“One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.”
Mentoring—when an experienced individual assists and guides a less-experienced individual—can greatly enhance one’s professional and personal growth.
While training tends to focus on formal learning with well-defined learning objectives, mentoring is more of an informal relationship. Think of mentoring as one more layer of training.
Not only do mentors in the workplace provide guidance, advice, feedback, insight and support, but they also offer mentees wisdom, experience, institutional knowledge, career development, new ways of thinking, and help in developing skills and knowledge.
And these positive impacts of mentoring are not new. In fact, in 2004, President George W. Bush signed the Federal Workforce Flexibility Act into law. This Act makes several significant changes in the law governing the training and development of Federal employees, supervisors, and executives. One major change requires agencies to provide training to managers on the best way to mentor employees.
Of the numerous benefits that mentoring offers, educational support is an important piece of the professional development puzzle. Mentoring helps bridge the gap between theory and practice. When employees receive education and training within the workplace, mentors can enhance this teaching by adding their hands-on experience and knowledge.
According to Higher Education Academy Professor Gill Nicholls, “The central premise of mentoring as a form of professional learning stems from the belief that individuals learn best through observing, doing, commenting and questioning, rather than simply listening.”
She adds, “Mentoring is a powerful tool to help mentors articulate the skills and knowledge they may have, which are frequently tacit. Making explicit what one does and thus allowing someone else to learn from that knowledge is a powerful tool to have: mentoring facilitates the learning of such tools.”
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Mentoring in today’s workplace
Karen Rice, Group Human Resources Business Partner at Lash Group, insists that the numerous advances within our digital world have drastically altered the way we interact. Instead of using phones and face-to-face communication to connect with clients and colleagues, the workplace has shifted to communication via e-mail, text, and social networks.
“Mentoring in the workplace has not been immune to the changes brought on by the advances in technology. Instead, it has evolved and adapted to the new ways of communication,” she writes.
Based on these developments, Rice offers advice for mentoring in today’s social media and technology-focused age:
Don’t lose face-to-face connections
While advances in technology certainly make it easier to communicate, face-to-face meetings or phone conversations are still vital. And when individuals are not in the same zip code, try FaceTime or Skype. And remember to always unplug at mentoring meetings to avoid distractions.
Online media enhances connections
Google Hangouts and Skype provide a good way for voices to be heard and different ideas to be shared. Taking part in Webinars or online classes together is a useful way to expand skills and knowledge in a particular area, then after the class the mentor can provide context to the mentee on how the class can help them be more effective within their roles.
Mentoring is not a one-way street
Successful mentoring relationships come about when a mentor teaches the mentee, and the mentee enlightens the mentor. Decide on the best way to communicate, set regular meeting times and leverage online resources to share ongoing ideas.
There is no question that mentoring is one of the most valuable and effective training opportunities that organizations can offer employees. Having the support, guidance and encouragement of an experienced mentor undoubtedly provides mentees with numerous personal and professional benefits. And these benefits equate to improved performance in the workplace. Now that’s a definite win-win.