• November 2010

Barbara Mitchell gives thanks for all those mentors who make a difference

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

True or false: Due to the economic downturn, an unlimited supply of talented people are available to fill positions in organizations. False! While certainly there are many applicants for every opening, finding that perfect applicant is still a challenge.

And after you fill the job with just the right person, you must do everything possible to retain your talent.

Consider a mentoring program

A recent study on job satisfaction by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) showed that career development was one of the three top things today’s employees value in their workplace — and that means the organization must create an atmosphere in which employees are able to learn and grow in their skills and abilities.

One way to provide employees with learning opportunities and career development is to establish a mentoring program.

Mentors used to be someone higher up in the organization, and those being mentored — “mentees” — were new hires or newly promoted employees. But I believe that anyone can be a mentor if you consider a mentor as someone who has experience or knowledge that you don’t have. So a mentor could be a peer or even someone at a lower level, as long as they have something to share with you that you need at that particular time.

Who is the best mentor for your employees?

One of the best pieces of advice I received was to consider selecting a mentor outside my field of human resources.

Most of us gravitate to people in our profession, but having a mentor in a different field provides a different perspective, and certainly a different lens through which to view our own assumptions.

Having a mentor outside HR provided me with experiences that I would not have had if I’d just selected HR professionals as my mentors.

Formal mentoring programs can be a real learning strategy for an organization and a retention strategy as well. Mentoring programs can also be recruiting strategies—an extra incentive for new hires who want a mentor to “jump start” their assimilation into the organization.

Consider this

If you are interested in putting a mentoring program in place at your organization, here are some tips:

  • Select mentors carefully for their knowledge AND for their commitment to the program (use volunteers as much as possible, if they meet your qualifications).
  • Spend time on the matching process or allow mentees to select from two or three possible mentors.
  • Help mentees select an appropriate mentor by providing biographical information, including past work experience and career goals.
  • Provide training for the mentors so they know what to expect from the process, and, if possible, provide coaches for the mentors so they have a place to go with questions.
  • Provide training for the mentees so they understand what they can ask from their mentor.
  • Develop and use mentor/mentee signed agreements so that everyone is on the same page.
  • Allow time for mentoring during the work day.
  • Build in some rewards for mentors—they will be dedicating time to the process so they should be acknowledged with bonuses or time off.

Today’s employees are looking for ways they can contribute to the organization and grow in their own career. Mentoring is a way to make that happen and is a win-win for the employee and the organization.


About Barbara Mitchell

Barbara is a human resources and organization development consultant who is widely known as an expert in the areas of recruitment and retention. She has experience in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors and has consulted to a variety of organizations around the world.

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

Barbara is a graduate of North Park University in Chicago, with a degree in history and political science. Contact Barbara by email.

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