Building an inclusive career culture through mentoring
In this roundtable we explored how to establish a career support culture through developmental mentoring relationships.
Purposeful career development is increasingly seen as a partnership between the organisation and its employees. A key aspect of this career support culture is the encouragement given to employees to build a network of contacts. It’s this network that opens up access to technical knowledge, organisational understanding and career advice.
Mentors, career coaches and sponsors can all play important roles in helping the individual match their talents and interests with the needs of the business. But how do you embed this approach so it makes a successful, sustained contribution to career development – and at the same time builds a more inclusive organisation?
Our provocateur Jo Edwards, who has extensive experience of career development across five different industry sectors, identified mentoring as a powerful developmental relationship that’s currently getting a lot of attention. She challenged us to weigh the benefits of formal and informal approaches, and asked whether tackling some of the more intractable talent mobility and diversity challenges requires us to introduce sponsorship programmes.
Setting the scene, Rosemary McLean told us that research into the seven dimensions of our CareerPulse tool showed ‘Connecting with others’ had the most significant correlation with career satisfaction. However, David North noted that for many people a lack of confidence, skills or a sense of feeling ‘at home’ in the culture prevents them proactively building a career support network.
Our discussion began with people sharing the current focus of their mentoring support:
- Improving the quality of career conversations within mentoring relationships
- Introducing self-service platforms to facilitate mentor selection by more reluctant mentees
- Supporting inclusion initiatives, such as the career progression of female leaders or local employees in particular geographies
- Promoting the development potential and job satisfaction mentoring offers to mentors
- Extending the benefits of mentoring to a wider population e.g. apprenticeship programmes
- Finding ways to re-energise dormant or under-used mentoring schemes
‘Career development can’t be done alone’.
Jo started her provocation by reminding us that a support network is not just about mentors. It can include your line manager, sponsor, colleagues, family and friends; all of whom can provide constructive feedback, offer guidance and act as a sounding board.
Mentors can play a pivotal role in supporting careers, and Jo drew on personal experience to share the transformative impact a mentor had on her during a key career transition. We shouldn’t under-estimate the power of an authentic, two-sided mentoring relationship. When a mentor really connects with someone, they show they’re interested in the other person and that their hopes and ambitions matter.
Jo described how a simple, self-service approach – supported by on-line mentoring resources and providing access to a list of willing mentors – can be effective in certain settings. In other organisational cultures, employees have higher expectations and want more from their employer.
Recently, she has introduced a more ambitious pilot scheme underpinned by a platform that draws on mentee and mentor information to identify personalised matches for those seeking mentoring support. Jo recommended that you select an approach that meets employee needs, your talent management goals and the organisation’s context; ‘there isn’t one size that fits all’.
‘Whilst formal mentoring programmes show that you’re serious about your investment in mentees and their development, it is also important to actively encourage a supportive, growth culture where developmental relationships can happen naturally’
Participants shared their experience of mentor/mentee matching platforms (Mentorcliq and a customised version of SAPjam where referenced). Factors that had been useful in supporting matching include: past experience; strengths; interests; and values.
‘Great mentors may not be enough’
Jo contended that supporting the career progression of certain groups of employees may require the organisation to go ‘to the next level’. Sponsorship – where an executive is accountable for increasing the visibility of talented individuals and advocating for them to be appointed to senior roles – can be used to drive the careers of traditionally under-represented groups. As with mentoring, the purpose of sponsorship needs to be clearly articulated, and individuals equipped to play their roles.
Our Careers of Tomorrow research includes an example of how one organisation successfully adopted this approach for high potential female leaders.
David North encouraged people to view mentoring as part of an integrated, strategic approach to career development. He suggested that updating the career proposition, the support employees get, and what they’re expected to give in return, lays the foundation for a future-focused career culture. It addresses questions like:
- How are careers built, and what am I responsible for?
- Who’s available to help me?
- Why should I consider a lateral move?
Participants shared practical actions for further supporting mentoring in their organisations:
- Set clear, realistic expectations about what mentoring can deliver; it’s not a panacea
- Create practical development resources to prepare mentees and mentors for mentoring
- Develop mentors’ skills so all career conversations are positive experiences
- Raise mentors’ awareness of unintended pitfalls, such as faulty assumptions
- Use the mentoring relationship to promote experience-based development
- Share a clear narrative about how careers are built in the organisation
- Explore the potential of sponsorship to achieve diversity and inclusion goals
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