When I reflect upon the roles I’ve held in my career and the aspects that gave me the most satisfaction, I can say without doubt that the opportunity to mentor young talent has been the highlight. We all have them: the employee who is young, eager, shows some innate promise, and is looking for mentoring in the workplace. However, I often hear managers say they don’t want to invest much time in staff because it just prepares them to find employment elsewhere. Managers also complain that staff are “too needy” and take up “too much time” from all the work they have to get done. That is the wrong way to see it, and that point of view creates missed opportunities.
Let’s take an example of how spending a few hours with an employee can reap huge rewards for the company.
I recently was helping a company with a project. While facilitating a department interview, an employee on the team seemed to have a chip on her shoulder. She was articulate and knew her stuff, but her negative attitude was apparent. In subsequent weeks, I had an opportunity to have several one-on-one meetings with her to receive training on software the company was deploying. During this time, I got to know her better.
Over the course of several meetings, she came to view me as a safe ear, someone with senior business experience, but not an employee of the company. As I listened to her, it became clear she was a potential star employee who felt frustrated that her skills and talents weren’t fully acknowledged or utilized by the company. Not seeing a growth path in her current department structure, she was actively looking for a new job that would pay more and where she would be able to use her strengths in software development. She said her immediate supervisor was “too busy” to “notice” her and described the company as a place that “didn’t value outside-the-box, creative thinking or problem solving”.
She drafted a frustrated email to the company’s CEO complaining about the situation and asked me to read it before it was sent. Thank goodness she trusted me. That email would have shown her to be a disgruntled employee who was disengaged and needed to be moved along. I knew the CEO would cringe at hearing his company described in this negative light. At the same time, I knew the CEO believed that he needed exactly those kinds of employees who could be creative problem solvers. This employee clearly had a unique skill set the company needed and would miss if she quit. No one else in the department held her level of knowledge and expertise on this particular software system, and it took her two years to gain that knowledge while working for the company. Her leaving was not in the best interest of the company. This needed an intervention quickly!
I shared with her how I saw her strengths and gave her encouragement on how her ideas could make a positive contribution to the company. I asked her to let me highlight her contributions to the CEO and her supervisor in my next communication with them. I also recommended she ask for a sit-down meeting with her supervisor to review a brief power point she would create to summarize her process improvement ideas that would save the company money. I explained this would allow her supervisor to cut and paste the slides into his next leadership meeting – an example to her of how to “manage up.”
She took my suggestion and met with her supervisor who asked her to share her power point at the next department meeting so the whole team could discuss her ideas. She was so excited about this opportunity to make a difference in the company that she composed an email to the CEO thanking him for providing a culture where employees could contribute in a positive way and grow professionally. She told me that she was no longer looking to leave because she now had the ability to make a positive change.
In total, I probably spent about three hours of my time mentoring in the workplace. This time saved the company thousands of dollars in finding her replacement and preserved a skill set the company already invested two years in developing.
Often, no one will ever know what takes place behind the scenes to mentor an employee. The personal reward comes from the private knowledge that we made a positive contribution to the company and in the life of an employee. Ask your management staff who they are currently mentoring in the workplace —it’s a great way to learn about the rising stars in your company. Then, send an email to those stars, and thank them for their contributions. This might take a few minutes, but it will be well worth the effort. Mentoring in the workplace is critical to fostering a healthy work environment.