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Mentoring and On-Boarding: Two Peas in a Pod

October 26, 2012
Related Topics: Strategy and Management
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Does your on-boarding program have a mentoring element to it? It should.

For as much reading and researching as I've done on the importance of mentoring and coaching, I can hardly think of a period in the lifespan of an employee when having a mentor or coach would be more important.

Some could surely argue that newly minted executives might be best served by having a mentor or coach to guide them through a transition, and in some instances that may be the case. Even so, what better time for mentoring to occur than when an employee is at perhaps his or her most vulnerable period of employment with an organization?

As you might imagine, this is even more so for entry-level workers -- those just out of college entering their first professional environment. I say this because I just finished up a piece for Talent Management's sister publication, Chief Learning Officer, which sought to learn the best methods for teaching soft skills to entry-level workers. No real surprise what the consensus was: mentoring.

For most people new to a situation -- whether it be social or professional -- having someone to cling to while riding the early waves of the experience is always helpful. The same could be said for on-boarding with a new firm.

Soft skill learning is an area where mentoring plays an especially vital role. Soft skills -- interpersonal skills, body language, communication, leadership, etc. -- are murky enough to define. Can you give a lecture on how to carry yourself during a conference call? Probably. Would it be effective? That's debatable.

What's more, certain soft skills tend to be valued at some companies more than others -- it depends on their culture and way of doing things.

What mentoring does, as some of us know very well, is pair a relatively inexperienced person in a specialty area with an expert. The relationship might never extend beyond a few questions here or there, but what the experts I interviewed said is that, in many instances, the mere presence of that mentor can have enormous influence on the behaviors of the inexperienced person -- or, for our purposes, the new employee. Think of job shadowing.

This is especially true for younger workers, especially Gen Y. The trick with them, the sources for my story said, is pairing them not with an elder mentor but with someone near their same level -- perhaps a slightly more experienced employee in a similar role to the one the new hire is taking on. The reason being that younger workers tend to be more receptive to aligning their behaviors with that of a respected peer.

Which is what soft skill mentoring is seeking to accomplish in the first place: to influence the behavior of the new hire by having him or her interact with and, ideally, mirror the behavior of the mentor.

Mentoring programs vary by company and definition. In some they reside as informal relationships; in others, especially bigger firms, they may be thought of as "sponsorships," or relationships that aim to boost the value of a certain valuable performer seeking to climb the organizational ladder.

I would imagine on-boarding mentorships come in all shapes and sizes. What are some that you've seen or been involved with? I've personally only been involved in informal professional "mentoring" relationships -- I've picked up a few respected elder contacts as I moved through my young journalism career and tried to make it a point to keep in contact if I have questions or concerns.

What are some of the best mentoring cases with which you've been involved? Please send me some at fkalman@talentmgt.com, and I'll make it a point to share some in a forthcoming edition of All Onboard.

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