There is a popular saying that “one cannot step in the same river twice.” Water continually trickling down a river reminds us that the only constant is change. The same could be said about organizations, which are as dynamic as rivers. People move in and out of the organization, and those that remain in the organization often grow and change. One cannot join and engage with the same organization twice.
As a result, succession planning is an important practice for organizations. It must be done continuously to make sure that there is a talent pipeline available for positions that are critical to the company’s strategy.
Mentoring is like succession planning in that it also focuses on individuals and relationships, while also taking a long-term perspective. Mentoring is the perfect complement to succession planning, and supports succession planning activities in a number of ways:
1. Mentoring can bridge the gap across generations.
At this point in time, a workplace might be home to employees from five different generations: the Traditionalists, the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. Each generation brings different life experiences and expectations to the workforce. Sometimes, these differences make employees feel they don’t have much in common with other workers outside of their age group, and they may be reticent to develop relationships across generations. Mentoring can help employees see past generational differences, and develop closer working relationships with individuals across generations.
2. Mentoring contributes to the institutional knowledge of the organization.
Institutional knowledge refers to the memory of an organization. It can include important cultural memories, such as stories of how the organization was founded, or more tactical knowledge, such as how to work with an important client or manage a critical project. Some institutional knowledge is explicit and encapsulated in documents and databases, but much of it is implicit, and is captured in personal stories and learnings that aren’t as easily documented. Many organizations are rightly concerned about a large number of people (today, predominantly Baby Boomers) retiring in a short period of time, and the subsequent loss of implicit institutional knowledge. Mentoring relationships can help share and transfer important institutional knowledge among employees.
Also read: How to Start a Mentoring Program in 2021
3. Mentoring creates a conduit between different business units.
Whether organized by region, product line, functional area, or otherwise, organizations often become siloed. This presents a challenge for succession planning (among causing other problems for the organization) because it can be difficult for employees to transfer from one part of the business to another. By instituting a formal mentoring program that spans business units, workers develop boundary-spanning relationships that can help break down silos within an organization’s structure.
4. Mentoring focuses on real-world knowledge and experience.
Formal training programs often focus on theory or models to explain concepts to trainees, which doesn’t always translate neatly to real-life situations. As a result, employees have difficulty making the leap from learning concepts in the classroom to applying them in their work. In contrast, mentors provide mentees with advice and hard-earned experience. The real-world knowledge can often be much more applicable to the mentee’s experience, and can be more easily applicable to their work.
5. Mentoring helps retain employees in succession risk areas of the business.
Many studies and surveys have demonstrated that most employees are interested in professional growth opportunities, and will leave their employer if they aren’t receiving them. When an organization invests in a formal mentoring program, it sends a message to the mentees that their development is a priority. Mentees gain personalized feedback, assistance identifying their developmental objectives, opportunities to grow their professional network, and more from their mentors. These professional development benefits entice employees to stay with their employer longer and can be particularly helpful in retaining employees in the most critical areas of the business.
6. Mentoring contributes to building leadership capabilities throughout the organization.
One of the biggest benefits of mentoring for the mentee is the ability to develop a broader perspective. A mentor can help a mentee “see” the organization from a different perspective, and also help them understand long-term consequences. This change in perspective is foundational to developing new leaders. Likewise, mentoring can also help mentors to further develop their own leadership skills.
7. Mentoring encourages a culture of learning and development.
By investing in mentoring, leaders in the organization send a signal to others that continuous professional development is valuable. This helps cultivate a culture to support learning and growth, which can encourage employees to invest in professional development in other ways, like bringing people in on stretch assignments, undergoing classroom training, and participating in rotational assignments, all of which help prepare future leaders of the organization.
Succession planning isn’t a “one and done” event, but a continuous process. It also shouldn’t be focused only on the CEO role or C-suite but cascaded down to the entire organization to ensure key talent will be available in all areas of the business. By incorporating mentoring into succession planning efforts, an organization can improve the capabilities of its people, build key relationships, and cultivate the right culture to support future success.
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