Mentoring in the COVID era

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COVID-19 has prompted many of us to reconsider our work lives and career goals. Online learning has boomed, webinars are increasing in popularity by the day, and some are even leaning into new feats in the form of side hustles or seeking new employment opportunities or sources of income altogether. It is clear that self-development is a hot topic right now.

In addition to this trend, anxieties continue to run high. Employees are worried about their job security or may be concerned about how to balance work and life amid the new #workingfromhome climate. Employers are stressed about how to keep their teams productive and their businesses profitable. To us, this signifies something very clearly – mentoring is more important than ever.

According to researchers W. Brad Johnson, David G. Smith and Jennifer Haythornthwaite, great organisational mentoring schemes quite often correlate with employees who are happier, healthier and more satisfied with their jobs. Benefits of mentoring include: more rapid advancement, higher salaries, greater organisational commitment, stronger identity, higher self-esteem, a better work-life balance and more. It tends to bolster retention and maximises employee potential.

Despite the findings clearly indicating that all organisations should implement a formal mentoring programme, many do not – especially in the public and third sectors. Budget constraints, overworked teams and the absence of sustainable project management methodologies tend to create an environment that just isn’t compatible with mentorship. Even if mentoring is put in place, it’s often done poorly or without enough careful thought and consideration about who should mentor who and how they should do it. This goes for both the private and public/third sector. As the aforementioned researchers recognise, while 70% of Fortune 500 companies do have a mentoring scheme in place, there’s little evidence that these programmes are having any broad impact.

Clearly, the need for remote working and virtual professional development isn’t going away anytime soon. Clearly, there will be no returning to the old ‘normal’. And even more, crystal is the fact that public and third sector workers are under greater levels of pressure than ever before. Effective mentoring could make a huge difference.

Here are some tips for how to put (an effective!) mentoring scheme in place…

1.The mentor matters

Just because someone is exceptionally good at their jobs, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll make a great mentor. Furthermore, even natural mentors require training on how to become the best mentor they can be.

Great mentors generally possess some core competencies. They are great listeners and networkers; know how to develop a good rapport with others; understand concepts such as intentional role-modelling and professional socialisation, and have a natural sense of empathy, to name a few skills. Some of these are inherent, others can be taught. It can be a great morale booster, both for the mentor and the wider team, to offer some key staff members mentoring training via a certified body such as The OCM.

2. Consider a reverse mentoring scheme

Everybody has the potential to be a teacher. Think about how you can create a culture of mutual mentorship in the office, one that isn’t so top-heavy. Maybe younger members of the team could regularly present on new developments in the social media world to the team, for example. Just because someone doesn’t have decades of experience, doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable insights to offer!

Indeed, according to Entrepeneur.com, the practice of younger team members mentoring older ones has even become a trend. They call it ‘reverse mentoring’.

3. Get creative

A mentoring programme can go beyond simple face-to-face or Zoom meetings once a fortnight, for instance. Consider how the protègè could truly learn from their mentor. Maybe a day of shadowing or, in COVID times, silently participating in some of the mentors’ Zoom meetings to gain some real insight into how the mentor applies their skills in realtime. At construction company Caterpillar, for example, participants are paired with a mentor for two or three years. During this time the focus in on specific skills the mentees need to succeed in their field.

4. Put feedback mechanisms in place

To ensure your organisation or team’s mentor programme is meeting its objectives, it’s important to actively solicit feedback on the results. Some ways to do this could include:

  • Requesting that each participant provides a written summary of their experience
  • Conducting regular group meetings to discuss ways to improve the programme
  • Collecting feedback via year-end interviews or group meetings
  • Implementing a programme evaluation form system

ROI director Christos Pishias has decades of experience working with teams in the public sector, third sector and ‘social good’ organisations such as healthtech start-ups, including the London Borough of Southwark, the University of Warwich, NHS Wales and more.

Christos is offering a complimentary mentoring session via Zoom to individuals in the ‘social good’ sector.

For more information and to book your 60-90 minutes call, go to https://roioperations.co.uk/services/free-mentoring-session/