Mentoring: Am I Wasting My Time?

We’ve had a few articles over the last few years addressing the need to establish a formal employee mentoring program inside our organizations. It makes total sense.

However, a recent discussion with a group of managers uncovered an anti-mentoring attitude. The members of my discussion group were all considered middle level management, each being with the company for over 15 years, were experienced mentors and completely embraced their organization’s values, culture and mission. They felt that they were wasting valuable time and effort mentoring young employees that were more worried about which company they would be going to next rather than securing a long-term organizational relationship that included promotional opportunities with their current employer.

An interesting perspective supported by some degree of reality. My initial response included a quick review of the basics of mentoring, a measurement of their compliance with a simple mentoring framework and discussing the assumptions and limitations agreement that was in place with their mentees. I wanted to make sure they were compliant with some of the standard ground rules:

  • Well-defined goals;
  • Success criteria and measurement tools;
  • Accountability assurances;
  • Ground rules – who is responsible for what;
  • Confidentiality agreement;
  • Boundaries and hot buttons for each other;
  • Protocols for stumbling blocks and
  • Mentoring work plan -steps for achieving goals (Picone 2013).

Next, we discussed the value of imparting their mentoring wisdom on the target group – Generation Y’s. According to management professors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, these managers had some validity in their concerns. Gen Y’s are redefining organizational loyalty. As part of the youngest workforce section, ages 18- 28, they are more likely to “job-hop” seeking fresh challenge, greater promotional opportunities and pay increases.

Wharton believes that mentoring is NOT wasted on this group, mentoring for these folks may be more important now than ever for overall organizational sustainability. This employee group brings with them higher levels of education, unique perspectives of work processes and a firm grasp on the latest technology.

We were beginning to identify a solution to the problem. Unconventional mentoring; linking up a group of mentors of all levels of experience with a promising protégé in an effort to keep valued up-and-comers from jumping ship and taking jobs elsewhere. If we want to create value for both mentor and mentee (and the organization), then we should at least take this new approach for a spin. No longer should we limit ourselves to traditional one-on-one relationships but create a new mentoring option. Consider it similar to social networking – an important lifestyle feature and daily routine for Gen Y. Creating a cadre of mentors can provide the mentees a group of functional resources that can provide career guidance, professional advice, and sounding boards for ideas and problem solutions (Picone 2013).

This mentoring strategy should also provide answers to what Gen Y’s really desire: how to navigate the organization’s culture and politics. Mentors should be prepared to answer routine daily process questions and the “why” behind them.

As I explained to the group, mentoring has a great deal of value and it is worth employing an alternative approach. As long as, reasonable goals are established, interest in the job is continually enhanced to maintain interest, and challenges are the norm rather than the exception. Consideration of rotating less interesting jobs more frequently, creating new experiences within jobs and broadening responsibilities more often will keep these employees engaged. Mentors must encourage their mentees to develop new skills, broaden their work experiences and knowledge within the organization in order to prepare them for advancement and challenge they truly seek.

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