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Mentoring as a route to growth

Marko Gargenta, CEO - PlusPlus

The Great Resignation has spawned a lot of soul searching and hand wringing, with tech companies searching for ways to attract and retain talent. Advice articles have proliferated, telling executives they need to offer more flexible working, better remuneration and a wider range of benefits. It is information overload, and business leaders could be forgiven for not knowing what to do.

Yet there is a common theme in all this noise. For all the seemingly contradictory data, research and anecdotal evidence, what comes across is that employees want to be empowered as individuals. This is achieved through improving current job performance, learning a specific skill, preparing to advance in their career and developing leadership skills. More important than ever, is a supportive environment that encourages opportunities for both workplace and personal growth, helping to enable satisfying career arcs.

And I think that’s something that often gets lost. Yes, companies talk about their staff as individuals, wanting to support them as such, but this runs counter to the realities of running a tech organisation with more than a dozen employees. Tech companies are often focused on rapid growth and innovation, and a lack of mentorship and guidance can be more keenly felt in these environments.

How can you truly, honestly, make everyone feel like an individual when you also need them to work as a collective to achieve the results you require?

Tackling the engagement issue
That’s not a rhetorical question designed to highlight the futility of such an effort. It’s a genuine question that needs answering if employers are to engage workforces and achieve their objectives.

Employees certainly need engaging. Engaged employees are enthusiastic and connected – motivated and incentivised to put in extra effort and show commitment to their organisation. According to Gallup, globally just 20% of workers are engaged at work. The same company has previously highlighted the link between engagement and business results: business units and teams made up of highly engaged employees result in 21% greater profitability.

As organisations grow, keeping employees engaged is one of the most challenging issues they need to tackle – but what exactly defines ‘engagement’? It can be broken down into three key themes: how energised people are, how much control people have over their careers and how they can bring their full potential to work.

Growing organisations equal growing people
So, the question then becomes how do we continue to grow our people as we bring more individuals in? The organisation’s personal growth culture, the attitude to learning and development that propels people to be able to achieve more, is in the people it employs. As that personnel changes, the personal growth culture can evolve too – not always for the better.

To ensure that doesn’t happen, and that the good elements of a personal growth culture permeate both within and across teams, requires a structured approach to what is often informal learning.

This is a deliberate misnomer. How can something informal be structured? Because while there are huge amounts of value in those one-off conversations, those quick catch-ups and those observable moments, you need to be able to scale it so that as many people as possible can benefit. Taking a structured, yet people-centric approach to learning has many benefits. People learn best from one another – it’s more inspiring and interesting than simply prescribing standardised learning content based on role and colleagues bring relevant understanding that can’t be found anywhere else.

The power of mentorships
One way of doing this is through mentoring. It’s a funny concept. On the one hand, successful individuals swear by it. We’ve all read entrepreneurs and leaders talk about how they’ve benefitted from having good mentors, without ever providing the detail of how they actually got into that relationship in the first place. That’s because quite often, it was years before they recognised what that bond actually was.

If they are part of a formal programme, that often supports the image of mentorships as being something for the select few: hugely beneficial if you can get in, but unobtainable to all but the pre-ordained few.

That’s a huge missed opportunity if organisations perpetuate that myth. Everyone can benefit from the sort of on-the-job wisdom from people who have been there and done it, and usually have an innate, intangible sense of the business that is hard to find anywhere else. Why would you not want to find a way to share that with as many employees as possible, and not just highflyers?

Mentorship represents an opportunity for people to meet and get out of their bubbles. It allows employees to quickly feel like they are part of a positive environment, one invested in them catching on and contributing to the team and company at large.

Mentorship’s role isn’t simply to help navigate social, cultural or technical challenges, however. It also provides a social network, giving people the opportunity to plug into a community and understand an organisation from multiple points of view. Mentorship boosts morale, productivity and retention, allowing veteran employees and those more junior to learn from one another and share in each other’s success.

Making mentoring a success
Usually, it’s a discovery problem. Those wanting to learn need an easy way to discover available mentors and book time with them. Those wanting to share want to make themselves available, but don’t always know the best way to communicate their availability, topics of interest, and openness to help others. Additionally, they would like to have a record of people they met with so that they can understand their impact.

Then there’s the issue of mentoring programmes themselves. Too often they are poorly set up, with a lack of ownership. Plus, it’s not the primary job of any of the participants. Even though both mentors and mentees have a vested interest in building the right relationships, the necessary logistics can become a sticking point: emails get forgotten, slack messages missed, deadlines push back meetings.

People are busy. This is volunteering. Manually scheduling times and tracking results is asking too much.

It’s something the world’s most successful companies have wrestled with. The key is to have the right platform, one which gives mentors a shop window to highlight what they can offer (both in terms of expertise and time) and handles the logistics of initiating and managing relationships through diary synching, messaging and tracking interactions.

For Airbnb—where it focuses on ‘belonging through knowledge’—peer mentorship grew to include 10% (500 people) of its staff. It did it at scale, measured it, and received remarkable results. LinkedIn similarly achieved significant results: its internal experts wanted to share their knowledge, but only if it was made easy. They literally wanted to be able to show and teach. With a platform that centralised discovery, calendar invites, reminders, attendance tracking and surveys, both companies have been able to ensure that their personal growth culture maintained a positive impact on what are rapidly growing workforces.

Mentoring as a route to growth
Mentoring enhances both shared understanding and company-building culture. The more businesses invest in both personal and professional growth as a cultural norm — the type of culture that’s more connected, more engaged, and filled with teammates who want to grow within the company — the better they will be at attracting, retaining and inspiring the best talent to meet challenges now and beyond. And the best part? When executed correctly, mentorship creates a virtuous cycle.

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