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Nov 17, 2015

Mentoring for succession planning

Using mentoring as a development tool for top talent

By Brian Kreissl 

Like coaching, mentoring can be an important ‎development tool for succession planning purposes. The benefits of mentoring for the protegé include providing opportunities to learn, grow and advance your career. 

Mentors provide advice and insight into the organization, access to a wider network and a way to obtain feedback and career advice. However, mentoring benefits not only the protegé, but also the mentor and the organization as a whole. 

While they do share certain similarities, mentoring is quite distinct from coaching. Mentoring is really about partnering with a more senior individual who can provide advice, suggestions and feedback to the protegé, as opposed to a coach, who — at least in a business context — generally helps the person being coached find the right answers within themselves. 

A mentor can act as a sounding board to answer questions, guide the protegé in his career and open up possibilities the protegé might not have considered otherwise. While a manager should provide a certain amount of mentoring to her team, most formal mentoring programs partner mentors and protegés who are not in a direct reporting relationship, and may even be in another function or organization. 

The benefits of mentoring 

For the organization, mentoring helps facilitate knowledge transfer and the grooming of future leaders. Mentors are able to provide insight gained through their own experience as leaders, the unwritten rules relating to expectations of leaders and generally accepted norms, values and best practices within the organization and industry. 

Mentors themselves can benefit by forcing themselves to think about their own experiences and frame them in a useful way and develop their competencies relating to the development of others (which is useful to senior leaders as they climb the corporate ladder). Mentors can also learn from their protegés. 

Some organizations also implement “reverse mentoring” programs whereby employees of different generations are paired up with one another; for example, with older employees sharing organizational knowledge and younger employees providing tips and strategies on technology use (particularly with respect to social media). 

While there are different views on this, the best mentors are generally people who are about three to five years ahead of their protégés in their careers. If the mentor is too far ahead in her career, it may be difficult for the mentor to relate to the protegé. On the other hand, a mentor who is only slightly ahead likely would not have any unique insight or advice to impart. 

It is particularly important to have a good fit between the mentor and protegé and ensure both individuals can work well together. While the mentor and protegé need not be in the same department or function, it is necessary to be able to partner aspiring leaders with mentors who are able to provide the right type of advice to their protgés. 

Women and diverse employees frequently find mentoring to be particularly helpful to their career development — especially if they are able to obtain advice from someone who faced the same or similar challenges in their careers. 

Establishing formal mentoring programs 

While many aspiring leaders and other ambitious individuals seek out, find and approach their own mentors, for succession planning purposes it is more helpful if the organization is proactive about mentoring high potential employees by establishing formal mentoring programs within the organization. In order to do that, it is important to obtain executive sponsorship of the program and determine its goals and objectives. 

It is also important to set guidelines relating to the matching of mentors and protégés and promote the program within the organization — particularly to senior managers and executives who should encourage potential mentors and protégés to participate. 

Mentoring programs generally last one or two years (although individual mentoring relationships could continue beyond that period on an informal basis) and have a formal kick-off, as well as several meetings of all participants throughout the duration of the program. Mentors and protegés should be encouraged to meet regularly, and the program facilitator could provide suggestions to the participants for discussion topics. 

It is also a good idea to provide mentors with training and reference materials on how to act as effective mentors and evaluate the effectiveness of the program through questionnaires. 

This post is an excerpt from the forthcoming Carswell/Canadian HR Reporter book entitled HR Manager’s Guide to Succession Planning, by Brian Kreissl and Yaseen Hemeda. 

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