Sharing the wealth of knowledge

Organizations that prefer employee retention to employee recruitment, that want to strengthen from within and encourage leadership should promote employee mentoring.

Mentoring is an excellent way to assimilate new employees into the organization, and to help current employees quickly become more productive in new positions. It also provides many opportunities to improve communications and other interpersonal skills for employees of all experience levels. Mentoring also promotes continuity and helps ensure that specialized knowledge and organizational values remain after individuals leave for retirement or other opportunities.

Mentoring can also help prevent employee isolation that can lead to dissatisfaction and turnover. Having a confidante or adviser was the biggest benefit cited by professionals who have been mentored, according to a 2006 survey by Accountemps, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing service for accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals.

Smart Business spoke with Chuck Cave, vice president of Accountemps’ Cleveland Region, about the benefits of mentoring and how readers can take advantage of it for their own careers and organizations.

What are some of the benefits of mentoring?
Mentoring is an excellent way to transfer knowledge and foster development within an organization. For example, many companies and departments develop best practices, and mentoring is a way to help best practices get firmly established and grow throughout the company.

A mentoring relationship also helps establish important contacts in the industry and to develop an insider’s view of the business. Professionals whose contacts are primarily other people within their own department don’t always develop a full perspective.

Are there benefits to being a mentor?
Most mentors get significant personal satisfaction from the experience. It is quite an honor to be selected as a mentor, which is recognition that you’re highly respected.

Mentoring also provides opportunities to enhance your interpersonal ability, such as communication, teamwork and diplomacy.

It’s important to realize that a mentor isn’t always a long-time or experienced employee who is working with someone new. There shouldn’t be any prerequisite for years of experience. The mentor and ‘mentee’ can be the same age or in the same peer group and may have the same overall experience. The key is having a mentor who can help someone who may be new to the company, the industry or the specific position.

In fact, a person can be a mentor and mentee at the same time. A mentor doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same company. Many industries and professions have networking groups, which provide great opportunities to find a mentor.

How can companies establish a good mentoring program?
Mentoring can be formal or informal, for a set period or project or somewhat open-ended. Mentoring programs are not just for large organizations — there is value to mentoring regardless of the size of the company or the industry it’s in.

Formal programs that facilitate knowledge transfer are extremely valuable to the organization as a whole. The more successful programs tend to formalize goals and put program parameters in writing.

What are the potential pitfalls?
The foundation for the success of any mentoring program is trust. Employees have to trust their mentor and feel comfortable discussing their frustrations and asking advice for delicate situations, such as how to handle an office politics situation. There has to be absolute trust that the conversations will be kept confidential, so confidentiality safeguards should be built into mentoring programs. Mentoring should never be set up where the mentor is in a supervisory position over the mentee.

Can mentors go too far?
There’s a very fine line between mentoring and managing. Mentors have to remember that they are not the employee’s supervisor. The mentor’s efforts need to be focused on providing support and guidance, versus micromanaging the person’s career or day-to-day activity. That can be a real challenge for many managers who make the transition to mentors.

What should someone who’s being mentored do to make it a productive experience?
A person should be prepared with questions to get the relationship with their mentor off to a good start. It can be a challenge to discuss a new job, company or industry, so there should be some preparation.

Of course, people can get more out of it by putting more into it. A formal company program isn’t necessary. Ultimately, people have to take responsibility for their careers, which could mean reaching out to people and asking them to be mentors.

CHUCK CAVE is vice president of the Cleveland Region for Accountemps, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. Accountemps is a division of Robert Half International (RHI). For more information visit or reach Cave at [email protected].