Use Mentoring to Develop Employees

What Is a Mentor and What Does a Mentor Do to Develop Your Employees?

In a mentoring relationship, a more experienced employee shares knowledge with a colleague.
••• RgStudio / Getty Images

Mentoring is a formal or informal relationship established between an experienced, knowledgeable employee and an inexperienced or new employee. The purpose of a mentor is to help the new employee quickly absorb the organization's cultural and social norms

Or, the mentor helps the continuing employee grow in their current position and become ready for new jobs and career opportunities. Mentoring can also assist an employee, new to a specific job or area of responsibility, to quickly learn what they need to know to succeed in their job and role.

An overall career mentor can help an employee develop skills, take on more challenging roles and responsibilities, and generally, guide the progress of an employee's career. This individual may work in the employee's organization or, more likely, the relationship may have developed several companies ago or from a professional association relationship.

A Mentor Is a Sounding Board, Sometimes an Evaluator

A mentor can also serve as a sounding board as the new employee is assimilated into the company. The mentor can help the continuing employee become more knowledgeable and effective in their current job. They help continuing employees reach new levels of knowledge, sophistication, and career development.

The best mentoring relationships involve the exchange of a particular body of knowledge that helps the new employee quickly come up to speed as a contributor within your organization.

The mentoring relationship can also be evaluative in nature to assess the assimilation of the new employee in his or her new role. Mentoring is provided in addition to your new employee onboarding process and should have different content and goals.

Mentoring helps the employee navigate the learning curve inherent in any new role, organization, or relationship.

New Employee Mentors in Onboarding

Many organizations assign a mentor as part of their formal employee onboarding process. Other mentoring relationships develop spontaneously and over time. All mentoring relationships are encouraged as research indicates that employees who experience mentoring are retained, learn more quickly, and assimilate into the company culture more effectively.

"A recent Harvard Business Review article reports, “Research on junior to mid-level professionals shows that [mentorship] programs enable them to advance more quickly, earn higher salaries, and gain more satisfaction in their jobs and lives than people without mentors do. For employers, the benefits are not only higher performance but also greater success in attracting, developing, and retaining talent.” (deJanasz and Peiperl, 2015, p. 101).

A mentor is provided in addition to the other components in a new employee onboarding process. A mentor for employee onboarding may be the peer of the new employee, a coworker who is more knowledgeable and experienced or a supervisor or a team leader.

Mentoring by Immediate Managers

A mentoring relationship frequently occurs between an employee and their immediate manager; in fact, this was the normal mentoring relationship in the past. These mentoring relationships are still encouraged, but it is recommended that employees and organizations pursue additional mentoring relationships.

A mentoring relationship with an immediate manager or supervisor never loses the evaluation aspects necessary for the employee to succeed within your organization including decisions about pay and promotions.

Mentoring is a skill and an art that can be developed over time through training and participation.

The Mentoring Buddy

In many organizations, an employee, sometimes called a buddy, is assigned to a new employee for new employee orientation and onboarding. The buddy performs a role that is like the mentor's, but the buddy is usually a coworker and/or a more experienced peer of the new employee.

The mentoring buddy is expected to do everything that he or she can to assist the new employee to become fully knowledgeable about and integrated into the organization. The buddy relationship can last a long time, and the employees may even become friends.

Often working in the same or a similar job in the organization, the buddy plays a special role in helping the new employee become comfortable with the actual job by training him or her. The buddy is also responsible for introducing the new employee to others in the organization.

A good buddy provides additional assistance such as taking the new employee out to lunch with a small group. Another responsibility of an employee or coworker buddy is making sure that the employee is meeting the appropriate managers and members of the senior team. 

A buddy in conjunction with an effective new employee orientation will bring an organization a successful new employee.

Seeking Out Additional Mentors

Additional relationships with a mentor can develop spontaneously and over time. Or, an employee can seek out a mentor because he or she wants to experience the power of a mentoring relationship in his or her career growth.

These unassigned mentors are often a more experienced employee or manager who can offer the mentee (employee receiving mentoring) additional information that the employee wants or needs. For example, a product team member seeks out a mentoring relationship with the manager of the marketing department.

He or she hopes to learn how to understand markets and customers better before the team develops a product that no one wants to buy. This type of sought out mentoring relationship can foster much success in an organization.

Mentoring Relationships Are Powerful

Another instance in which a mentoring relationship is powerful occurs when an employee identifies career skills that he or she lacks. The employee then seeks out an individual in the organization who exhibits these skills and identifies that the employee is someone from whom the employee seeking a mentor believes they can learn the skills.

In a less frequently pursued mentoring relationship, an employee can reach out to a professional they admire who works in a different organization. This mentor will lack the experience and understanding of the employee's current organization. This is offset by the mentor's general knowledge and experience in other organizations.

These relationships generally form when an employee reaches out to a more experienced colleague. Or, they develop professionally over time through a relationship developed through such activities as an active professional association membership.

Article Sources

  1. Harvard Business Review. "CEO's Need Mentors, Too." Accessed March 1, 2020.