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Technology and Inclusion Reign in Modern Mentoring

By Chris Browning, Vice President of Operations and Marketing for Triple Creek

With great regularity, we use the internet to do things that redefine the practice itself, (e.g., placing “voice” calls with Skype rather than “phone” calls).  In the same vein, with the help of technology, the age-old practice of mentoring is being redefined, with a new form of modern mentoring emerging.  Creativity, innovation, technology and a more inclusive mindset about who should participate have all drastically revamped the way mentoring occurs in business today, and it looks vastly different than mentoring of even 10 years ago.

Modern mentoring centers around connecting people across an organization to share critical knowledge and skills.  No longer just about one-to-one relationships between senior leaders and potential successors, today’s mentoring is focused on removing the barriers between people and engaging them in rich learning and teaching opportunities in a broad, networked manner.  Technology plays a large role in enabling this to happen because it allows organizations to view mentoring as a “for the masses” type of process that harnesses the collective knowledge, skills, abilities, and passions of an organization’s entire workforce.  Employees can create their own personal learning and advising networks that grow and flex as their individual needs and strengths change.  This adaptability means insights are shared and applied on the job in a just-in-time manner, with people seeing real work results from their mentoring activities.

In addition to the emergence of facilitative technology, other factors at play in the shift from mentoring “for the chosen few” to mentoring “for the masses” include:

  1. The Millennial workforce. A growing contingent in the workforce, this generation has a preference around connecting and learning digitally.  They want to have access to people from throughout their organization and have the freedom to choose who they seek knowledge from or share insights with.  As employers modify processes to accommodate Millennial preferences, the demand for making virtual connections for learning will grow.
  2. People’s familiarity with social networking.  The continued expansion and perceived value of what one can gain from social networking is causing people to question how they can leverage the power of networks to do more, especially as it relates to work and productivity.  They are asking, “If being connected can help me socially, can’t it also help me at work?”  Since they are already familiar with leveraging online networking tools, they simply need to be empowered and supported with different types of enabling technologies that focus on connecting for work-related reasons.
  3. A strengthening belief in “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In theory, organizations hire employees because those individuals possess talent that will allow the organization to be more successful.  People don’t work in vacuums, so for the vast majority of jobs, the talent of individual employees thrives when they collaborate and share with others.  It only makes sense then that organizations should strive to provide opportunities to connect their talent and encourage widespread knowledge sharing by casting as wide a net as possible, rather than limiting opportunities to just a select few people.

Social Networking vs. Enterprise Mentoring

As organizations begin to recognize the need to engage the entirety of their knowledge worker populations, some are turning to social networking technologies in an effort to remove those traditional organizational barriers (e.g., job function, job level, generation, cultural background) that prevent knowledge from flowing freely across the enterprise.  In and of itself, leveraging social networking technologies in an organization isn’t a bad thing, but many organizations lack clarity around the purpose of doing so and the results that they can realistically expect.  Enterprise social networking solutions help with certain organizational issues, such as a feeling of connectedness.  However, if organizations are genuinely interested in facilitating learning and knowledge transfer with intentionality, they will fall short if they only turn to social networking technologies.

While learning can take place within the confines of social networking, when it does, it is usually unstructured and incidental, and it certainly is not the primary focus of social networking processes and technologies.  To fully realize the impact of networks, organizations need to leverage a mix of collaboration technologies, including an enterprise mentoring software solution.  Figure 1 summarizes the social learning landscape and the differences in what an organization can expect as it relates to learning that takes place within enterprise social networking versus enterprise mentoring software, such as Open Mentoring by Triple Creek.

Social networking software was designed to provide users with a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility in what they do with it.  Too much structure can be limiting when one is looking to connect socially.  Yet, because the focus truly is about social connections, the software is not intrinsically designed to support learning. 

On the other hand, enterprise mentoring software like Open Mentoring is specifically built to facilitate people-to-people learning.  The vast majority of people are not active learners, meaning that they need some structure to help guide them in this process.  Open Mentoring is designed to provide the guidance people need in order to connect with others specifically for the sake of learning and knowledge transfer.  By using organizational competencies as the nucleus of mentoring engagements, users can take targeted action to meet specific work-related goals and remain focused on learning.  Additionally, since all connections in Open Mentoring are competency-based and have an intentional learning focus, organizations can more easily measure things like speed to competence (i.e., how quickly individuals are becoming proficient in specific competencies)  and understand the impact that the process is having on individuals and the organization as a whole. These types of measures, which have been historically lacking in past attempts to understand the impacts of learning and development processes, provide the “meat” that companies need today in their quest for ROI related to modern mentoring.

Mentoring in the Face of Talent Wars

An estimated 21 million Americans may be planning to change jobs in 2012, according to a December 2011 Cornerstone OnDemand/Harris Interactive survey, costing businesses a potential $2 trillion dollars due to talent turnover.  Accessing the know-how of talent, sharing it with colleagues throughout the enterprise, and expanding open learning networks for all employees clearly become critical actions in light of such predictions.  Modern mentoring is poised to take on such tasks.

This new mindset around mentoring is not a fad or “flavor of the month” type of HR process; it is an emerging approach to enterprise, self-directed development.  It is the natural evolution resulting from people’s desire to connect with and learn from others, and the organization’s desire to have a better understanding of the impact and ROI of learning and development processes.  It is what both individuals and organizations have been asking for, without really knowing what to call it.

In the not too distant future, modern mentoring will shift to being seen as a “must have” solution for companies of all sizes.  Those organizations that wait too long to make the transition to the modern view of mentoring will find themselves struggling in the war for talent.

Chris Browning,VP of Operations & Marketing for Triple Creek (www.3creek.com), has over 15 years of management, business consulting, and organizational development experience. Chris has focused his professional career on helping organizations become more efficient and educating them on how to fully leverage the talents of their people. His passion centers around helping individuals grow and develop, often beyond their own expectations.  Chris holds MBA and BS degrees from the University of Notre Dame. You may reach Chris directly by dialing 720-221-9262 or e-mailing cbrowning@3creek.com.