The following article was inspired by IABC Seattle’s recent webinar, “Communicating a Mentoring Culture.” The piece recently appeared in Catalyst, the official publication of IABC. 

By: Lisa Z. Fain

In a nod to the widely accepted truth that mentoring has tangible benefits for mentors, mentees and organizations, more than 71% of Fortune 500 companies now have mentoring programs. For many of these companies, however, mentoring is just that — programmatic.

Outside of the formal mentor/mentee relationship, there is little commitment to leveraging the benefits of mentoring for the greater organizational good. This means that companies are leaving potential benefits on the table by limiting the rewards of mentoring to the few who are participating in a formal mentoring program. For organizations to take full advantage of the benefits of mentoring, they must develop a mentoring culture. 

What Is a Mentoring Culture?

Ultimately, mentoring is impactful because it fosters learning, encourages development and creates connection. According to Dr. Lois J. Zachary, author of “Creating a Mentoring Culture,” mentoring creates more organizational resiliency in the face of change and contributes to organizational stability by managing knowledge and facilitating communication. To create a mentoring culture, mentoring must be embedded into an organization’s ecosystem, which is where communicators come in.   

Here are three ways for communications professionals to promote a mentoring culture:

1. Create Anchors. To make mentoring stick, it must be connected to the cultural attributes and established systems in the organization. To do this:

  • Connect mentoring to your organization’s values. To make the case for mentoring, align it with the values that your company has already articulated. Think through how to make the connection with mentoring explicit, and include this linkage in your communication strategy. 
  • Link to cultural attributes. How would you describe your organization’s desired culture? Articulate how focusing on learning, growth and connection will benefit your desired cultural attributes. For example, if your organization prides itself on flexible work arrangements, explain how creating mentoring relationships will foster a connectedness to the organization for people who may never be in the same physical location. 
  • Align with talent strategy. Many companies have established competencies by which to evaluate their leaders. Mentoring should be one of those competencies. Work with your learning and development team to include mentoring among the topics for which learning resources are provided. Once they understand how mentoring aligns with leadership skills, learning and development teams can provide resources on how to find a mentor, how to be a better mentor and how to structure a mentoring relationship. 

2. Talk about it. To create a mentoring culture, employees must trust that their organization has a commitment to the development of and creation of space for mentoring. Build the following into your communication strategy for leadership.

  • Demonstrate leadership commitment. Share how leaders have benefitted from mentoring in their own careers and how they are seeking out mentors. Mention the organization’s resources and its belief in the power of mentoring in town halls, monthly newsletters, etc. Make development and growth part of leaders’ talking points at all-hands meetings.
  • Celebrate successes. Ask mentors and mentees to share their wins. Share these widely to generate enthusiasm and build trust in the mentoring efforts.  Several of my clients have asked mentoring program participants to film short video testimonials sharing their progress and learning, and they posted these to the intranet or company-wide emails.
  • Recognize and reward participation. Some clients link mentoring to leaders’ compensation. Others offer spot bonuses or special recognition at company-wide meetings to people who have invested in their own and others’ growth and development. Consider creating an award for the leader who demonstrates the greatest commitment to mentoring or for the mentee who has achieved a significant goal.

3. Foster Community. There are no better ambassadors for a mentoring culture than people who are already committed to mentoring in some way. Harness the enthusiasm and momentum of current mentors and mentees by creating a sense of community. Here are three ways to do this:

  • Hold forums for people to share best practices and get help. Create space for mentors to meet with other mentors and mentees to meet with other mentees so they can share what is working, support those who may have hit a stumbling block and celebrate one another’s success.   
  • Engage alumni. Former mentoring program participants can be fantastic champions for a mentoring culture. As a cohort ends, consider asking participants to encourage their colleagues to become mentors or mentees.  Coach them on how to talk about their own experiences and extol the virtues of mentorship.   
  • Create a newsletter for the mentoring community. Consider creating a quarterly email for people who express an interest in mentoring. Share resources for improving mentoring, networking opportunities and highlight success. Provide periodic reminders to invest in their own and others’ development.   

Like any systemic change, creating a mentoring culture happens gradually, with time and intention. Communication is a key component of this change. These tips will take you far.

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