Article (August-2016)

Articles

Mentoring 2.0: Taking mentoring to the next level

Dr. Tanvi Gautam

Designation : -   Managing Partner

Organization : -  Global People Tree

01-Aug-2016

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Mentoring has come a long way from the days of Odysseus. While no one disputes the importance and effectiveness of a strong mentoring relationship, the form and manner in which mentoring relationships unfold in organizations has undergone a change. With the advent of social media, coupled with a more diversified workforce and the emphasis on anywhere anytime learning, we are seeing new and interesting innovations in the field. Here are some interesting trends around mentoring in organizations and issues to consider while adopting the same.


1. Mentoring trees and cross organizational mentoring:  
Any individual has a varying set of developmental needs not all of which can be met by a single individual. These needs evolve as an individual and her career evolves. No single person has all the experiences and skills that a mentee can require. For instance, a technically competent person may be socially incompetent and would not work for the mentee's need to become better networked in a new organization. Organizations are also starting to realize the limitations of the single mentor model. Therefore a large number of companies are introducing: mentoring trees or group/circle mentoring. 


The mentoring tree involves more than one mentor paired with more than one mentee. The mentees may be at similar levels of development and in need of similar inputs. In many organizations, group mentoring is taking the form of 'affinity' networks where employees may be grouped based on gender, culture, disability or support needs. The aim is to provide specialized mentoring and support for a group of people with similar requirements. Having more than one mentor also provides access to more than one perspective and the lack of availability of one mentor at any time does not stop the group from meeting and progressing. The mentoring tree may also be populated with individuals who bring complimentary skills to the table and hence enhance the learning of the group as a whole. 


Organizations are also realizing that all learning desired by an employee may not always be contained within the boundaries of their own firm. Hence there is now a trend towards cross-organizational mentoring relationships. The Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 companies in UK now have chairman of their firms mentoring women from other FTSE companies to expand the range of experiences and learning for the Mentees. This initiative is directed at improving the diversity in the boardroom and indicates a new era of collaboration between organizations.


As with any initiative there are down sides of mentoring trees. Lack of confidentiality, absence of one on one interaction, and the group setting may not always suit individual tastes. Coupled with the need for profile matching and logistics of arranging such meetings, the mentoring trees are by no means an easy task. Last but not least, the culture within the firm has to be conducive for such group learning and sharing of experiences. In the absence of a culture where groups provide safe spaces for learning and failure is not held against you, the mentoring circles will not thrive.  


2. Reverse mentoring: Mentoring at its core is a form of knowledge and experience transfer. If knowledge and experience can reside at any level and place in the organization, then it is a fallacy to think that mentoring can only be top down. Reverse mentoring opens the door for those lower in the hierarchy or younger in age to provide mentoring to those more senior to them. Jack Welsh is often cited as a proponent of reverse mentoring and the idea has been around for almost a decade. Started primarily as a means of helping older executives learn technology from the new ones, it has now expanded itself to the idea that each individual in the organization has unique insights and experiences that can be of value to others.  Cisco systems, Ogilvy and HP are just some of the organizations that have formal or informal reverse mentoring relationships. While the older workers get great insights into what life looks like outside the corner office of their ivory towers, the younger ones gain visibility and status. In the fast changing business environment of today, restricting mentoring to a one way flow i.e. from top to bottom, limits the learning potential of an organization.


Culturally, reverse mentoring is a challenging initiative. It requires a certain degree of openness, trust and self awareness before the program can be successful. It is important for organizations to create a culture where learning is more important than the status of the mentor. Training the younger mentors in communication styles that help in transfer of learning and experiences in a manner that makes it more acceptable to the older executives is also important. HR may be required to play a facilitator role in helping such initiatives succeed. 
3.  Role of technology: E-mentoring, tele-mentoring, remote or online mentoring are all just ways of introducing technology to support the mentoring relationship. Technology can come into the mentoring relationship either in the creation or administration, as well as the sustenance of a mentoring relationship. Organizations, for instance, may create databases of available mentors for mentees to sign up under their preferred mentors. The administration of the mentoring program at a larger scale becomes possible through e-mentoring platforms. Other organizations use electronic communities created around topics to foster learning within organizations. Still others may pair up mentor and mentees and use technology primarily to facilitate communication.


 There are many advantages to the e-mentoring initiatives. One of them is its on-demand nature that allows employees to transcend space and time. A mentee can be connected to a mentor who might be at the other end of the globe. Additionally, the scale that is afforded by technology is unmatched by the face-to-face mentoring initiatives. Given the high degree of comfort that Gen Y has with technology and online relationships, this format of mentoring is bound to grow in the coming years.  Infosys launched the 'infybubble' in June 2011 launched an internal Facebook like platform to create communities within the firm. All new joiners are batched together on this platform and this provides them with opportunities to learn more about the firm and its culture from other employees. Speed is another attractive aspect of e-mentoring. While people may not find time to meet face to face always, a quick response through a mentoring system can bridge the gap till the time that such meeting is possible. By using e-mentoring platforms organizations also end up creating knowledge and competency maps of people within the organization. The tracking of mentoring interactions also becomes easier.


It should be kept in mind though that technology enabled mentoring is no substitute for real mentoring relationships. It may be useful for organizations to have the mentor and mentee be in some level of stable relationship, or have initial face to face meetings if possible, before transitioning into the e-model of mentoring. Also it should be recognized that the level of comfort felt by younger generation around technology may not be shared by older employees and hence technology might even end up becoming a barrier to such relationships.  There is also the cost element in terms of the company having the band-with to support such initiatives. Although with the advent of a number of free technology tools like Skype such initiative are becoming more and more easy to adopt and implement.


To conclude, mentoring hold tremendous potential for helping an organization grown and learn. However the traditional format of mentoring, one on one, and in person has some limitations. It is in the interest of organizations to recognize the cross-functional, networked based, and geographical spread of knowledge available to them and use some of the listed tools to make the most of the available opportunities.

Trends 

1. Organizations are also starting to realize the limitations of the single mentor model. Therefore a large number of companies are introducing mentoring trees or group/circle mentoring. The mentoring tree involves more than one mentor paired with more than one mentee.

2. Organizations are also realizing that all learning desired by an employee may not always be contained within the boundaries of their own firm. Hence there is now a trend towards cross-organizational mentoring relationships. This initiative is directed at improving the diversity in the boardroom and indicates a new era of collaboration between organizations.

3. It is a fallacy to think that mentoring can only be top down. Reverse mentoring opens the door for those lower in the hierarchy or younger in age to provide mentoring to those more senior to them.

4. Each individual in the organization has unique insights and experiences that can be of value to others.  Cisco systems, Ogilvy and HP are just some of the organizations that have formal or informal reverse mentoring relationships.

5. Technology can come into the mentoring relationship either in the creation or administration, as well as the sustenance of a mentoring relationship. The administration of the mentoring program at a larger scale becomes possible through e-mentoring platforms.

6. Given the high degree of comfort that Gen Y has with technology and online relationships, this format of mentoring is bound to grow in the coming years.