Mentor for success Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2008

How to build a mentoring culture in your company

Most on-the-job training happens outside of a structured classroom environment. That’s why mentoring plays a crucial role in preparing your staff to excel at their job responsibilities and grooming your company’s future leaders.

“Over the last five to 10 years, there’s been a significant increase in the commitment by employers to employee engagement,” says Brian Lamb, business banking executive with Fifth Third Bank Tampa Bay and director of Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. “Unless you really support a culture of developing your employees, you’re not developing them to their full potential and most likely will lose them to competition that does.”

Smart Business spoke with Lamb on the importance of building an effective mentoring culture in your company.

What are the different ways that mentoring can take place at a company?

Mentoring typically falls into two main categories: formal or informal. The first occurs when employees go through a company-structured mentoring program that focuses on exposing top talent to different parts of the organization for professional development. This could happen because the leadership team has identified key employees that they want to develop for the next stage of their professional career or this formal system could train employees for new functional areas. For example, someone in the product development area who wants to transition into sales could spend time with a sales leader to learn key roles and responsibilities of the particular position. If a company is considering a formal program, I would encourage the senior leadership to work with the human resources department to ensure they build a sustainable mentorship program that is a good fit for the company.

Informal mentoring may focus less on building technical expertise and more on individual employee development and professional guidance. These types of relationships can occur when key leadership identifies employees with the talent and ability to move to the next level. I have personally benefited from the informal approach to mentoring by having a trusted adviser help me make tough career decisions or share past experiences on topics that impact daily job responsibilities.

Should this take place as soon as employees arrive?

Mentoring can happen in various stages. The key point is that mentoring should meet the personal or professional need of the mentee involved. If employees take on a new role where they have the talent but may not have the specialized skills for the position, immediate mentoring can be extremely beneficial. A more experienced mentor can accelerate their understanding of the business and enhance their ability to perform effectively. Late stage mentorship can help seasoned employees bring their career to the next level, whether it’s preparing for a promotion or learning management skills. In all cases, mentoring should happen when it is mutually beneficial to everyone involved.

How are mentoring relationships established?

With formal mentoring, it seems to work best when human resources professionals structure the eligibility requirements and program guidelines, and the managers execute the program within these parameters. Having human resources involved in the process helps ensure a consistent application of formal programs throughout the organization. Typically, the eligibility for a formal mentorship program is tied to a performance-based assessment of the employee.

Informal mentoring tends to happen when a mentor or mentee seek one another out. These relationships may be established through introductions from mutual friends, business colleagues or some interaction in the work environment. In all cases, the mentee should benefit from the mentor’s experience, guidance and knowledge. These informal mentor relationships can evolve into long-term friendships and go beyond even the employees’ tenure at the company as they move forward in their professional career.

How might it benefit the employees and the company?

Top talent is attracted to organizations that emphasize professional and personal development. Recruitment can be enhanced when potential candidates understand that a company wants to mentor them so they can become the best professionals they can be.

Also, employees find it incredibly exciting to have great leaders as their mentors. When they receive encouragement, guidance and perspective, they know they are being developed and learn more quickly.

Are there challenges to consider?

On the employee side, mentees need to make sure not to get distracted by the mentoring program and lose focus on their daily responsibilities. It’s essential that employees continue to perform well and use the knowledge gained from the mentoring program to further their career. From the company’s perspective, it’s important to apply the formal mentoring program consistently so that everyone feels like they have an equal opportunity to participate.

BRIAN LAMB is a business banking executive with Fifth Third Bank Tampa Bay. Reach him at (813) 306-2491 or