Mentoring Moving up Companies' Agendas

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Just yesterday I wrote a post about providing coaching to employees as a way to boost morale and make them more productive. A standout statistic from the silicon.com article I cited: An International Personnel Management Association study found ordinary training typically boosted productivity by 22 percent, while training combined with coaching increased productivity by 88 percent.


The leadership coach featured in the article explained that coaching differs from mentoring in that coaches actively encourage employees to take ownership and responsibility for their self-development. Mentors typically offer ideas or suggestions, while coaches do not, instead asking questions that will help employees arrive at ideas of their own. I suspect, however, that many folks see mentoring and coaching as interchangeable practices. And I think both add value, since they provide the kind of professional guidance and attention that should help employees feel more fulfilled and purposeful in their work.


The idea of mentoring is gaining popularity, according to a Workforce Management article (free registration required) that cites an Aberdeen Group study. Nearly 1 in 5 companies plan to introduce some type of mentoring or coaching program in 2010 to help prepare employees for leadership roles. Kevin Martin, a VP with Aberdeen's human capital management practice, said companies see mentoring as a great way to ensure "intellectual capital" is passed from employees nearing retirement to those with long careers ahead of them.


Mentoring may also help keep younger employees on the job because it gives them the kind of personal attention many of them desire, a point also made by Lisa Orrell, author of "Millennials Incorporated," when I interviewed her in June. Said Orrell:


[Mentoring is] where a lot of my clients miss the boat. I'll say, "Do you have a mentoring program?" They'll say yes, but it's not mentioned anywhere on their Web sites, even though it's a strong recruiting tool for the younger generation. And if it dies on the vine and isn't active, it needs to be reinstated, because it's key for retention.


While 76 percent of companies surveyed by Aberdeen Group said they have used mentoring in an effort to deliver critical leadership skills (and most of them reported mentoring was effective), only 26 percent of them formally assigned mentors to newly-promoted managers. But 40 percent of survey respondents plan to establish more formal programs this year, which may indicate a growing recognition of mentoring's role in talent-management strategies.


Giving employees professional direction, while always important, is even more so now as companies try to emerge from the recent economic slump. Said Aberdeen Group's Martin:

It's how companies are going to get incremental business results, without adding incrementally to their workforces.