• October 2014

What's the Key to Unlocking Your Potential? Try Mentoring!

By Barbara Mitchell
HR Expert and Co-Author
The Essential HR Handbook and The Big Book of HR

One of the best ways I can think of to help people unlock their potential (or to do it for yourself) is through mentoring.

Most people think of mentoring as an older, more experienced employee taking a younger staff member under his or her wing. But I love to think of mentoring as a relationship between someone who has more knowledge on a particular subject and someone with less experience—regardless of age.

By this definition, anyone can be a mentor and anyone can be mentored. Think of it as the new world of mentoring.

The good news is that the idea of “reverse mentoring” is taking off in many organizations—especially around technology.

Here’s why:

  1. Learning never ends. It’s wonderful to have younger, tech-savvy staffers spend time with seasoned employees, helping them master the latest technology. And, while they are installing new software or learning a shortcut, the more seasoned employee can also be sharing stories about the history and culture of the organization. Both the mentor and the mentee gain from this mentoring relationship where the potential of each person can be advanced.
  2. Everyone wins. As I explained in The Big Book of HR: “Mentoring is a no- or low-cost development process that can pay huge dividends for the individual and the organization. Mentoring can be an asset in the hiring process; it helps the prospective employee see that the organization will invest in his or her future development and it can be a retention tool as well, because it can help a new hire quickly assimilate into the organization. The mentoring process creates cross-organizational connections and builds channels of communication—often between people who might not have worked together other than through a mentoring relationship.”
  3. Cross-pollination rules. Some of the most powerful mentoring relationships occur when an employee is mentored by someone outside of his or her department or function. I advise HR professionals, for example, to find a mentor in finance or marketing so that they expand their understanding of the business they are in. Informal mentoring happens all the time and should be encouraged by leadership even if formal mentoring programs don’t exist in organizations.

The Bottom Line

Many professionals assume that they need to wait for a senior person to suggest a mentoring relationship.

On the contrary, anyone who wants a mentor should respectfully ask an individual if he or she would be willing to be a mentor. Also, mentoring doesn’t have to be forever or even formalized. I’ve seen very successful mentoring relationships develop organically, while other more formal programs don’t always succeed.

I’ve had many mentors in my career, and each one has had a big impact on me at the time. I am grateful to each one for unlocking a bit more of my potential. I’ve also been a mentor, which has been a great experience, and very beneficial as well.

So, find yourself a mentor or become one—either way your potential will be unlocked!


About Barbara Mitchell

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors and has consulted for organizations around the world.

She has served in senior human-resources leadership positions with Marriott International and at several technology firms in the Washington, DC, area before co-founding The Millennium Group International, which she sold in 2008.

Her books include The Essential HR Handbook, and The Big Book of HR.

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