Modern mentoring is dynamic and comprised of relational connections of all types. The common thread that unites these connections and relationships is that they are born or derived from a learning need shared by as few as a couple of people to as many as over 100. The following are some examples of how modern mentoring can take shape.
Peer mentoring connects colleagues at the same hierarchical level in the organization but who may be in different functions or divisions. Learning relationships of this sort are particularly beneficial because peers can be a great source of social support and encouragement. They understand and experience the same organizational pressures and can provide their peers with breakthrough insight and advice from someone who gets it.
To support peer mentoring, urge managers, supervisors, and leaders in your organization to foster an environment for subordinates where reaching out past their work teams and functions to connect with peers is an encouraged practice. Managers and supervisors often are the “choke-point” for this type of connection, so they will need to help encourage and support these lateral connections.
Reverse mentoring places those who would typically be considered mentors into the mentee role, and those typically considered mentees into the mentor role. This type of mentoring also can be helpful with bringing your older employees up to speed on new skills, processes, and technologies, which younger generations—like Millennials and Gen Xers—have already mastered. It can also help expose organizational leaders to new perspectives of younger generations and bring bright young minds to the attention of seasoned leaders.
To support reverse mentoring, you need to help your more experienced workers embrace the concept of reverse mentoring and understand the value of connecting with younger workers who can help them learn about technology, emerging trends, and cultural attitudes toward products and services.
Paired (or Traditional) Mentoring
Paired mentoring embodies the traditional idea of mentoring but is still included under the umbrella of modern mentoring. Typically characterized by high amounts of trust and confidentiality, one mentee and one mentor meet for targeted mentoring engagements to share highly personal, private, or sensitive information with one another.
Often, this type of mentoring can be leveraged to help employees with sensitive work-related issues, like dealing with a difficult manager or transitioning into a new role at the company. You can support paired mentoring by directing people who come to HR with these types of sensitive issues to seek out a mentoring partner for guidance and advice for working through their issue.
Group mentoring leverages internal experts and facilitators to support collaborative learning experiences for multiple learners at one time. The power of group mentoring comes from group leaders sharing expert knowledge with participants and from participants sharing information and experience on a peer level.
The focus of group mentoring can vary significantly, ranging from supporting topical learning (for example, project management basics), to implementing new processes (such as a new consultative sales model or how to have difficult management conversations), to ongoing relational peer support groups (for example, a new parents group focused on achieving work-life balance). Due to its dynamic nature, group mentoring is efficient and flexible. It also helps to bring together dissimilar colleagues who can learn from each other’s different perspectives, and this diverse collaboration often leads to innovative new ideas, processes, or work-products.
In fact, a 2010 study by Lechner, Frankenberger, and Floyd, published in the Academy of Management Journal, showed that when employees collaborate, the more diverse the group of people is in terms of values and viewpoints, the higher the group’s performance. To support group mentoring, look for popular or timeless work-related topics (work-life balance, career development, and so forth) for groups to discuss. Help them get the conversation going by setting up groups around these topics, so all that people have to do is jump in and start participating.
Situational mentoring gives individuals a way to address immediate learning needs with one or more advisers. Several people can offer ideas simultaneously so learners get quick-hitting answers on a high-impact problem or opportunity quickly. Learners then synthesize this knowledge into a solution that fits their needs and bring that solution back to the job in a timely manner.
To support situational mentoring, help identify emerging practices and novel concepts, and guide employees to explore them with others who have a similar interest or experience. Because a situational mentoring engagement can be over and done very quickly, you may feel the need to constantly bring in new mentors. One great way to do this is to ask the person who had the learning need to give back as a mentor once their situational learning need is satisfied. This person could be a wonderful adviser to the next person who may have a similar learning need. This helps keep the cycle of learning and sharing moving, and creates a smooth process for indoctrinating new mentees and mentors so no one ever feels overburdened.
While all of these types of modern mentoring serve a very important purpose, you do not need to set up individual structures to help facilitate these types of relational connections. Participants in modern mentoring will innately and organically participate in all of these different types of mentoring to fulfill their unique and evolving knowledge needs. With this in mind, don’t get hung up on creating programs that enable reverse mentoring, peer mentoring, and so forth. The only thing you need to do from an administrative standpoint is make sure that participants are given the freedom and autonomy by the organization to connect in an independent fashion.
From a practical standpoint, this is where reeducating organizational leaders on the benefits and value of modern mentoring and securing permission for individuals to connect in an open, autonomous way becomes most important. If the open nature of modern mentoring is compromised by too much organizational involvement, the quality of mentoring connections and the caliber of learning that takes place as a result of these connections will be degraded.
Note: This is an excerpt from the September 2013 ASTD Infoline, "Creating a Modern Mentoring Culture." To purchase the Infoline, visit store.astd.org.