It is a well-established fact that mentoring relationships are critical to the success of women in the workplace. It is important, therefore, to ensure the vibrancy, vitality and viability of mentoring efforts so that mentoring becomes an integral and sustainable part of how an organization does business and not an ad-hoc activity or program.
The time is right. More than ever before, organizations, large and small, are investing in growing their people though mentoring and looking for ways to raise the bar on the practice of mentoring. A mentoring culture offers that opportunity and more.
A mentoring culture continuously focuses on building the mentoring capacity, competence, and capability of the organization. It encourages the practice of mentoring excellence by continuously creating readiness for mentoring within the organization, facilitating multiple mentoring opportunities, and building in support mechanisms to ensure individual and organizational mentoring success. The latter is particularly important for women.
A mentoring culture is a vivid expression of an organization's vitality. Its presence enables an organization to augment learning, maximize time and effort, and better utilize its resources. The relationship skills learned through mentoring benefit relationships throughout the organization. As these relationships deepen, people feel more connected to the organization. Ultimately, the learning that results creates value for the entire organization.
In a mentoring culture, eight hallmarks build on and strengthen each other. All are present, at least to some degree; however, they manifest themselves differently depending on the organization’s previous success with mentoring. The more consistently each hallmark is present, the fuller and more robust the mentoring culture and the more sustainable it is likely to be.
1. Accountability. Accountability enhances performance and produces long-lasting results. It requires shared intention, responsibility and ownership, a commitment to action and consistency of practice. Accountability also involves very specific tasks: (1) setting goals, (2) clarifying expectations, (3) defining roles and responsibilities, (4) monitoring progress and measuring results, (5) gathering feedback, and (6) formulating action goals.
What Works: Consciously sell the program internally. Continue to articulate the goals and desired outcomes from mentoring. Regularly collect data and share results. Broadcast accomplishments and milestones.
2. Alignment. Mentoring thrives when there is alignment. Alignment promotes consistency of mentoring practices within an institution’s culture. It builds on the assumption that a cultural fit already exists between mentoring and the organization and that mentoring initiatives are also tied to goals larger than just initiating a program, i.e. integrating it with a learning and development platform. When mentoring is aligned within the culture, it is part of its DNA. A shared understanding and vocabulary of mentoring practice exists that fits naturally with the organization’s values, practices, mission, and goals.
What Works: Think about consistency of process models. For example, when you train mentors and mentees in feedback and goal setting those practices will have a ripple effect and touch other people by elevating the practice of giving feedback and setting goals. Conversely, when there are extant processes and models in place, these can be leveraged and reinforced through mentoring rather than re-invented.
3. Communication. Communication is fundamental to achieving mentoring excellence and positive mentoring results. Its effects are far-reaching: it increases trust, strengthens relationships, and bolsters alignment. It creates value, visibility and demand for mentoring. It is also the catalyst for developing mentoring readiness, generating learning opportunities, and providing mentoring support within an organization.
What Works: Strive for consistency of mentoring messages. Look for multiple ways of getting the message out there and use multiple modalities, including branding the product. Keep your leaders updated with the latest and greatest information.
4. Value and Visibility. Sharing personal mentoring stories, role modeling, reward, recognition, and celebration are high leverage activities that create and sustain value and visibility. Leaders who talk about formative mentoring experiences, share best practices, and promote and support mentoring by their own example add to the value proposition for mentoring.
What Works: Prepare presentation packets with key messages that can be tailored to multiple venues. Brand your program. Keep messaging up to date. Encourage leaders to tell their stories. Hold an annual mentoring celebration.
5. Demand. Demand for mentoring has a multiplier effect. When it is present, there is a mentoring buzz, increased interest in mentoring, and self-perpetuating participation. Employees seek mentoring as a way to strengthen and develop themselves and look for mentoring opportunities. Mentors become mentees and mentees become mentors. Employees engage in multiple mentoring relationships, often simultaneously. Demand spurs reflective conversation and dialogue about mentoring adding to its value and visibility.
What Works: Check in to make sure your leaders are playing an active role in promoting demand for mentoring. Look for creative opportunities for them to step forward to demonstrate their support and commitment. Ensure adequate time and multiple resources: financial, technology, human and knowledge – are dedicated to the effort.
6. Multiple Mentoring Opportunities. In a mentoring culture, there is no single approach, type or option for mentoring. Although some mentoring activity goes on in nearly every organization, most need to work at creating a culture that concurrently advances and supports multiple types of opportunities.
What Works: Couple group mentoring with one on one mentoring; the learning from one reinforces the other. Encourage informal and formal mentoring. Consider new models of practice. Promote peer mentoring.
7. Education and Training. Continuing mentoring education and training opportunities are strategically integrated into the organization’s overall training and development agenda. Existing training platforms support mentoring and vice versa. Opportunities for “next step” and renewal education and advanced skill training are available for “veteran” mentors. Networking and support groups meet regularly to exchange best practices and promote peer learning.
What Works: Provide rich and varied learning experiences that serve the wide-ranging needs of very diverse learners. Allow for flexibility. Promote learner accessibility. Develop training that is experiential and allows for practice and feedback of mentoring skills and processes.
8. Safety Nets. Mentoring cultures establish safety nets to overcome or avoid potential stumbling blocks and roadblocks with minimum repercussion and risk. Safety nets provide just in time support that enables mentoring to move forward coherently. Organizations that proactively anticipate challenges are more likely to establish resilient and responsive mentoring safety nets than those that do not.
What Works: Consider each of the seven hallmarks above. Use them as benchmarks to determine where and when potential stumbling blocks might occur. Explore multiple approaches for addressing them. Create a timeline. Regularly evaluate your progress.
Creating a mentoring culture is an iterative process: a work in progress that is always evolving. It requires creating organizational readiness, providing multiple mentoring opportunities and building adequate support for all the mentoring activity that goes on within an organization. The eight hallmarks provide benchmarks for that work and raise the bar on the practice of organizational mentoring.
Lois J. Zachary is president of Leadership Development Services, LLC, a Phoenix-based consulting firm providing leadership development, coaching, education, and training for corporate and nonprofit organizations. She is an internationally recognized expert in mentoring and leadership. Dr. Zachary is author of The Mentor’s Guide (Jossey-Bass, 2000), a best-selling book that has become the primary resource for organizations interested in promoting mentoring for leadership and learning. Her latest book, Creating a Mentoring Culture: The Organization’s Guide, provides a comprehensive resource for promoting organizational mentoring sustainability.