The Mentoring Advantage

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Employers continue to contend with an increasingly challenging talent management environment over the past two years. Improving workplace culture, attracting and retaining talent and providing professional development opportunities for employees at all levels of the organization have become critical objectives.

Well designed and managed mentorship programs can have a dramatic impact on workplace culture, employee engagement and retention. A focused mentorship program can break through organizational barriers to create relationships and interactions that build individual and organizational value.

“Starting a mentorship program isn’t rocket science, however there’s certainly a good deal of care that goes into it,” says John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey.  

The Association has been perfecting the art of mentorship for over twenty years.

Mentoring is a reciprocal and collaborative at-will relationship that most often occurs between a senior and junior employee for the purpose of the mentee’s growth, learning, and career development.

“The mentor requires an orientation, a mindset to be an effective mentor.  Its not like management.  The mentor does not direct.  She listens, facilitates and offers recommendations for the mentee’s growth,” says Sarno.

A good mentor can help the mentee become more effective at work, learn new skills, develop greater confidence, and make better decisions for their overall career growth.

Mentors report many benefits as well, including satisfaction from seeing others develop; expanded generational and cultural perspectives; strengthening of technical, leadership, and interpersonal skills; and continuing to experience new ideas and insights.

“Mentors require their own structure and should have some training before going into it.  Roles get confused sometimes and men who mentor women need to understand the ground rules, says Sarno.

O.C. Tanner, a national consulting firm that helps organizations improve work culture, has listed organizational mentorship as one of the top five talent management trends for 2023.

However, many mentoring programs typically rely on single mentor-mentee matches, pairings that by nature are quite formal and hierarchical, when all the evidence shows that many employees, especially women, prefer mentorships with a more reciprocal and mutual character.

“Organizations have to build a mentoring culture to mentorship to be successful,” says Sarno.  The Association provides this support and training but Sarno doesn’t accept every request.  

“Some employers are more prepared than others.  Mentorship should not be an onerous, formal, add-on obligation. If they are looking for a quick fix, I’ll often suggest alternatives,” he says.

Creating a mentoring culture and enlisting a robust cadre of mentors throughout the organization is the objective of organizational mentorship.  

Sarno says that the Association is ready to fulfill more requests as the receding of the COVID pandemic has left many Association members with unmet talent management needs.

“In a solid mentoring culture, there’s an ongoing emphasis on mentoring excellence, and the bar for competency and skill is high. If Association employer-members are ready, so are we,” he says.