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The triple advantage

How mentoring can benefit your business now and in the future

By Nancy Andersen

The benefit for a business that encourages mentoring relationships among its employees isstraightforward: Mentoring prepares organizations for the future.

Whether as a formal program or informal arrangement, mentoring can provide the personal attention less-experienced professionals need to round out their technical and interpersonal skills, equipping them for later leadership positions within a growing company—perhaps even your own.

Mentoring relationships increase the pool of qualified candidates prepared to assume expanded roles. In addition, there is often an accompanying morale boost since this customized approach to employees’ career development gives them a greater sense of belonging within the organization. Knowing that someone cares about their success adds to their satisfaction, making mentoring a powerful retention tool.

A convincing argument

If your business doesn’t have the resources to create a formal mentoring program, how do you convince your best people to take time out of their busy schedules to become mentors? It’s not always an easy sell. More than half, 51%, of executives interviewed in a new Robert Half Management Resources survey (http://rhmr.mediaroom.com/mentoring) said they’ve never been mentors.

Still, that’s another half who have served as mentors, and they have a variety of stories to tell about why it’s a worthwhile experience—for their mentees, for themselves and for the company.

Mentors provide valuable guidance on decision-making and career management that mentees may not be able to obtain from other sources. But mentoring experiences also lay the groundwork for rewarding professional relationships that can last a lifetime. Ultimately, an employee’s decision to become a mentor may boil down to a sense that it’s just the right thing to do.

Of survey respondents who have served as mentors, 50% said they feel the greatest benefit is the satisfaction they gain from helping someone else. These professionals realize that the mark of a great mentor is an understanding that it’s not “all about you.”

The business environment of the last two years has been challenging to say the least. While mentors can’t address or control everything, they can do two important things—listen and offer advice. Many people are burned out and stressed out, and mentors can serve as an important sounding board. Many people might not have objective, trustworthy sources for guidance in their companies, at home or among their friends, so their mentors become a steady support system.

Mentors can offer advice on day-to-day and big picture situations ranging from handling an interpersonal conflict at work to adjusting when a new boss arrives to evaluating a potential job change. Mentors also can point mentees in the right career direction—where they can beef up their skills and networking efforts, for instance, to be more marketable. A mentee benefits from mentors’ years of work experience, the path they’ve taken and perhaps mistakes they’ve learned from.

Doing it for the greater good

It’s not unusual for people to feel hesitant about becoming a mentor. Despite their level of expertise, many professionals consider themselves hardly qualified to be an “expert” or advisor. The truth is, even if they have only a few years with a firm, they no doubt possess valuable knowledge that could help someone. Conversely, everyone at every career level can benefit from having mentors.

As a business owner or senior manager, you can provide guidance to employees you feel would make good mentors—or even to be a mentor yourself. A few things to consider:

•Your strengths. What are the most valuable things you’ve learned over the course of your career? Think about what you have to offer someone just starting out.

•Listen. The best mentors are often the best listeners. Understand your mentee’s situation and his or her greatest needs before you offer guidance. Sometimes the most valuable role you can play is that of a sounding board.

•Look beyond the newly hired. Professionals at all levels can benefit from having a mentor. Those trying to advance to the next level or looking to make a change might particularly welcome your advice.

•Be realistic. Given the realities of time pressures and impending deadlines in your role, it’s important to make clear to your mentee the amount of time you have to devote to the relationship. That way you can better define expectations and avoid potential disappointments.

Mentoring provides a triple advantage if it’s effectively designed: It benefits mentees, mentors and the company. The best mentors offer direct, candid feedback, but always maintain a positive attitude and provide constructive criticism. They also keep an open mind—they don’t allow their years of experience to cause them to respond negatively to new or different ideas or dismiss an employee’s concerns.

Nancy Andersen is the division director for Robert Half Management Resources in Jacksonville. Robert Half Management Resources is the world’s premier provider of senior-level accounting and finance professionals on a project and interim basis

SIDEBAR:

The greatest benefit of being a mentor

•Provides the internal satisfaction of helping someone else – 50%

•Offers you the opportunity to improve your leadership skills – 32%

•Helps you build your professional network – 9%

•Allows you to stay current on industry trends – 8%

•No benefit – 1%

Source: Robert Half Management Resources, 2011


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