Mentoring is mutually beneficial for young and old
THIRTY per cent of an individual's career success can be put down to quality mentoring, human resources experts estimate, but finding and fostering the right relationship can be a difficult task.
Mutual respect, confidentiality and the mentor not being the mentee's direct manager are crucial elements in getting the formula right, along with humility and patience on both sides.
Prominent businesswoman and the chairwoman of government relations firm Barton Deakin, Sallann Atkinson, has mentored a host of younger and older workers.
With more people staying the workforce for longer, the former Lord Mayor of Brisbane has urged employees and their bosses to remember that older workers can benefit just as much from mentoring as their younger counterparts.
"A chief executive, for example, doesn't necessarily want to share his or her concerns with their peers at the company," she says.
"A mentor needs to be someone from outside the organisation - or at least not the mentee's direct manger - so they can bounce ideas off them."
The increasing importance of social media and digital skills in the office has meant many mentoring relationships have been turned on their head, with younger workers teaching their more senior colleagues how to navigate Twitter, Facebook and other digital platforms.
Atkinson believes finding a mentor need not be a formal process. Often the best mentoring relationships happen organically.
"If you are looking for a mentor you need to find someone who has experience as well as someone you can trust with your confidences," she says.
"Look around the office and try to find someone you respect. The mentee needs to know that their mentor is not going to run off and tell their boss about some things the mentee would prefer remain private."
For managers looking to improve their team's productivity and employee retention, however, having some sort of structure built around mentoring in the workplace can pay dividends.
Research by the US Human Resources Institute in 2010 - 11 found there was an average 88 per cent increase in productivity when mentoring was used, versus only a 24 per cent increase when training alone was used.
Mentoring is also a good way to attract talent. More than 60 per cent of graduates in the US study listed the availability of mentoring as an important reason when choosing an employer.
Both mentors and the people whom they mentored felt more valued by the employer, the study found, which studies have also shown to be an important engagement and retention factor.
Savvy Human Resources Associates managing director Craig McFadden says mentoring is a vital part of achieving business and personal success.
"Mentoring isn't rocket science, yet it's far more than common sense. To be taken seriously mentoring efforts should be linked to the goals of the organisation," he says.
"It's better not to organise formalised mentoring unless it can be done right. Start small and focus a pilot effort on a group that is likely succeed.
"Consider bringing in a consultant to think through strategy, conduct sessions on what effective mentoring looks like, including examples of effective mentoring activities, make available tools and resources and provide informal coaching for people seeking mentors."
In 2012 the Workplace Research Centre at the University of Sydney found that key constraints to mentoring from a mentor's perspective were a lack of time to undertake the role, demanding workload, insufficient opportunities, low staffing levels and a competitive work environment.
McFadden says mentoring relationships normally work best if the mentee directs the conversation and doesn't have the mentor imposed on them.
Managers need to remember that it is the development of the mentee that is the aim of the game.
"It helps to also set some objectives about the relationship and setting out what you want from the relationship," he says.
"Mentoring relationships don't work when the mentor knows it all, solves things for mentee, wants to be liked, doesn't ask the difficult but critical questions, doesn't use their knowledge to predict or address difficulties for the mentee.
"The best thing a mentor can be is a sounding board, constructively challenging ideas and actions as well as offering alternative pathways.
"Sharing personal expertise and experience to support mentee to develop their talents is also an important way for the mentor to operate."
V8 Supercar driver and reigning champion Jamie Whincup (pictured on cover) is mentoring Komatsu apprentices across Australia this year to help them achieve their goals. Whincup spent an hour talking with seven apprentices at its Dry Creek workshop ahead of last weekend's (March 1/2) Clipsal 500 in Adelaide.
He will meet with others in Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne as this year's V8 Supercar season progresses. His stories of what it is like working in pitlane gave the heavy diesel mechanic apprentices an insight into his job.
"The more I have a better relationship with (my team) and have friendships, as I was going on, the better I was driving, the better I would do the job," he told the group.
"If we do the right thing by everybody else, we're going to get it back. What goes around, comes around."