How Can You Help Your Employees’ Development? Mentorship
Organizational development is hot right now, and for good reason. As organizations respond to massive shifts in the labor market — including the proliferation of artificial intelligence and broad economic uncertainty — a race for skills has emerged. This race is driving not only a shift from job-based hiring to skill-based hiring but also massive investments into reskilling among existing workforces.
Although leaders and employees don’t always see eye to eye on talent-related issues such as hiring practices, compensation or performance management, employee development is an area just about everyone can agree is important.
Employees Value Growth and Development Opportunities
Employees unsurprisingly place high value on growth and development: It commonly shows up in organizational surveys as a top driver of employee engagement and intention to stay. Our most recent global trends study found that employees who feel positively about growth and development opportunities are more likely to report stronger senses of wellbeing and inclusion and are less likely to report signs of burnout. Importantly, this finding held true across demographics.
While growth and development are clearly important, the challenge for organizations is how to prioritize and invest in the right development opportunities given limited resources. There is no silver bullet solution — two organizations can be quite successful implementing very different approaches to employee development.
Our research highlights two useful insights to help organizations narrow their efforts. First, employees do not simply define growth and development as opportunities for upward career mobility. Most of the employees we have surveyed across the globe define growth and development much more broadly, though they do include promotions as a favorable signal or outcome of career growth. Second, employees place a particularly high value on interpersonal mentorship as an avenue for growth and development.
Related Article: 6 Steps for an Engaging Mentorship Program
Mentoring Is Popular, but…
Our recent study of 3,000 US-based employees sought to learn more about the prevalence of different types of development activities in organizations and their perceived value among employees. Almost 90% of participants said their employers offer some types of professional growth opportunities, such as training, access to conferences, mentoring and scalable online tools.
Employees were more likely to use resources like conferences, online tools and on-demand training courses — but rated interpersonal activities, such as internal coaching and mentoring, as more valuable for their career growth. Given the relatively high ratings for mentoring, we dug further to understand the perceptions of formal mentoring. Employees who participated in formal mentoring ranked developing new tactical and leadership skills, building business acumen and expanding professional networks as the most desired outcomes. Interestingly, promotion was the lowest rated of the options in the study.
Unfortunately, despite being highly valued by employees, internal coaching and mentoring were the least available developmental activities: Less than 40% of employees reported having internal coaching opportunities and a mere 30% reported formal mentorship as an option in their companies.
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The Mutual Benefits of Mentorship
Mentees aren’t the only beneficiaries in mentoring relationships. Acting as a mentor can give someone new skills, different perspectives and personal fulfillment from having a positive impact on another person’s career.
From a tactical perspective, the nature of good mentoring relationships varies. We were surprised to find, however, that a large percentage of the interactions reported by mentors and mentees took place in person, and that the vast majority of those meetings happened at least weekly. This finding in itself is a subtle signal to the value both parties place on these relationships and why they are so effective.
Related Article: The Benefits and Challenges of Remote Mentorship Programs
Compounding Value of Investing in Mentoring
As organizations look to scale growth and development, we must better understand how, when, and why employees may naturally prefer on-demand, technology-driven development. In 2010, Professor Ed Levine and I studied the effectiveness of different training modalities and found that for relatively simple skills, learners both prefer and gain the necessary knowledge through self-guided online training. As the complexity of the skills ramps up, however, learning suffers without human-driven guidance.
It is quite possible that employees appreciate development activities with a low barrier for entry, such as an on-demand online training course, for learning relatively simple skills. And this may indeed be the best option for organizations scaling reskilling efforts across thousands of employees.
But humans are innately social creatures. When it comes to developing leadership skills and complex social skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace, humans appear to benefit most when learning directly from other humans. Simply put, the development of complex social skills is a social activity. While mentoring may be viewed as expensive from a time and resource perspective, it can become a self-propelling engine as successful mentees become the next generation of successful mentors.
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