How Mentoring Could Help Your Business

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From building the leaders of the future to improving staff performance and morale, there are numerous ways that mentoring can boost your business.


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Mentoring benefits people at all levels in business, from new recruits to leaders.

As well as promoting positive psychological feelings regarding career progression, there are numerous other benefits too. The 30% Club for example – which campaigns for greater representation of women on company boards – is a huge advocate of mentoring. Its cross-company mentoring programme, run by Women Ahead, is the largest scheme of its kind in the world.

“Women Ahead’s research shows that, when done well, structured mentoring fosters meaningful connections, empowers and develops confidence, and generates creativity and innovation,” says Brenda Trenowden, global chair, 30% Club. “It’s also a lever to creating empathetic leadership and accelerating cultural change."

Caitlin O’Connor, whose business Accelerating Performance provides a mix of business mentoring and coaching in Ireland, agrees.

“Mentoring leads to better leadership and greater personal and team results,” she says. “The team is greater than the sum of the parts. Individuals grow with added confidence, added awareness, added need for responsibilities and an open mind.”

Building mentoring into your HR strategy

To reap the full benefits of mentoring, it needs to be placed at the heart of your business.

“It is critical to build it into your HR strategy,” says O’Connor. “The results are like dropping a stone in a pond – they radiate. A mentor can help with specific issues, such as being intimidated by someone in the workplace – or with more general issues, like needing to progress to the next grade level within a period of time.”

Besides improved performance, a key business benefit is nurturing the leaders of the future.

“People move on all the time, so finding leaders to take over and start right away is a difficult and costly process,” says Eddie Lynch, founder and CEO of Dublin-based Mindworks Coaching Training Facilitation. “If you can get a mentoring process going, that helps create your next leaders.”


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Sourcing the mentors

Outside mentors are an option for most businesses, but it may be more cost effective to train people within the company to take on the role.

“It means you have someone in house at all times who can help staff to get over issues they may have,” says Lynch.

On the other hand, there are times when an external mentor is more suitable. “Internally, everyone has their own agenda – if someone might be going to do the same job as you, they might not give you the power to compete against them,” warns O’Connor.

Besides receiving official mentoring, staff can be encouraged to find their own informal mentors.

“An individual can take it on themselves to have what I call silent mentors – they might have someone who can help with decision-making, someone who can help with strategy, and so on,” says O’Connor. “Another important step is to have a sponsor – somebody who will take you under their wing and bring you through their career journey with them.”


“Non-executive directors, selected for their abilities in areas which may be under-represented in the business, are a great resource”

Kevin O’Connor, Managing Director, General Paints


Also useful is reverse mentoring, whereby younger employees mentor senior leaders. “If your business is technology-based or has a technology emphasis, you sometimes need much younger mentors who really understand how to best implement technology,” says O’Connor.

Mentoring for business leaders

Kevin O’Connor, who runs Celbridge-based General Paints, made professional mentor Tommy Murray non-executive chairman of the board of directors to bring a fresh perspective to his business.

“I always enjoy Tommy’s perspective and greatly value his insights,” he says. “A good mentor should help the mentee see the trees in the forest. It’s about having an objective and an expert outside perspective on key issues in the business. This leads to better decision-making and increased unity behind good decisions. Non-executive directors, selected for their abilities in areas which may be under-represented in the business, are a great resource.”

Murray’s business, Mentors.ie, focuses on CEOs and senior managers of larger SMEs with a turnover of €5m or more. Long-term planning is often a key area that needs to be addressed.

“Most SMEs tend to be looking six months ahead and don’t have any formal planning process,” he says. “We can help with the strategic plan, annual operating plan and quarterly reviews. There is value in having someone come in from outside. Internally, sometimes people won’t challenge the CEO in the way he or she should be.”


Recommended Reading: How to Have The Best Board In The World


Mentoring for start-ups

Paola Almeida, a Mexican entrepreneur who runs Galway-based Gorgeous Design Co., turned to business mentor Declan Droney to help get her business off the ground.

“He has helped in so many ways – he helped me see the big picture,” she says. “He talked to me in my own language and it was easy to learn from him.”

For Droney, this is one of the greatest rewards of his job. He moved into mentoring having built his own organic smoked salmon business – an experience that gave him insights he wanted to share.

Droney is impressed that Ireland now has two government-related organisations making mentoring available for businesses: Enterprise Ireland, for companies that want to export, and Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs), which provide mentoring for microbusinesses, SMEs and start-ups. Besides offering support and guidance through these routes, he also provides mentoring through the Galway-based SCCUL Enterprises.

“In Ireland we are blessed with the amount of mentoring available – thanks to the LEOs, anyone can get mentoring, whatever their business is,” he says. “My job is to get them to think about where they would like to be, then look at the things they need to do to get there.”

Choosing a mentor

“Just because somebody is on a list as a mentor doesn’t mean they will deliver value for you – you have to align the mentor you choose with the job you want to get done,” advises Droney.

Eddie Lynch recommends checking out your potential mentor on LinkedIn first. “Request a free initial meeting face-to-face to see if the chemistry works,” he says.

Finally, whether the mentoring is for you or your team, make sure it’s approached with the right attitude.

“The mentee needs to be open to, and seeking, mentoring – not landed in it,” says Kevin O’Connor. “Be open and honest with the mentor: weaknesses in your business are to be expected and not to be ashamed of or covered up.”

 

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