Workplace mentoring happens when experienced employees share skills, knowledge and support with newer recruits. It’s an informal system that, unlike training and testing programs, permits wisdom to be imparted through social interaction, friendship and observation. Everyone benefits from successful workplace mentoring. The mentor, the mentee and the company culture as a whole usually are better for it.
Focus on the Mentee
Although mentoring in the workplace can be informal, it’s best to make sure that the teacher matches the student. It would be a waste to have a master auto mechanic imparting wisdom to an aspiring PR director, for example. Though this is an extreme example, the point is that mentoring in the workplace should be productive and goal-oriented. The best way for this to happen is to focus on the student. The needs of the mentee, whether they are technical, social or political, should always be the focus of successful workplace mentoring. Whether your approach is formal or informal, appointing mentors based on what less experienced workers need is the key to running a successful workplace mentoring program.
Pick the Right Mentor
Mentors should always be chosen carefully. First of all, it’s important they have an understanding and commitment to the company. Otherwise, the mentor might be able to teach all the right skills, but without any consideration for the broader needs of the organization. This is prone to happen, for example, with mentors that do freelance work or who are not fully committed to one place of work. The mentor also needs to have the ability and willingness to work with a student. All the technical ability in the world doesn't make a good mentor, and very often the best thing a mentor teaches anyway is a general outlook. Effective mentors need compassion, patience and a desire to help others learn and grow.
Promote From Within
Mentoring fills many functions in the workplace. It can help to promote technical understanding, teach leadership and create an atmosphere of camaraderie. However, there is one functional goal that should always be kept in mind with workplace mentoring -- to help management find potential stars. In that way, mentoring can help you promote from within. Employees moving up through the ranks by way of mentorship often develop a special, loyal relationship with their colleagues and their jobs.
Although it's easy to look at the mentoring relationship as one in which a superior guides and directs a lower-level worker, it's best to avoid this dynamic. A mentor is very different from a boss, even though the boss can be the mentor. Mentorship truly thrives when it’s removed from normal workplace politics and relationships. The mentor might know best, but giving her authority over her mentee is sure to stunt the relationship. Striving to make mentorship a mutually beneficial relationship among equals will remove the motivation to impress, to earn points, or to hide failures, setbacks and areas that need improvement. This approach will ensure that the mentorship will succeed.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."