When you have unanswered questions or need help troubleshooting issues at work, where do you turn first? Chances are, a specific coworker (or two) sprang to mind as your trustworthy and reliable go-to. In Knowledge Management in Theory and Practice, Kimiz Dalkir sites an IBM Institute survey that found that “people first turned to other people in order to find information, solve problems, and make decisions” (167). People, not the internet or the organization’s knowledge base or employee handbook, was the number one preferred source for finding information. The establishment of a strong personal learning network can become one of a company’s greatest assets, and this should be bolstered by an effective mentoring program.
As I have discussed in previous posts, employees are a company’s most valuable resource; specifically, the knowledge those employees possess. When onboarding new employees or preparing for the retirement of a knowledge-rich employee, tacit knowledge is one of the most difficult things to impart to new hires or capture from retirees in order to preserve. Mentor programs in the workplace can address both issues simultaneously, ensuring that valuable knowledge remains with the company.
Effective onboarding for new hires is incredibly important to the success and growth of a company, but can be a tricky thing to do well, and many organizations struggle to provide new employees with authentic and practical onboarding experiences. A mentor can be a critical resource for a new employee. In “The Impact of Mentoring Programs in the Workplace,” Snelling Staffing writes:
Mentors can help mentees learn the ropes of the company and develop relationships across the organization. Because 80% of learning is informal, mentoring empowers learning in ways that manuals, intranets, and training programs can’t. It shortens the learning curve, enhances productivity, and helps employees align with the business strategy more quickly.
By providing this kind of training and guidance from a knowledgeable and experienced employee, well-grounded in the company culture, a new hire can be better prepared in a more efficient manner to contribute to workplace productivity. And because this training occurs in-house, mentoring programs can significantly reduce the costs of learning and training. Utilize the knowledge and skills your company already possesses by developing the leadership potential in your veteran employees. In addition, assigning more senior employees to the mentorship program is one effective strategy to put in place for knowledge continuity management, ensuring that valuable knowledge is transferred from one generation of employees to the next.
In establishing a strong mentorship program, an organization is also creating workplace culture that values learning and development. In a mentee-mentor relationship, the mentee understands that, in their role, they are supposed to be learning, and they feel comfortable asking questions, making mistakes, and taking risks. In a safe learning environment, all employees are encouraged to learn from those around them, and the atmosphere becomes one of collaboration. A learning culture like the one described reduces stress and anxiety in the workplace, which in turn increases job satisfaction.
Mentor programs often lead to higher job satisfaction in other ways, as well. Mentees feel as though the organization is making an investment in them by pairing them with a mentor who can help guide and develop their career; and mentors feel that their own knowledge, experience, skills, and performance are valued because they have been chosen to act as mentors. Companies that demonstrate their value and investment in employees typically see a reduction in turnover rates. In addition, mentor programs can help companies uncover leadership potential in employees and can be an effective way to groom employees for key positions within the organization.
There is no doubt about it: an effective mentorship program in the workplace can carve a path of success for your organization. Before jumping straight in, though, be sure to consider the following:
- Establish clear goals for the program.
- Get employee buy-in: make sure it doesn’t come across as “just another obligatory HR program.”
- Pair mentees and mentors appropriately and deliberately.
- Set clear expectations and guidelines for the mentee-mentor relationship, including frequency of meetings.
- Provide a suggested format or structure to get the mentee-mentor relationship off the ground and running.
- Check in regularly with both the mentee and mentor to ensure the relationship is (and remains) mutually beneficial.