentor (usually a company leader with many years of professional experience) is assigned an employee within the organization (usually early career) almost always based on just one factor: proximity. A series of face-to-face meetings follow, where the mentor gives advice and offers guidance that accelerates the mentee’s career (that’s the promise, though rarely did it happen). Like many programs designed to grow and develop employees, it was a good idea founded on the best intentions, but fell short because the model was flawed.
At a point in my career, I took part in my company’s mentoring program. I had lofty goals with very clear objectives. I had a strong interest in product management and sales, and saw myself growing in these areas. I was based in New York at the time. Who did HR assign to be my mentor? He was based in Frankfurt, which left no way for us to connect personally or build a relationship beyond the telephone (remember, this is pre-digital). He was also a practicing engineer, which didn’t align at all with my business interests. We were “matched” without any input from me about what my goals were for the program, and I assume not much more input from my mentor. We were brought together simply because he was a senior employee and I was a junior employee. Needless to say, after the second phone call, the relationship fizzled. This is what I call “no-impact mentoring.”
The New Landscape of Mentoring
According to a recent survey, millennials (now the largest gen in today’s workforce) view mentoring as the most desired and effective type of professional training. Further, that same survey also indicates millennials don’t think companies are doing a good job delivering it.
This data was validated by a 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, which reported that 63% of millennials say their leadership skills are not being fully developed. It also found that those intending to stay with their company for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68%), than not (32%). By not making the proper investments in our employees today, we risk losing them tomorrow. (And for the record, companies that do offer formal growth or development programs like mentoring report a 48% increase in organizational strength, a 22% increase in bottom line profitability and a 53% increase in productivity. These are numbers we can’t ignore. Here’s a list of companies doing mentoring right.)
To this end, it’s incumbent on companies to design creative and effective mentoring programs, and then deliver these in ways employees want to receive them. Remember: today’s early career employees will one day run our companies, whether they’re prepared or not. I’d like to pass along the talent, the knowledge, and the wisdom they need to lead successfully, as I’m sure you agree.
Mentoring Takes a Cue from Online Dating
The way I see it there are three factors that must be met to create a successful mentorship:
Compatible career paths
Relatable skills and competencies
In the post-digital era, delivering all three has never been easier.
Enter Online Mentoring, which works similarly to dating apps like Tinder. Mentors fill out a profile that includes their bio and hobbies. Mentees complete a similar profile that details career interests, skills they want to develop, learning goals, and hobbies. Based on the info provided, mentees receive a list of compatible mentors from which to choose (generally 1-3 levels higher than he/she is). A connection is then made within the web interface or app, and a mentorship relationship is born. The mentor and mentee can decide together, with guidance from HR, how to grow and evolve the relationship in ways that are mutually beneficial.
One of the more successful, pre-digital mentoring experiences I had was when I mentored a small group of female employees. While I led each of our in-person meetings, I encouraged the mentees to create the course content and action items with me week after week, which was fantastic because conversations started easily, everyone actively participated, and I was able to focus on areas relevant to them. To me, this is what makes mentoring successful. Technology has simply enabled us to make establishing and maintaining these connections easier, while also personalizing the experience for employees.
The use of tech in mentor matching is a natural evolution for companies looking to retain talent and bring antiquated learning programs into the modern world. (P.S.: Always-on learning tech also happens to be one trend to watch in 2017). Further, by allowing employees a direct hand in creating and customizing their mentoring experiences, we can connect them to like-minded peers and leaders, essentially to the right mentors, that set them on a path to achieve their goals. (A pioneer in this space, Intel introduced an online mentoring website in 2001 and rolled it out across the company in 2003.) As with any learning and development program, mentor training is essential and the program must be regularly managed, measured, and adjusted, as needed, by HR.
What I love most about learning and development programs is the cross-functional partnership it takes to bring each to life: Marketing, IT, HR and every area of the business must commit to and be invested in its success for it to achieve the right outcomes. This is another fine example of technology and business intersecting to enable and empower employees to build meaningful relationships that flourish organically, strengthen the corporate culture, and drive revenue. That’s the winning trifecta.
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