Blog Post

Leveraging Mentoring for talent development

Published: Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Before I delve into mentoring I want to address a question that people continuously ask me. What is  the difference between coaching, sponsoring & mentoring?

Coaching focuses on improving a specific skill, over a specified period of time, for example in leadership development one may want to work on giving constructive feedback. Sponsoring is when a person in a position of authority uses his/her networks to speak on behalf of a person to enable the sponsored person to advance his/her career, for example by nominating the person to a strategic program in the organization which gives the sponsored person visibility to more decision makers in the organization. Mentoring has a specific timeline which can be from six months or longer. In mentoring the focus can be in different areas from developing leadership skills, building networks, increasing self-confidence. Mentoring may include advice in both the personal and professional areas.  One way I differentiate between mentoring and sponsoring, a mentor speaks WITH you and a sponsor speaks FOR you.

After designing two award winning mentoring programs in a global organization to meet both changing business and talent development needs it is clear that mentoring is not a one size fits all. Sometimes one must deviate from the traditional model of two people, a mentor and a mentee (protégé). Mentoring programs can be powerful in global talent development for employees to transfer knowledge.

The first program focused on leveraging mentoring to retain young talent. The attrition rate was high and to address this issue as the head of global talent development I put some thought into conceptualizing, designing and implementing a program that was measurable. An anonymous survey to the recently hired graduates (two years or less ) was useful to get the reasons for the high exit rate and in the survey responders were candid in describing the number one frustration which was access to technical experts so that they could learn the way things worked within the organization from understanding the culture to structuring projects. The technical experts are people in high demand and they also travel globally so getting their time was a major challenge (technical experts were nominated by the young talent). We set up in a speed dating format with a “bonfire” in the middle of each round table including the topic (also chosen by the young talent) and a technical expert at each table  Topics ranged from very specific technical topics to career development. The 2 hour time slot meant we had to use the time efficiently, 6 topics with 6 technical experts. Follow up was encouraged by giving coffee coupons to the young talent to invite the technical experts for coffee on any further deep dive questions. The qualitative & quantitative survey that followed after roughly a year showed that mentoring relationships had been maintained, we repeated one more iteration of the “bonfire mentoring format”. After two years it was clear that the attrition rate had gone down. 

The second mentoring program was to address a more globally dispersed group (virtual mentoring)  we used Chronus to establish & match mentees with mentors. The mentors each had three mentees and the milestones were system driven with email prompts for each milestone. The open call for mentees was done via email and the mentors were nominated based on the needs articulated by mentees. Mentees mainly wanted advice on career development especially on moving from one geographical area to another or how to build skills to work on a different product. Virtual mentoring also has the added  advantage of connecting employees from different cultures and hence a chance to gain a better understanding of the global work environment.


Mentors were recognized in two ways; 1) by the organization as peer leaders in their performance evaluations and (2) through an award recognition from the CEO. The other gain for mentors is building leadership & communication skills which are critical for career growth. 

Another type of mentoring that has gained popularity is reverse mentoring which is useful to retain young talent.  

Some organizations with mentoring programs that go beyond career development (I am sure there are others) are  Management Leadership for Tomorrow (ML4T) , My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. & Africa Leadership Academy.

Word of caution. Before you embark on designing any program it is important have a sponsor who is a decision maker in the organization otherwise you will be stuck doing busy work. Programs need funding and aligning results with business needs makes for a stronger case. Mentoring programs like all programs must meet the business needs of the organization while delivering on talent development. Periodic assessment to make sure that the program stays meaningful and relevant to the organization is a must.

Wangari Kamau, MSc, GPHR, Principal Consultant,

About the Author

I engage in strategic business planning around global talent development, leading and aligning my work with best practices and industry standards. I apply organizational development & change management using performance improvement models to identify and recommend implementation of actions to improve organizational performance. I collaborate with teams to implement programs for corporate, business, or function-wide solutions that impact globally dispersed employees.

Expertise: Program design & management; embedding workforce diversity with pay parity & multicultural intelligence in workforce & succession planning, leadership development & coaching, mentoring, knowledge management, on-boarding, induction & technical learning.

I have a Masters’ Degree in Business & Management, certified Global Professional Human Resources (GPHR), certificate in Advanced e-learning design, certification in Knowledge Management and Innovation. I am certified in advanced communication and leadership by Toastmasters International. Languages include English, Swahili and French. 

Attended ATD 2019 where I was a speaker on a panel, the topic "Working globally what it takes to succeed today."


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