Q&A with Doug Lawrence: Mentoring programs in today’s business context

The Millennial generation (born 1980 – 2000) has already started to enter the workforce. It’s estimated that Millennials will make up as much as 50% of the workforce by 2020. Together with the generation that follows them, Gen Z, they constitute a growing proportion of employees.

These young people have different ambitions from previous generations. They want a comfortable lifestyle, but they also want more intangible things from their work, such as professional achievements, and a sense of connection and purpose. They see their careers as portfolios of experiences rather than a ladder to be climbed in a single organization, which is why very few of them plan to stay in their current role for the long term.

Regardless of how confident and determined they come across, these young adults face many struggles which are unique to their generation. They have more tools, more information and more opportunities but they lack guidance.

As they graduate college and find jobs in their field, many Millennials are looking to their mentors to help guide them through this turning point in their professional lives and help them navigate their career paths.

Today, we’re opening the conversation into how companies can prepare for this new workforce through accredited mentorship programs that can help guide new talent towards performance. Mentoring is a two-way relationship, one in which both participants have the opportunity to learn from each other. Even though mentoring may begin based on the premise that the more experienced person is conveying their knowledge to the less experienced person, this is an oversimplified perspective.

Moreover, mentoring programs are a strategic business initiative with a proven ROI:

  • According to a five-year University of Pennsylvania study, “mentees were promoted five times more frequently—and mentors, six times more often—than those who were not in the program.”
  • In a Center for Creative Leadership study, 77% of companies reported that mentoring programs dramatically reduced employee turnover and were low-cost to operate.
  • Between 1996 and 2009, Sun Microsystems found that a ROI on their mentoring program was as much as 1,000%, gaining the highest results as the program matured
  • In a recent survey of Fortune 500 CEOs, participants listed having a mentor as the number one component of their success.

We’ve invited Doug Lawrence, International Certified Mentor Practitioner and Facilitator, to answer some of our questions and shed some light on how mentorship can be integrated into HR strategy to improve business performance:

Q: How would you define mentoring in a company context?

A: Mentoring in a company context typically focuses on the professional growth of a person. Most corporate mentorship programs that I have seen spend little, if any time, on the personal growth of the person. This is a huge mistake. A person may well be having challenges with their personal growth which act as an obstacle or barrier for them to move forward, to grow professionally. We are doing a disservice by not addressing those issues before moving on. We are doing a disservice to the mentoring process and the power that it has by not addressing those challenges first.

Knowing that then, a mentor is a person who through a trusted relationship helps guide, support and counsel a person through the world of work with a focus on personal and professional growth and the facilitation of critical thinking skills. A mentor is focused on trusted relationships and helping people prepare for current and future challenges. It is important to build trusted relationships and to help develop critical thinking skills – which are sadly missing in most organizations.

Q: What does it mean for a professional to be accredited as a mentor?

A: I think we first need to look at the definition of certification and accreditation.

Certification is the confirmation that a client operates in line with a set of requirements, provided by a standard setter.

To ensure the independence of standard setting and evaluation, most certification schemes appoint a third-party accreditation body to assess the suitability and qualification of certification bodies for their system.

Certification is defined as the conformance to certain characteristics of an object, person, or organization. The conformance is often, but not always, provided by some form of external review, education, assessment, or audit. An independent body provides certification in the form of written assurance indicating that the service, product or system satisfies specific requirements. Certification verifies that an individual or organization has achieved a certain level of compliance within a particular area. It indicates they have completed the necessary steps to receive a specific designation. Again – it’s important to be certified by an official certification body, as scenarios arise where individuals become ‘certified’ by simply paying a membership fee – rendering the certification valueless.

Official certification shows you’ve achieved a worthwhile designation – thus demonstrating to your employer and/or clients that you possess capability in a chosen area confirmed by a reputable organization. Certification demonstrates that the offered products or services meet the expectations of the customer. For many organizations – certification is necessitated by law or contract.

Certification is confirmed once you, your organization or your department have gone through all the steps specified in the standards you are aiming for.

Accreditation is the confirmation that a certification body is able to thoroughly assess clients against these requirements and issue certificates in an impartial manner. That can also mean the accrediting of training material that meets the criteria. You would have a Training provider that has their material accredited by a third party who operates under a set of standards (International Standards Organization – ISO) who can deliver the training. They would not issue the certification as that would come from the Accreditation body. The certification in some cases would be governed by ISO 17024.

