Mentoring opportunities are all around us.
One of our most natural human cognitions is to learn from others. This is known in the psychology literature as Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1972). We’ve all experienced learning through observing another person’s actions, or by acting on their advice. We might be less aware of the people who are currently learning from us right now!
Mentoring offers the chance to fine-tune this natural capability and learn through our relationships and interactions with others.
Building high-impact mentoring relationships brings a number of benefits at an individual, group and organisational level. These include:
Traditionally, mentoring was defined as a relationship between an older, more experienced mentor and a younger less experienced protégé to support career development (Noe, Greenberger & Wang, 2002).
Today, mentoring is no longer limited by a ‘top down’ approach. We frequently see effective peer-to-peer mentoring of new joiners, mentoring across functions and even mentoring across industries.
More recently, we’ve also seen a rise in reverse mentoring, where younger mentors share experience, advice and guidance to senior mentees in areas like technology and social media.
Bringing different generations and different industries together to share experiences and ideas often brings new thinking for both sides. Mentoring is therefore a great way to promote creative abrasion within organisations and capitalise on workplace diversity.
Promotes equality and diversity
Mentoring encourages us to be open to the benefits of seeing the world from different perspectives. It increases knowledge and understanding of the different experiences and viewpoints of others, which includes under-represented groups. As well as the different challenges minority groups face.
According to recent psychological research (Eby et al., 2013), the most effective mentoring relationships occur when there are deep-level similarities between mentor and mentee, such as having comparable values, beliefs and motivations. Surface-level similarities are shown to have little difference on the effectiveness of the relationship. This supports the use of mentoring to promote social change, where mentors and mentees who are different in terms of, for example, race and/or gender can be matched based on deep-level commonalities, encouraging the development of strong relationships across different employee groups.
Develops a supportive workplace culture
Psychological research has found that mentoring relationships promote the display of Organisational Citizenship Behaviours (OCBs) by mentees, directed towards other individuals (Eby et al., 2015). In other words, people who have a positive mentoring experience are consequently more likely to act in a positive way towards their colleagues, encouraging the growth of a supportive working culture.
Supports succession planning
Mentoring helps organisations identify and develop talent, and build strong teams across the organisation. By creating an open dialogue about performance and potential, it helps to increase understanding of existing skills available within the organisation, as well as any gaps that should be filled.
Increases job satisfaction
We experience significant personal satisfaction through helping others achieve more and watching them grow. What’s more, being a mentor and a mentee is not mutually exclusive. We can learn a lot from both roles in the mentoring relationship.
High-Impact Mentoring – facilitating the relationship
At ChangingPoint we work with organisations across a variety of industry sectors to open people’s minds to the positive impact they can have on others through mentoring.
We often include mentoring within our broader work on manager and leadership development, where we build skills to support strong mentoring relationships such as active listening, questioning and giving feedback.
We also encourage individuals undergoing any of our development programmes to engage a mentor within their organisation who can help them explore ways to apply their learning within the working context. We urge participants to consider ways in which they can mentor each other throughout the programme and beyond to keep their learning alive.
One of the key benefits we hope to achieve for individuals as a result of effective mentoring is increased self-awareness and confidence – both of which are essential foundations to continued personal development. For organisations, we hope to create as a more collaborative working culture with effective knowledge sharing.
A defined approach to high-impact mentoring
We use ChangingPoint’s Cycle of Behavioural Change to support individuals and organisations in the development of high-impact mentoring relationships.
1. Increase awareness (Awareness)
At an organisational level, the first step to setting up a successful mentoring scheme is to analyse and assess the specific need, and what you hope the scheme will achieve. Having a clear awareness of these objectives will help to ensure the right mentor-mentee pairings (whether formally matched or organically created) are developed. For example, where mentoring is included as part of a leadership development programme, we would recommend delegates engage a leadership mentor outside of their direct business area, in order to focus the relationship on developing leadership expertise versus perfecting technical capability.
Ensuring there is an awareness of and alignment towards mentoring scheme goals also allows an organisation to clearly define the measures that should be regularly assessed to evaluate the scheme’s success.
To help increase awareness of the need for and benefits of mentoring, it’s essential to engage a senior sponsor of the scheme. Having a visible champion lets employees know that the business is taking mentoring seriously. As a result, people will feel comfortable dedicating time and attention to their mentoring relationships.
At an individual level, it’s important to support the mentor and mentee in building their awareness of each other – personally and professionally. We would recommend kick-starting any mentoring scheme with a networking event. Pairings can take part in different relationship-building exercises to increase knowledge of their backgrounds, expertise, and experiences, and build an understanding of the characteristics of effective mentoring partnerships, such as open communication, mutual commitment, and respect. This also builds an awareness of the other mentors and mentees taking part in the scheme, offering individuals a much broader support network to draw on.
