Gen Why - Michelle Eggleston

Let’s take a trip down memory lane for a moment; all the way back to elementary school. Remember the excitement of taking field trips, where you would pile into a school bus and travel to a museum, historic landmark or other educational hotspot? It was quite common for the teacher to instruct you to find a “buddy” to stay with while on-site. Essentially, everywhere he/she goes, you go. This is known as the buddy system.

Now, flash forward back to the corporate workplace. There is still much to be said about the value of the buddy system in corporate learning and development. Organizations often refer to this as mentoring or coaching, commonly used in onboarding practices to acclimate new employees to the company culture. Typically, organizations partner a more experienced employee with a new hire to help increase productivity and company knowledge.

While mentoring programs can be highly effective, they can also quickly fall flat if not orchestrated well. To develop a successful mentoring program, goals need to be identified and tied directly to job roles and business objectives. The structure and purpose of the program must also be carefully planned, and mentors and mentees must have tangible objectives that can be easily measured.

A mentorship is a two-way street and can be beneficial for both parties. Mentees are gaining insight into their new job role and company, allowing them to engage with the organization faster. Mentors are walking away with increased confidence levels in their job and can also develop better communication skills.

With an influx of “green” and inexperienced millennials flooding the workplace, L&D must ensure that mentors have the right level of preparedness to provide a meaningful mentor/mentee relationship. Millennials are hungry for forming meaningful partnerships that help them gain knowledge and learn from more experienced individuals.

FastCompany highlighted a real mentoring relationship in an article that provides some insight into the inner workings of a successful mentorship. Here are some tips to develop exceptional mentors.

  • Put in the time. In order to form a meaningful relationship, mentors must take the time to understand the personal and career aspirations of the mentee. It’s a mentor’s job to learn as much as they can about the people they are coaching.
  • Be available. A big part of being a mentor is building a relationship with the mentee and that requires frequent meetings. Mentors need to be available to help mentees master a new skill or navigate a challenging situation when the need arises.
  • Learn to listen. Listening is just as important – if not more important – than talking. Mentors need to listen to what mentees are saying and ask questions to increase clarity. This will help mentors steer the relationship in a direction that benefits the mentee.
  • Add that personal touch. A clear benefit of a mentorship is the ability for the mentor to share personal experiences and insights. Mentors should openly share experiences that mentees can relate to. 
  • Make introductions. As a mentor, your connections and reach can be an added value to the mentee. If you know someone who can help your mentee, make the connection and help them build a professional network. 
  • Knowing when to say goodbye. Formal mentoring programs typically have a timeframe, but for less formal relationships, it’s important to know when to say goodbye. While all good things come to an end, a mentorship can evolve into a long-term professional connection.

Even as adults in the corporate workplace, it’s comforting to have a “buddy” to turn to for advice or direction. While the days of field trips are long gone, this buddy system can help millennials adjust to their new role and reduce time to productivity. To maximize the effectiveness of the program, L&D must provide mentors with the knowledge they need to make a lasting impact.