The labor market is tight, and likely to remain so for some time. But you need quality people on your staff to keep your company going, growing and gaining market share. How can you attract the best and brightest?
Maybe they’re already working for you.
What is mentoring?
In the past, young people took apprenticeships to learn trades over the course of years. Often, they lived with the master and his family, as well. Someone who began as a shy, intimidated boy might well grow up to be the owner of the business himself one day because he learned all his master could teach and succeeded him when he retired.
Today, of course, people seek jobs (rather than trades) and many have their eyes on the door from the first day they begin training. They’re just waiting to learn enough to step up to something better.
Mentoring is a way to benefit both your company and your employee. The mentor shares what he or she has learned in the business, and the mentee is challenged to grow professionally within the company. The business gets a highly trained individual, and the employee gains skills through a give-and-take relationship with a more skilled person in the industry.
Situation 1: You’re in your plant and you see an employee who seems particularly keen on doing a good job. You watch her for a week or so, and then ask her if she’d like to learn more and move up over time.
Situation 2: An employee approaches you and asks how you got to be doing the job you are doing. You tell him a bit of your history, and then he asks if you’d be willing to train him to do the same thing, so he can move up.
Both scenarios involve the beginning of a potential mentoring situation. In the first, the boss has singled out someone who has shown potential. The employee has the option of saying yes or no to the mentoring plan, but the goal for both is for the employee to succeed in the company.
In the second scenario, the employee has initiated the mentor discussion. This is fantastic, as it shows real interest on his part in becoming more valuable to the company. He just needs someone who will agree to take him under his or her wing for the journey.
Mentoring Dos and Don’ts
Mentoring must be viewed as a relationship — kept on a business footing. It’s not a way to butter up the boss to get a promotion. Nor is it a way for the boss to play different employees off against one another by showing favouritism. Like any relationship, there are rules to make it work.
Let’s start with what you must do as a mentor.
DO understand mentoring takes time, dedication and prioritization. You’ll have to agree on how frequently you will work on issues, training and skills, and then stick to the schedule. It’s not something that can be shuffled to the side on your busy calendar.
DO expect to share your work triumphs and failures with your mentee. After all, which did you learn more from? Most likely, the challenges. It will do neither of you any good for you to only present the times you got everything right. You’ll always be worried he or she will hear of the “other times”, and the mentee will realize you’re not being genuine, and will learn much less.
DO realize that mentorship is a two-way street. Yes, you’ll be sharing what you’ve learned in the industry, and within the company, with someone who is newer to it all. But he or she will be teaching you about the upcoming generation of workers, how they think, and how their entry level skill set differs from yours. Embrace the opportunity to broaden your horizons, not just your mentee’s.
DO demand much — and praise much. Setting a realistic high goal for your mentee will challenge you both. You’ll be tempted to step in and “help” (and you must refrain). The mentee will make mistakes and learn from them. Make your criticism constructive, be generous with your praise, and watch your mentee blossom.
DO remember you are not creating a “Mini You.” If you want a clone, you’re out of luck. Every employee has different ideas, abilities and goals. A real mentor brings out a mentee’s strengths and helps him or her work through weaknesses to build a solid foundation. You made mistakes, and you aren’t perfect. So why would you want another you? Set a mentee free to be their personal best, not yours.
What you should not do as a mentor.
DON’T take on a mentoring relationship because you’re flattered, or because you feel sorry for the other person. It will only end badly for both of you.
DON’T be a know-it-all. Part of the mentoring process is to help the mentee learn by doing (and sometimes failing).
DON’T try to solve all the mentee’s problems. Whether they are business issues or personal ones, remember your role is to guide, not fix.
DON’T let your mentorship interfere with business decisions. The mentee doesn’t get special treatment, and you don’t have to change what you are doing to accommodate or work around him or her.
DON’T get personally involved with your mentee. Particularly in this day of “MeToo”, it is dangerous to get too close to anyone. Share your personality, your skills and insights, and even some personal details, but keep it on a professional level. Anything that can be misconstrued as an advance or personal relationship should be avoided.
So, is it worth it?
Who gave you a hand up in business, in life or in your community? There’s always someone you can look back on and say, “If it weren’t for him/her, I would not be where I am today.” Listen to the acceptance speeches of award winners. There’s always someone to thank. By being a mentor, you can be that someone.
Mentoring employees is a great way to build your company from the inside, without having to go out and try to find someone to fill the void. It also speaks volumes to your employees that you’d take time to mentor them and help them succeed. Avoid the pitfalls and focus on the positives. You’ve got nothing to lose, and a great employee to gain.