Both mentors and mentees must ensure that they are clear about individual hopes and aims to be achieved from the mentoring relationship, as one of the key reasons a mentoring relationship can fail is a misunderstanding of expectations.
In relationships such as mentoring, we form what is known as a psychological contract – which is our perceptions of mutual obligations towards each other. A broken psychological contract can be damaging for both the mentor and the mentee. Therefore it’s important that the mentee considers and communicates what they hope to get out of the relationship, and sets some objectives up front with their mentor. While mentoring conversations can be informal, the overall arrangement should be treated with formality and professionalism.
2. Encourage new thinking (Discovery)
A high-impact mentoring relationship requires new thinking from both the mentor and the mentee.
For the mentor, this might include formal training and support to equip them with essential mentoring skills such as active listening, questioning, giving feedback, and handling difficult conversations.
During such sessions a common question that’s often raised is: “what’s the difference between mentoring and coaching?” We define mentoring as high direction – your thinking. We define coaching as low direction – their thinking.
The role of the mentor is to help the mentee fill in the gaps by sharing knowledge and guiding their thinking. The role of a coach is to facilitate thinking – helping the coachee to come up with their own solutions using open questions. The mentor must have experience that’s relevant to the mentee’s situation – whether that’s technical experience, management / leadership experience or life experience.
The two terms are often confused. We hear managers and leaders describe their behaviour as coaching when they’re actually mentoring – it’s really hard to ‘coach’ in its purest sense and not jump in with answers! What’s common to both is the need for a strong trust relationship. Depending on the person you’re working with and the situation you’re discussing, there may be a need to use a combination of mentoring and coaching to reach the best outcome.
Developing these key skills gives mentors the confidence to constructively challenge their mentee’s thinking so that they really push themselves outside of their comfort zones.
3. Apply new ideas (Application)
To support in the on-going application of new ideas, it is important that the mentor and mentee maintain a regular frequency of contact.
Psychological research has found greater interaction frequency to relate to reported mentee satisfaction and sense of affiliation – which could have a significant positive impact for minority group members within organisatons (Eby et al., 2013).
Best practice literature suggests an initial frequency of twice a month for the first few months; reduced to monthly contact once the relationship is established (Eby et al., 2013; Giancola, Heaney, Metzger, & Whitman, 2016).
In addition, it’s important that the mentor also acts as a positive role model for the mentee, demonstrating his or her own appetite for personal growth. Great mentors inspire their mentees to act on the advice they give – this is when we see real positive change happen.
4. Embed new behaviours (Follow Through)
A commonly reported challenge in mentoring schemes is maintaining momentum. This can in part be overcome by giving initial contracting the time and attention it requires, so that both parties feel motivated and energised to keep the relationship going. In addition, continued communications from the senior sponsor and mentoring team – highlighting success stories and offering mentoring tip tips – will help to keep the scheme alive and individuals engaged.
We would also recommend running regular networking events to promote the positive impact the mentoring scheme is having on people across the organisation. This is also a great way to provide recognition to the commitment that mentors and mentees have given. It might also be appropriate to invite the next cohort of mentors and mentees so they hear the real-life experiences of those already benefitting from these relationships.
The extent to which new behaviours have been embedded can be evaluated by adopting an action-research model. This involves comparing pre and post survey data, and gathering quantitative and qualitative feedback on areas such as meeting frequency, progress, outcomes, and overall satisfaction. This is an essential stage in the process as it offers valuable insights for continuous improvement, whilst providing evidence of the value the overall scheme brings.
And finally, the duration of the mentoring relationship will be aligned to the specific aims and objectives agreed by the pairing. Some relationships may be focused on developing fresh thinking in relation to a specific event – for example returning to work after maternity leave. Others may have broader scope to influence behaviours over a prolonged period. In both instances, the mentor should seek to stretch their mentee further and further outside of their comfort zone, continuing around the change cycle until the desired new behaviours are embedded.
Bandura. A (1972). Parke, R.D., ed. Recent trends in social learning theory. New York: Academic Press, Inc.
Eby, L.T., Butts, M.M., Hoffman, B.J. & Sauer, J.B. (2015). Cross-Lagged Relations Between Mentoring Received From Supervisors and Employee OCBs: Disentangling Causal Direction and Identifying Boundary Conditions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100 (4), 1275 – 1285.
Giancola, J. K., Heaney, M. S., Metzger, A. J., & Whitman, B. (2016, July 21). An Organizational-Development Approach to Implementing Mentoring Partnerships: Best Practices from Physician Programs. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. Advance online publication.
Noe, R. A., Greenberger, D. B., & Wang, S. (2002). Mentoring: What we know and where we might go. Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, 21, 129–173.
Written by Jayne Ruff
Jayne Ruff, Occupational Psychologist & Managing Director at Changing Point. To find out more about how Changing Point can help you align minds to transform your business, get in touch.
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