There are different types of mentorship that can help your organization cultivate talent. Here's a closer look at four types of mentorships and how to build a culture of mentorship that helps them all succeed.

A culture of mentoring can have a transformative effect on employees' careers and can help with both shaping organizational culture and spreading institutional knowledge. Developing a culture of mentoring can benefit your organization and its employees enjoy a wide range of advantages, from stronger collaboration to more open dialogue to well-cultivated talent pipelines.

Research from The Mentor Coach Foundation notes that 97% of professionals with a mentor found the relationship valuable, yet just 37% of employees have access to mentorship. The interest is there, but the current number of opportunities doesn't seem to correlate.

Here is a closer look at different types of mentoring and how cultivating a culture of mentorship can benefit your business.

Thinking out of the box about mentoring

Often, the word "mentorship" evokes a specific image of an established employee showing an emerging peer the ropes of their job. However, in today's fast-moving business landscape, mentorships can have a wide variety of potential configurations. As Harvard Business Review notes, "Your ability to grow and develop the skills you need to thrive will depend largely on your adaptability and willingness to learn and collaborate with others. Mentorships are great conduits for this kind of growth, particularly if both parties are benefiting from the relationship."

For HR leaders, developing agile mentoring programs that focus on the needs of employees across the generational spectrum and across different business functions can yield powerful results. "There are four different types of mentorship: the job-specific, the business-unit-specific, the agnostic business connection, and direct talent sponsorship," says Nik Palmer, ADP's Technical Support Advisor and Leader of the Generations Business Resource Group (BRG).

Understanding types of mentorship

There are several different styles and approaches organizations can take to mentoring. Here's a deeper dive into the four main types:

  1. Job-specific mentorship: This type of internship may be focused on helping a mentee develop specific skill sets or institutional knowledge. For example, a more experienced engineer might mentor a recent hire on role-specific factors, such as how to collaborate with product development, strategies for project management and how to choose the types of professional development that can help them advance in their careers.
  2. A business unit-level mentorship: This often focuses on helping talent build their knowledge of the business and setting them on a trajectory for growth. These mentorships can help employees better understand the needs of customers, develop the soft skills necessary to thrive in a specific culture or cross-train roles.
  3. The agnostic business connection: To create a broader relationship between participants, this type of mentorship may focus on a variety of out-of-the-box scenarios, including reverse mentoring, which connects experienced talent with emerging talent to share intergenerational perspectives and insights. As a writer for the Harvard Business Review notes, "Transformational mentoring is a term I use to describe a relationship that offers something powerful to both the mentee and the mentor — and it requires an equal amount of work from both." These mentorships might focus on building bridges across generations, promoting other DEI goals or forging a stronger ecosystem throughout the business. In any case, says Palmer, fostering connections creates the opportunity for dialogue and helps employees see the world from their colleagues' perspectives.
  4. Direct-talent mentorships: These working relationships are sometimes referred to as sponsorships. In these cases, according to Palmer, the mentorship may center more on succession planning. For instance, senior talent might mentor specific individuals who could step into their roles as they ascend the ladder or retire. Direct mentorships can also focus on supporting the career trajectories of rising stars or cultivating a specific talent pool within the business.

Best practices for developing mentorship culture

Your organization's mentorship programs should support talent growth, expand opportunities and build more dynamic teams. Across mentorship types, one of the most critical factors for success is the intent to build a culture that supports mentorship. Here are the best practices leaders should focus on to promote this:

  • Creating a context for connection. Build interest in mentorship and an openness to push beyond traditional conceptions of what mentorship is by doing away with fancy descriptions and language. "Just do away with the labels" says Palmer. "For ADP's internal program, we just use the name 'Connect.' And whether you are a connector or a connectee, it doesn't matter. The goal is to get people talking." Focusing on promoting dialogue, supporting DEI efforts and creating pathways for growth may attract stronger participation than branding a program as a mentorship.
  • Highlighting the business value. It's important to highlight the business value of mentorship to both the participants and the organization at large. "When we connect people from across the different generations and across the different units and divisions in the company, we can learn, connect, grow and increase our knowledge" says Palmer. "And if we do that, these people who participate in it theoretically become far more knowledgeable about the company as a whole, they become far more empathic and they develop their institutional knowledge to a higher level." That can translate to employees being more successful and easier to retain over the longer term.
  • Getting and demonstrating leadership buy-in. Leaders often set the tone for what behaviors and cultural qualities emerge and are valued within an organization. When leaders take part in mentorship programs and highlight the value of these initiatives, employees may be more likely to show interest and explore how these initiatives could help them and their business.
  • Focusing on accessibility. How accessible are mentorship programs to employees? Today, employees may be remote or hybrid. They may be working in different offices or managing staggered schedules. Take time to consider how you're promoting mentorship programs and facilitating participation. One possible approach is to start highlighting these programs as early as onboarding. Another is to explore technology platforms that make it easier to match with prospective mentors and schedule conversations or interactions that work with today's diverse schedules.

Next steps for building a culture of mentoring

Taking the time to develop rich mentorship programs can create powerful platforms for knowledge transferring, team building and talent retention. Today's workplace offers opportunities to develop a variety of different mentorship programs to engage employees and meet their needs. By laying the foundation for a culture of mentoring, your business can create sustainable programs that cultivate and disseminate the very DNA of your organization's talent management programs.

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