Jan 14, 2015

Those of us lucky enough to have had a strong mentor figure at some point in our lives know how important they can be to career development, personal success, and overall well-being.

That’s why January 15 is Thank Your Mentor Day, an annual event for National Mentoring Month that encourages everyone to reach out and thank the people who took the time to take an interest.

Created in 2002 by the Harvard School of Public Health and The National Mentoring Partnership, National Mentoring Month is dedicated to raising awareness of mentoring, recruiting mentors for young people, and promoting mentorship within organizations.

Why mentoring programs are important

It’s for a good cause too – strong mentoring programs in the workplace are one of the most effective ways to increase retention and engagement over the long-term. Talent Development firm Chronus explains why in their whitepaper, Five Benefits of a Workplace Mentoring Program:

Because 80 percent of learning is informal (as commonly cited by Bersin [& Associates]), mentoring empowers learning in ways that manuals, intranets, and training programs can’t. It shortens the learning curve, enhances productivity, and helps employees align to business strategy. In addition, knowledge transfer fuels succession planning, ensuring that once executives retire, someone with plenty of company knowledge will be ready to step into place.” [emphasis ours]”

Indeed, 71 percent of Fortune 500 organizations feature a formal mentoring program, and 69 percent of business leaders say it’s important to have one. Mentoring programs don’t get many headlines, but they are more relied upon in the workplace than one might think.

How to be a good mentor

Many organizations may already have several employees eager to become mentors themselves, but they may not know what to say to get it started. The most important aspect of a mentor-mentee relationship is that it be genuine, not manufactured or obligatory, something easier said than done.

Venture capital CEO Anthony K. Tjan has been writing a lot on the topic of mentoring for the Harvard Business Review, where he is a regular contributor. He suggests every mentor begin a mentoring relationship by asking the following five questions to their mentee:

  1. What is it that you really want to be and do?
  2. What are you doing really well that is helping you get there?
  3. What are you not doing well that is preventing you from getting there?
  4. What will you do differently tomorrow to meet those challenges?
  5. How can I help/where do you need the most help?

As a supplement we highly recommend reading Mr. Tjan’s mentoring articles, Five Questions Every Mentor Must Ask and Keeping Great People with Three Kinds of Mentors.

Show them you care

Mentoring has a large role in not just business, but our daily lives as well.

If you have that special someone who made a difference in your life or career, now is the time to celebrate them. If you are in charge of a mentoring program at your office, now is the time to enable those celebrations.

The National Mentoring Month website has all the marketing materials, recognition ideas, and research you need to get started — all you have to do is take an interest.

This was originally published on the Michael C. Fina blog.

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