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Mentoring: The Glue That Makes Employees Stick

Tuesday, January 10, 2017
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At some point in our careers, we have all been the “new hire.” We’ve all walked into a new workplace on our very first day, excited about the opportunity, but a little unsure about what to expect. That day, and the days and months that follow, can either make us glad we took the job or leave us thinking maybe it wasn’t such a great opportunity after all. A friendly mentor can make all the difference in whether we decide to stay or go. 

Once you take a job, what makes you want to stick around? Many people stay in positions to develop the skills they need for the careers they want, or because a job gives them a chance to succeed and be valued for it. And since many of us spend most of our waking hours at work, we stay because our home-away-from-home feels like home. 

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With employee retention as the ultimate goal, workplace mentoring programs can be structured to transfer knowledge within an organization, allow employees to develop their interpersonal skills and advance in their careers, or simply help people fit in.  

Transfer of Discipline Knowledge

Transferring the expertise of your most knowledgeable employees to others is critical to sustaining your organization’s success. To facilitate knowledge exchange, some firms tie their mentoring programs to their learning and development, workforce planning, succession management, or knowledge management initiatives.

Commonly found in organizations where technical or “hard” skills are required, such mentoring programs allow long-time employees to pass on their experiential career knowledge to the midcareer individuals who are likely to fill their shoes when they retire. Not only does this type of mentoring provide incoming generations with the knowledge they need to excel in their current jobs, but it also prepares them to step up to greater responsibilities later. 

Some companies pair experienced mentors with entry-level employees in sales, operations, and business development, helping recent college graduates rapidly gain competence in high-profile, technically demanding jobs. 

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Career Pathing and Counseling 

Some mentoring programs are all about helping employees find the right career path and navigate workplace challenges. By learning from experienced peers, workers can make more informed decisions about their careers and professional development, and overcome any conflicts that might arise. 

Rather than going to their bosses when they have questions or need advice, employees with mentors can talk to experienced peers who have been in their shoes. Because there’s no reporting relationship, a mentor is free to give candid, objective feedback with real-life application to the workplace, whether it’s conducting a mock interview or helping someone transition into a new management role. 

For example, GovLoop is an organization that runs an industry-wide mentoring program for employees at all levels of government. In this program, high-potential individuals get mentoring support that helps them have more impact in their current roles, get project work that lets them show what they can do, and pursue the right opportunities to advance their careers in government—instead of leaving for a private-sector job. 

These kinds of mentoring programs can help keep turnover low by increasing job satisfaction and keeping employees committed to advancing their careers inside an organization or industry. 

Development of Business Acumen and Soft Skills 

This kind of mentoring allows mentors to impart wisdom and interpersonal skills that can help mentees become better leaders, think more strategically, make better decisions, navigate change, and skillfully manage workplace relationships. 

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Often, these connections happen naturally as mentor-mentee relationships develop within other types of programs. But at some organizations, like Cardinal Health, soft skills development is a primary focus of mentoring relationships. One of Cardinal Health’s mentoring programs is designed to accelerate leadership development by gathering diverse groups of new leaders—from newly minted vice presidents to first-time supervisors—in peer groups to share leadership techniques and experiences. 

Dissemination of Insider Knowledge 

Just because something isn’t in the employee handbook doesn’t mean it’s not critical for new employees to know. Some mentoring programs help people acclimate to a new culture by giving tenured employees a chance to pass on practical tips about everything from where to park to how teams interact and how employees are expected to behave. 

Employees who are well integrated into the organizational culture are often excellent role models for how to succeed within it. They can also give newer hires an entrée into their own extensive networks, helping them quickly forge new cross-functional and cross-generational relationships. At the same time, mentors gain insight into the mindset of the younger generation, gaining fresh perspective and enhancing job satisfaction.

In MD Anderson Cancer Center’s “buddy program,” new hires are assigned a mentor to help demystify non-job-specific concerns, such as where to grab lunch. The goal is to get people comfortable in their new jobs while building relationships that will help tie the employee to the organization throughout their often-challenging first year. 

Does your organization have a mentoring program? How has it helped you retain talent? Let us know in the comments.

About the Author

Lauren Trees is the research program manager for knowledge management at member-based nonprofit APQC. In this role, she identifies trends in enterprise knowledge sharing and collaboration, researches ways to improve knowledge flow, and shares the findings with APQC members and the business community at large. She has served as project manager for two large-scale collaborative research projects— Transferring and Applying Critical Knowledge and Connecting People to Content—and led additional research on expertise location, competency development, content management, social media, gamification, mentoring, and the future of knowledge management. Lauren has written for media outlets including Industry Week, Strategic HR Review, KMWorld, and Pharmaceutical Engineering, and her research has been cited by Inc. and TIME. She is also an experienced speaker, having presented at global conferences as well as numerous corporate meetings and webinars. 

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