In January, I joined senior HR leaders from LinkedIn and UPS on a panel on PeopleMatters TV, hosted by Ester Martinez, to discuss how organizations need to implement holistic mentorship programs to nurture high potential talent for leadership roles. I also talked about the relevance of active mentoring for the future of work and human resources as a function at the People Matters TechHR 2019 event in Singapore in February.
These discussions reminded me of my journey of learning and growth while mentoring nearly 30 people over the course of my 30-year career in the IT industry. Now, that’s a long time! But it has been a truly rewarding experience. The opportunity to play a role in shaping another person’s life has given me unparalleled satisfaction and joy.
I have often felt that mentoring is undervalued and serves an anecdotal purpose, but there is a great opportunity to make active mentoring a mainstream methodology for organizational success, succession planning and skills enhancement. I’d like to encourage each of you to consider the following:
Mentorship, coaching and sponsorship are not the same.
Unlike coaches and sponsors, mentors typically come from outside an individual’s line of business or organization. Coaches can be performance oriented—aimed at helping an individual excel in a specific project or skill, while sponsors may have more ability to influence someone’s career within an organization. Mentorship, however, takes the long-term view, where the mentor imparts and even exchanges knowledge, culture and values to guide the mentee’s personal growth and development to take ownership of their career path.
Mentorship is both an individual and corporate responsibility.
Mentorship comes with significant time commitment, requiring both parties to be personally invested. For a formalized program, HR (or the lead organization) needs a process to educate, support and track individual progress. Skills matching and opt-in programs may be the first step, but the organization needs to develop platforms for networking and peer-to-peer mentoring.
Safe spaces are critical.
As Tanie Eio, vice president of human resources, Asia Pacific Region at UPS, said in our discussion, the relationship between a mentor and mentee is built on trust. When we create a safe environment, we enable employees to have an honest discussion about their thoughts, feelings and aspirations. I witness this often at internal ‘Inclusion sessions’ and most recently in Bangalore, where a safe space created during the discussion prompted participants to ask some brave questions on the future of women graduating in STEM.
Despite having a large base of female STEM graduates, India sees almost 50 percent of women in tech leaving the workforce within eight years. It led to a discussion with Padmini Thirumalachar, a staff engineer at VMware, which resulted in a program called VMinclusion Taara. This program aims to help 15,000 women refresh their skills around digital transformation and return to the workplace.
Millennials have much to contribute.
The traditional idea of a senior, knowledgeable employee mentoring a young, inexperienced individual has been rightly turned on its head by several leading organizations. Our world plays by different rules nowadays—it is faster, digital and complex, and there is much to learn from the millennials who were born into it. Ann Ann Low, Director, Learning & Development, Asia Pacific Region at LinkedIn, shared reverse mentoring initiatives where new graduates help senior employees develop skills in AI, digital marketing and communications. Mentoring can’t be one way—it needs to be all inclusive. And reverse mentoring is a key ingredient of the overall program.
Tech is an enabler.
We were all unanimous that face-to-face interaction is second to none for building strong mentor-mentee relationships. Especially during the early stages, building a trusted bond and investment of time demands greater participation. Technology has proven critical in extending this connection. I travel widely as part of my job, and a simple video call or text message conversation has gone a long way in helping some of my mentees who need career advice or guidance in critical moments. It is about an ongoing meaningful dialogue that leverages all forms of communication.
My single piece of advice to you is: If you don’t have a mentor, find one. If you haven’t mentored anyone yet, find someone in whom you see potential and want to help to succeed in life. It’s the most rewarding experience you will find.