The Most Valuable Ways to Mentor Employees

by Dora Wang on May 9, 2015 5:00:00 AM

The Most Valuable Ways to Mentor EmployeesIf you want to be a good leader, you should be a good mentor. Mentorship is a win-win relationship that both employees and employers want. Consider what happened when Sun Microsystems implemented a mentorship program:

  • Participants had a retention rate 23% higher than nonparticipants
  • Mentors had a retention rate 20% higher than nonparticipants

But the benefits of mentorship can’t always be captured in numbers. Here’s what people from both sides of the mentoring relationship said were their most valuable lessons.

Changing Perspective

Pete Low, Chief Financial Officer of Halogen Software, shared four key takeaways from his experience as a mentor in Halogen’s Emerging Leader Program:

  1. Mentoring someone who works in a different area of the organization gives you a whole different perspective and a much broader understanding of the business.
  2. It's critical to gain and maintain the trust of your mentee. This isn't something that happens instantaneously; it takes time and effort. You need to create an environment where the mentee feels like they can say anything and won't be judged or feel like you're going to go talk to their direct boss.
  3. I had to learn that I can't fix my mentee's problems — no matter how tempting it may be — because that's not the purpose of the relationship. My role is to offer advice and help them learn how to solve problems on their own.
  4. I've learned that mentoring someone inside the organization presents different challenges than mentoring someone outside of the organization. When you mentor someone inside the organization, you have to put aside your biases and focus on helping the individual develop, not solving company issues.

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Learning to Let Go

Brad Barbera, Principal of Pi Innovation LLC, tells us about “the best lesson I ever received, from the best mentor I ever had.” It came while he was experiencing a time at work when looming deadlines and unexpected fires threatened to overwhelm him.

“The VP of my division, who was my boss's boss, saw me at my desk late one night and could tell that I was getting close to blowing a gasket. He asked me about what was going on, and I started to explain about this project and that delay and the other conflict and ... he interrupted me. He asked if any of those things were going to pass my rocking chair test?

“He went on to tell me that when he retired, he planned to get a log cabin in the mountains of Colorado, with a rocking chair on the front porch. He'd then sit in that chair, watching the sun rise or set over the mountains, and reflect back on the important events of his life, both good and bad. He used that image as a way of managing his current priorities. In the here and now, he would think, will this situation be something that I'll be thinking about in my rocking chair?”

Using this test helped Barbera clarify his priorities, which relieved his stress and boosted his productivity. He’s gone on to share this piece of wisdom with his own mentees.

A mentor relationship can yield valuable lessons for both parties. Open up your organization to mentoring, and see what it teaches you and your employees.

 

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This post was written by Dora Wang

Dora is an employee engagement researcher for TINYpulse and managing editor of TINYinstitute. Having grown up in Texas, she is now firmly settled in Seattle, where she spends her free time reading comic books, wrangling her three cats, and (of course) rooting for the Seahawks.

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