I am a huge advocate of company-wide mentoring schemes that train and support employees across the business.
These schemes are a significant investment in terms of time, as you will be paying staff to meet their mentor during work hours. However I think this investment will be offset by the increased knowledge staff will bring back into the business.
>See also: A guide to business mentoring in the UK
Here are the main benefits I think a dedicated programme offers:
- 1. Knowledge sharing. In today’s deadline-driven world, often we’re too busy ‘doing’ to think. This is crazy but we’re all guilty of ticking off the easy things on the to-do list, rather than address the challenges of the bigger picture. Setting up a mentorship system, which sets aside time for staff to work with a peer and discuss issues they have, will encourage proper contemplation and problem solving. Ultimately, it’s financially beneficial to you. Short-term time investment equals medium and long-term business improvements. It also empowers your employees, enabling them to achieve their personal development goals.
- 2. Widening the circle. Departments within companies tend to be quite inward looking. This is largely due to time pressures and, perversely, the physical boundaries put in place by walls. Sometimes walking to another room, or through a door can feel like entering a hostile territory. As a result, teams tend to bounce ideas off a close and compact circle of immediate colleagues. And what happens when these colleagues lack expertise in certain areas? Ideas are limited. You’ll find that colleagues with the best ideas have a wide circle of interests and friends. As a direct result of having both people to bounce ideas off, and experience in lots of different areas, they generate quality ideas. By setting up a mentoring system in-house, which matches members of your marketing team with your call centre staff for example, you are allowing people to widen their circle. Which in turn will span knowledge holes within their current team. We go so far as to set up secondments that allow employees to spend a few days in a different department to understand what their colleagues do and to benefit from their knowledge and processes. This type of mentorship provides a very valuable learning experience, if you keep reminding staff why you set it up.
- 3. The children are the future. Everyone can be a mentor. Even the youngest new-starter to come through the door. This is because a “millennial” has a totally different perspective to you, thanks to the fast-paced digital world they’ve grown up in, where even email is old-hat. Linking them up with a more experienced member of staff, whose blinkers may have naturally narrowed as their expertise grows, will help open their eyes to the changes in technology, communication and behaviour (both consumer and employee). This valuable insight will inform them as they make the big decisions on behalf of the company.
- 4. Sharing the culture. It’s important to maintain the culture that was established when your company was founded. It’s that culture that allowed it to have the success it’s achieved, while making it a place employees believe in and want to work. As you grow, however, the original culture is at risk of dilution without the start-up partners there to instil their passion into new starters. Linking long-serving members of staff with younger employees can be a clever way to impart a sense of who you are and what you are trying to achieve.
Melanie Astbury is the Head of HR at Office Kitten, the discount stationery shop