Written by Simon Reichwald, Connectr, Strategic Lead for Emerging Talent. 

The commercial benefits of businesses offering robust mentoring are clear. Hiring and keeping new staff has never been tougher, more competitive or as expensive.

With the UK unemployment rate falling to 3.9% in the three months to January 2022 (ONS), this isn’t showing any sign of change. And rightly so, employees are looking further than salary when making their choice. They want to feel supported in a culture that aligns to their values with visibility of personal progression and development opportunities. And with the market being very much in the candidate’s hands, businesses need to catch up.

Further to meeting the needs of their people, businesses should be looking at the myriad of commercial benefits to integrating a learning and development strategy that sets their organisation and bottom line apart from their competitors. Too many firms continue to include mentoring as a job description benefit, or deliver ad-hoc programmes for the privileged few, and as a result see little impact.

Mentoring with purpose is a key tool in delivering commercial advantage through employee development, progression and retention. And with rehiring costs estimated between 50-200% of lost employees’ salaries, the businesses investing in their people will see business productivity and profit above the rest.

The productivity benefits of effective mentoring programmes speak for themselves. Mentees are five times more likely to be promoted than their counterparts, and mentors are six times more likely. Yet while 76% of people think mentors are important, only 37% of people currently have one. So, why is this?

As someone who has been in the talent space for 25 years, I frequently hear about the transformation of businesses, departments and individuals when mentoring is done right and delivered with purpose. But, only 14% of mentoring relationships start by asking someone to be their mentor.

So, why is this? Accessibility can be cited as a key reason for why such a low number of employees have a mentor. With many mentoring programmes too often remaining small scale – due to being resource-heavy when run traditionally – they are predominantly available to the privileged few who have the existing networks. Employees with limited networks, confidence or visibility of industry role models miss out on the opportunity to engage with a mentor – and as a result, are slower to develop and progress in their career. The lack of investment in these individuals is causing businesses to miss out on the commercial value of this ‘unlocked’ talent – and lose them to competition.

In terms of organisational barriers, time commitment is a concern for many organisations who already face resource pressures. Traditional mentoring programmes that run to a schedule with allotted time responsibilities per month mean both organisations and individuals shy away from getting involved – with this lack of commitment rendering the mentoring programme small scale in its impact.

Mentoring in the moment of need addresses this by facilitating agile mentoring relationships and communication that fit to the mentor and mentee schedules. This agility allows both short- and in-depth engagement, from a quick message to a full meeting.

It’s important to note mentoring programmes don’t necessarily equal good mentoring. Without both mentor and mentee training for the key elements of what drives an effective mentoring relationship, neither party is likely to see impact. From managing the mentoring relationship to setting achievable goals, it’s vital both individuals understand what ‘good’ looks like.

A recent report showed only 10% of mentees report being satisfied with their mentoring experience, and 82% require more access to mentors. This demonstrates demand for mentoring in the moment of need, so more mentors can support more people and mentees’ goals and questions are addressed.

So, how can businesses deliver on this? Action needs to come from the top down. If senior decision makers can see the commercial benefits of mentoring with purpose, this will likely open access to mentoring for many more employees across the UK. Not only will these businesses reduce the risk of losing their most critical asset, they’ll also see a spike in employee engagement and productivity.

A clear understanding of what makes purposeful mentoring is key to achieving this. Firstly, its crucial mentors are representative of diverse groups and seniorities across the business – so employees of all backgrounds are given access to and visibility of relatable role models and career progression trajectories.

To break down the existing barriers surrounding access to traditional mentoring, and deliver purposeful programmes at scale, businesses must leverage technology. Through removing the manual processes of traditional mentoring, facilitating accurate mentor-mentee matching and enabling data-led impact tracking, technology delivers a user-centric, agile programme in the moment of need. Not only does mentoring technology enable remote work to work, but empowers businesses to track the progression and development of their people through a mentoring programme built around their needs and goals.

Mentoring technology facilitates both accurate mentor-mentee matching and enables mentee freedom of choice – which boosts programme success significantly. Research shows mentor-mentee similarity and interpersonal comfort are key predictors of success. This is especially important in ensuring underrepresented talent groups across the business have equal progression and development opportunities. Through accurate matching to identifiable role models, mentoring technology truly champions inclusion at all levels within the business. The implications of a lack of inclusion are huge – Connectr’s research found 75% of those who don’t feel like they belong are actively seeking to leave their role this year. But when prioritised, diverse workforces generate 19% higher revenues*. Ethnically diverse businesses see profits 35% above industry average**. Progressing and developing underrepresented talent is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but commercially essential – and mentoring technology is key in achieving this.

The businesses continuing to ignore the need for more agile L&D strategies put real risk against their overall success and bottom line. To truly unlock their potential, businesses must invest more in their most critical asset – their people. Mentoring with purpose, delivered through technology, removes the barriers overlooked talent groups face to progress and develop in their career – and maximise the value they bring to the business’ innovation, productivity and profitability.

(*Harvard Business Review)(**McKinsey&Company)

For more information or advice on how to maximise the potential of mentoring, visit https://www.connectr.com/products/employee-engagement

About the author

Simon has over 25 years’ experience in Talent Acquisition, and more recently focuses on driving inclusion and belonging strategies that support the progression and retention of underrepresented talent. Previously Hon. Vice-President of the Institute of Student Employers shaping its members’ apprenticeship strategies, Simon is now Hon. Teaching Fellow for the ‘Leaders in Residence’ programme at Lancaster University, is one of three Delivery Partners for the City of London Corporation Senior Diversity Taskforce, and is Deputy Chair for the Apprentice Diversity Champions Network (ADCN) supporting the government’s commitment to diversity in apprenticeships.