This should not come as a surprise to anyone in talent development; we know that skills must be honed, refined, and kept current, which means constantly working on them in some way. Unfortunately, the way most organizations address this need is to provide broad-based training or e-learning.
Yet, as Bersin points out, two pervasive problems plague training professions: too much content and not enough context. We don’t need to throw at employees more courses or training options that do little to address their actual skill gaps. Instead, we need to provide them with tools and options that will help give them context as they learn something and help them put concepts into action on the job.
Mentoring is a powerful way to provide context and help employees refine and build their skills, which in turn will enable them to put those skills to use on the job more quickly and efficiently. Savvy organizations have started using mentoring as a productivity tool, going well beyond its traditional role as a personal development tool geared toward career moves and career advancement.
When mentoring is used as a productivity tool, people are able to learn from their peers and colleagues as a way to address skill gaps and learning needs. Mentoring can provide a unique way to learn that allows employees to:
- study a concept
- ask probing questions of experts and peers
- apply their new knowledge on the job
- share their experiences with their mentoring cohorts
- learn from the experiences of those around them
- adjust their approach as needed when applying their new skills.
Ultimately, through mentoring, employees become more productive more quickly because they learn while doing.
How to Get Started
I’ve worked with a number of Fortune 500 companies that use mentoring to support peer learning and productivity improvement. Here are some ideas on how you can use mentoring to improve productivity among your workforce:
Bring peers together from across difference departments and functions to solve a critical business problem. This problem can be large or small, just so long as it’s critical to you and your organization. Having people from different areas of the organization take part will help unique ideas form because of their distinct perspectives and experiences. Furthermore, focusing the purpose on solving a critical problem will address an important issue while also showcasing how mentoring can impact the bottom line.
Form mentoring groups when you launch a new product so that the participants can learn about the product together, share stories about how customers are using your new product, gain insights into any problems that may exist with the product and how to handle them, give feedback on new ways to market the product, and so forth. Again, a blend of people from various departments and functions can make for a richer learning experience.
Use mentoring to reskill a portion of the workforce to meet emerging needs, such as helping your IT team learn a new set of skills for your emerging product market, or helping your sales team learn about selling tactics that work in a different part of the world that your company wants to penetrate. Whatever the emerging skill set is that your company needs, you can form mentoring groups where peers can learn together from internal experts and from one another’s experiences.
Get more ideas on how to use mentoring in new ways in Randy Emelo’s new book, Modern Mentoring, available now from ATD Press.