Mentoring in the workplace is a highly valued benefit. Mentoring not only provides employees with someone to go to for guidance or career planning, but it can also help them understand what goes on in other departments, can facilitate growth with decision-making or leadership skills, and can help improve a company’s overall feedback culture. Employees crave opportunities to learn and grow — but with shrinking learning and development (L&D) budgets, it’s becoming more challenging to offer expansive learning programs.
Many employees attribute some of their success to having a good mentor from the start. Knowing who to go to for help can be difficult, especially when employees are working remotely or in larger organizations with globally based employees. There may be external opportunities, but they can be expensive for someone who is just starting their career. While formal mentoring programs that are maintained by organizations are still popular, studies have also shown that informal mentoring can be more effective on career development (Underhill, 2005). Enter the idea of skill-sharing as a complement to mentoring.
Mentoring versus Skill-sharing
Mentoring is a professional relationship in which an experienced person (the mentor) supports another (the mentee) in developing specific skills and knowledge that will enhance the less experienced person’s professional and personal growth. While mentoring provides one-on-one opportunities to discuss various goals or skills, skill-sharing gets straight to what’s needed. Think of it as “mentoring on demand,” where employees can connect with someone who has the skill they are looking to develop. This hybrid approach gives employees a platform for knowledge and skill-sharing in hopes of connecting with experts who can assist with projects or professional goals.
Mentoring may be critical to the success of junior employees, but there can be obstacles that make it more difficult to succeed, including time, follow-up meetings, clarity on the proper way to structure meetings or who is supposed to make contact first (Franko et.al, 2019). With the current number of remote workers, location is now an issue when considering mentoring relationships. Current technologies can bridge the gap of static relationships and take away the “guesswork” involved.
Employees engage with technology all day long, whether for work-related issues or in their personal lives. Everyone has their phone with them all the time and are used to dealing with software in the form of apps. By using a platform like those in which employees interact in their personal lives, we can leverage technology to drive engagement.
Using mobile applications with the mentoring process is not necessarily a new concept; there are several mentor apps available that work independently or alongside an in-house program. Many companies are finding that it is more cost-effective to use technology to complement in-house programs or even replace more traditional ones. In addition, connecting employees and mentors online opens opportunities for location-agnostic pairings. Whether through an app, an LMS or an organizational platform, technology can support the development of mentor/mentee relationships at all levels.
What to Look For in an App
The driving idea behind mentoring apps is that people can create profiles specifying their skills and talents and communicate with others informally through the app. There is no need to involve specific departments or talent specialists. Rather, allow employees to find each other based on their immediate needs, within, or outside of, the organization. Some of the apps are customized to work within a company’s established mentoring program. Many apps function similarly to a social connection app with landing dashboards, users’ names, photos, knowledge, skills, hourly fees and ratings. Users can often search for a specific skill to find a mentor or request to be matched based on similarities or goals. Some contain in-app systems for scheduling meetings or pushing info to mentors and mentees regularly.
Mentoring apps that envelop all communication, organization and data through the app are the most helpful. An additional feature might be rating systems like other share-economy apps, where both parties rate each other and provide optional reviews, which are only visible afterward.
When considering technology for mentoring programs, companies will want to ensure that the platform is easy, quick and relevant to employees. Apps that function easily and similarly to other apps they use regularly will engage them more than software that has a steep learning curve.
Retaining talent and knowledge/skill sharing is critical in today’s corporate workplace. Leveraging technology with mentor apps can help with creating a learning culture within a company and encourage cross-department collaboration, all of which can drive employee engagement. For L&D departments with shrinking budgets, out of the box apps might be one way to jumpstart a coaching or mentoring program. HR departments can also consider some of the more customizable products to launch a new mentorship program.
Whatever your L&D mentoring needs are, apps can revolutionize knowledge sharing and provide an easy launch to more formal mentoring. Opportunities for skill-sharing and mentoring are often noted as value-adds when employees are considering a job; mentor apps can promote collaboration and knowledge sharing solutions with “mentors on demand” who can quickly help employees solve a problem or learn a new skill quickly.