“Companies with formal, longstanding mentoring programs claim tangible increases in productivity and efficiency”, states David Clutterbuck in his book Everyone Needs A Mentor. Clutterbuck’s definition of mentoring stem from the origins of a “master / apprentice” relationship where more experienced individuals pass their knowledge and wisdom to learners.
When evaluating Clutterbuck’s claim, there are many questions that arise. For example, “how formal and longstanding does a mentoring program need to be to deliver results?”. Or, “how can a company make direct correlation between tangible increases in productivity and efficiency, and a mentoring program?” These might seem to be somewhat cynical challenges, but they lie at the heart of a legitimate evaluation of such mentoring programs. This evaluation is necessary to test any parochial opinions that mentoring is good, bad, or indifferent.
A case study
A telecommunications company introduced a mentoring program for its first line managers in the early 2000’s, with mixed success. After the program had been running for a while, participants were surveyed for their assessment of how it was going. The major areas of feedback were:
- Introduce mentoring schemes with clear guidance, training, and support
- If the organizational context is unstable, be very critical as to whether mentoring is the right development discipline to maintain at that time
- Provide structure around the matching of mentors and mentees
- Encourage regular evaluation of mentoring relationships – if they aren’t working or producing the anticipated results, seek support to fix the relationship or move on to something different
What is interesting about this case study, is that the organization had gone through a time of intense change, numerous acquisitions, and strategic realignment. The organization was trying to establish a progressive culture and build a pipeline of leaders who would secure future growth and maturity of the organization. Fons Trompenaars says in his book Riding the Waves of Culture that, “understanding our own culture and our own assumptions and expectations about how people ‘should’ think and act is the basis for success”. His assessment suggests that developing the culture of an organization is directly linked to its success. Mentoring employees in assumptions and expectations as a means of facilitating this is one of many legitimate initiatives.
So, it can be argued that mentoring is a key element in developing organization culture, a strong leadership bench, and a continuity of expectations. Indeed, without existing leaders adopting a mentoring approach, the growth of the leadership pipeline could be stunted. There is often a valid discussion about the difference between coaching and mentoring, but both these leadership approaches involve interventions that develop someone who is benefiting from the relationship.
Ralph Stacey, in his book Strategic Management & Organizational Dynamics considers “ordinary management”, the same process as single-loop learning, as leading to more efficient performance of current primary tasks. “Extraordinary management”, the same process as complex double-loop learning, is where people change their shared mental models that drive ordinary management. With “extraordinary” management, leaders need to develop skills of using feedback to develop new paradigms, encourage self-organizing networks, build value propositions, and break free of existing boundaries to innovate and transform the business. It is in these areas that mentoring adds value as a powerful development tool in the hands of leaders.
A good mentoring program
In Everyone Needs A Mentor David Clutterbuck is very clear in stating that participants knowing what they want out of mentoring is critical to getting what they want. This lies at the core of establishing mentoring relationships that will add value. Selecting or choosing good mentors is also critical in extracting value from the relationship. Clutterbuck suggests 10 mentor competencies:
Self-awareness (understanding self), Communicating, Sense of proportion / humor, Interest in developing others, Goal clarity, Behavioral awareness (understanding others), Conceptualizing, Business / professional savvy, Committed to own learning, Relationship management.
This list of mentor competencies is helpful in two ways: first in choosing suitable mentors, and second in evaluating self-suitability to be a mentor. Organizations need to be cognizant of these elements when designing a mentoring program.
While there is are opinions that leaders and organizations grow organically, without an overlay of formal processes, there are many examples that support the notion of structured, targeted, and intentional interventions having a major impact in the pace and trajectory of growth and development. This is also the case for mentoring. Informal and self-directed mentoring relationships are very creditable, and undoubtedly add value. But structured mentoring programs have a very valid place in an overall talent development strategy, especially if they are integrated into enterprise programs as a targeted development intervention to grow leaders aligned to the organization’s culture and expectations.
David Clutterbuck, Everyone Needs A Mentor – Fostering Talent At Work Third Edition, (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2001)
Fons Trompenaars, Riding the Waves of Culture – Understanding cultural diversity in business, (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 1993)
Ralph Stacey, Strategic Management & Organizational Dynamics Second Edition, (Financial Times Pitman Publishing, 1996)