To be certified as a professional mentor would mean that you have gone through a training process – ideally a combination of academic and practical experience, have written exams, and have prepared a portfolio that would demonstrate your knowledge, skills and abilities as a mentor. It would require that you re-certify in order to maintain your certification. That could be annually, every two or three years depending on the criteria that has been established.

The message that is sent if you have a professional certified as a professional mentor is that this is a person who is passionate about mentoring and who can deliver mentoring services according to international standards ensuring that value is brought to the mentee and the organization that they work for.

Mentoring is changing as we speak and part of being a certified mentor is the need to stay current with the various trends that are taking place and to be in a state of continuous learning. Most professionals that are not certified do not spend the time researching trends and different delivery models.

Don’t get me wrong, some non-certified professionals are great mentors but they are also great leaders. I have, though, seen far too many instances where someone was mentoring and the outcomes were not that great. Having some form of training is better than none at all.

Q: From a company’s point of view, what would be the difference between working with an international accredited mentor and a local or self-accredited mentor?

A: It boils down to what the organization is looking for. If you are comfortable with having someone mentor your employees without the benefit of any training then that is a business decision that you must make. Most organizations when they bring in someone to work in their organization are looking for someone that has the credentials to bring value. When you look at the coaching model, organizations have provided formal coaching training to employees so that they can work with others in the organization. Doing this from a mentoring perspective and making sure that your mentor has the credentials – is a certified mentor based on our definitions above – would be a good business decision. Coaches and mentors can have a life changing impact on your employees. Would you want someone that is not properly trained to be working with your employees?

Q: With so many self-accredited mentors, is the quality and legitimacy of these programs a valid concern? What is the downside of self-accreditation?

A: Today there are:

  1. Accredited Mentor Training – 643,000 hits on Google
  2. Certified Mentor Training – 17,700,000 hits on Google
  3. Certified Mentor – 25,600,000 hits on Google
  4. Accredited Mentor – 638,000 hits on Google

This is almost a buyers beware situation with the market being saturated with so many vendors. Organizations and individuals that are looking for mentors need to double and triple check the credentials of organizations that claim to be accredited organizations offering certifications. In most cases you end up with a certificate confirming completion of the course. In most cases there is no need to do anything after that – no need to recertify. There is no structure, Governance or assessment process.

The market is deregulated for the most part with a couple of groups such as the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the International Certification for Mentoring (ICM) forging ahead to put structure, governance and standards in place. I remember when I first started my mentoring journey being shocked at the number of self-accredited organizations that were out there. As an organization or an individual I would be concerned about who I was putting my trust in.

Q: Why would companies opt for standard accreditation?

A: In most cases it would be due to a lack of knowledge of the industry and the fact that there are standards in place if you select the right organization to partner with for your coaching and mentoring services. What I have seen in some situations is that they have a relationship with someone that delivers these services and they have opted to leverage that relationship. What is missing from the standard accreditation or self-accredited are standards that are based on a strong governance model and rigour/structure. A good example is the International Standards Organization or ISO as it is commonly referred to. Under ISO 17024 there are standards that deal with certification and what is needed to meet that standard. There are also standards for auditing the processes that are in place.

A lot of the work that I have been doing being an international certified mentor has given me an edge in securing opportunities to work with organizations. The fact that I am required to have a professional development plan in place for my continuous learning as a professional mentor and I am required to recertify every two years demonstrates to potential clients that you bring a process to their organization that is solid and will meet their needs. Mentoring is evolving and you need to stay current with the trends. We are finding new ways of doing things that ultimately benefit the mentor, their clients and the organizations they serve. The new ways are in alignment with the standards that are in place today.

Q: How do you see mentoring programs in today’s business context? Are they a strategic HR initiative?

A: Organizations today are facing a number of challenges: talent shortages, aging workforce, lack of succession planning and succession development, lack of leadership talent, mobile workforce, disengaged employees to name but a few. Mentoring can play a huge role in addressing most of these problems. Mentoring programs are a strategic business initiative focused on the most important aspect of organizational success and that is your people. Without them you will not achieve the success that you could. HR can be the delivery arm of the organization but the program needs to be owned by the organization. Mentoring programs fail because of 4 main reasons: 1. Lack of Corporate Support, 2) Lack of structure, 3) Lack of Training, and 4) a Culture that will not support mentoring.

Organizations need to look at including mentoring in the Strategic Business Plan and they need to deliver on the implementation. I always say, “Can you afford not to?”

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