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Fostering Culture During Disruption: Mentorship Best Practices

By Euwart Anderson, Chief People Officer, Kibo

In the business climate of 2020, colleagues have been brought together through new modes of virtual communication, but a lack of in-person interactions has made it difficult to feel really connected. For many, remote work has been a welcomed adjustment, even increasing productivity and lowering job stress. For others, the lack of organic opportunities for one-on-one interactions has stifled professional development and overall morale.

This unique problem is further exacerbated for junior employees. Millennial and Gen Z workers have a particularly tough hurdle to overcome, especially those who started a new job just as COVID-19 hit the U.S. This is because they may not have experienced much face-to-face, in-office time with peers and leaders to build the necessary rapport for a traditional mentorship engagement.

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Remote work is still, for now, the safest option for employees, yet company culture does not have to suffer as a result. New mentoring practices, like the ones outlined here, have the potential to create an atmosphere of support, growth and connection.

Non-Traditional Mentoring

The new workplace dynamic creates risk around employee satisfaction and retention, which ultimately impacts client satisfaction and revenue directly. The first few months of a new job are critical for determining if the company is the ‘right fit’ and for enabling a new hire to be successful. Without the socialization of inner-office culture and networking opportunities, Gen Z is likely to feel lost. In fact, according to a 2020 survey conducted by Slack, 45% of newly remote employees believe that work from home has negatively impacted their sense of belonging. It’s up to leaders and mentors to reduce this dilemma and lay the foundation for employee growth and satisfaction, even in this new era of the workplace.

One non-traditional approach to enhancing company culture and cross-functional engagement is through mentorship. In some cases, mentor programs can seem awkward, forced or unproductive, creating little to no authentic relationships. Instead of the traditional mentorship program, companies can benefit from this virtual environment by developing a “Culture of Accountability and Feedback” based on core values, and a toolkit focused on feedback and development. At Kibo, this is done through an extensive new-hire program that arms the participant with the understanding that we’re committed to interacting as colleagues. The training also aligns new hires with the expectation that everyone has the opportunity to mentor or be mentored by practically anyone using a feedback toolkit. The feedback toolkit includes a set of best practices that teach each team member how to create the environment for trust which optimally facilitates an exchange.  Once the environment is created, the exchange includes both an appreciative and constructive feedback engagement to further balance the discussion through vulnerability. There are nuances as to how this feedback toolkit is deployed and you can imagine that participating isn’t for the faint of heart.  It’s an investment between two people in not only creating tangible business results, but also owning the experience created during the process while developing one another.

Introducing a Mentor Program

When introducing a mentorship program in the first place, it is important to be transparent, both through words and actions, about how the program will impact the company as a whole. Mentoring must be organic, centered around core values of the company, and adjusted for feedback as necessary. Clarity around the company’s key results and how they cascade throughout the business ensures alignment between the mentoring that occurs and outcomes of the company at the individual level. To do this, leaders must be prepared to frequently over-communicate target goals and how each employee impacts them. Employees need to see and understand their role in these outcomes, so they are inspired to seek out mentorship to achieve their personal and professional goals.

Structuring the New Mentor Program

To be successful, mentorship has to be a two-way path and must be designed to endure the test of acquisitions, transformation and other environmental dynamics. One way to create this sustainability within such a program is to facilitate a mutual level of ownership and desire from both parties involved in the mentoring process. This leads to two professionals who are determined to remain connected because they both have something to gain and feel obligated to the other’s success. Mentor pairings should be based on areas of strength and opportunity rather than titles and other potentially ego-centric aspects of a traditional program. When mentorship transcends hierarchy, both parties have the opportunity to experience both mentoring and being mentored. In this format, everyone involved will be granted target opportunities for continual growth and improvement.

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Mentoring should occur as frequently as routine one-on-one meetings, whether that is weekly or monthly within the organization. Additionally, managers should encourage their team members to reach out across the business to anyone who possesses certain strengths that may help with development. With consistent and regular mentorship check-ins comes a heightened level of buy-in and commitment from both the mentor and mentee, as it’s mutually voluntary and beneficial.

Proven Success at Kibo

At Kibo, this approach has led to favorable business results including improved employee retention, innovation and increased net-new sales bookings. For example, deploying this program with new hires during COVID helps team members in Client Success feel like they’ve joined a community committed to their development, which directly impacts client satisfaction and retention. As COVID-19 continues to disrupt the workplace, we will continue to evolve the mentor program over time and look to collaborate with other organizations to learn more and exchange ideas on the subject as the workplace continues to evolve.

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