Creating a Culture of Daily Mentorship

06/18/2015 10:01 am ET | Updated Jun 17, 2016

Team development and growth is critical to every business and retaining top talent is more important than ever. However, a great compensation package alone will not ensure a talented worker stays in the fold. According to a study by Harvard Business Review, young high achievers value mentoring and coaching and often leave their current gigs in a quest to have those needs met. Companies like Microsoft and KPMG have caught on by giving employees exposure to peers in different divisions to provide fresh ideas and new ways of thinking.

In addition to more formalized training and education programs, many companies also try to foster mentorship within their organizations, often with mixed results. Like matchmaking, mentorship can seem shrouded in mystique and luck. HR departments eagerly set up colleagues for lunches or other work "dates" and cross their fingers that the chemistry will spark. A seasoned pro will take an eager novice under his or her wing and the next generation of great leaders will be born.

While many invaluable mentor/mentee relationships have begun as magical moments of kismet, you can reap the benefits more widely by weaving mentorship into the way your teams work on a daily basis. This ensures that your more seasoned team members are actively and continually passing on critical skills and knowledge while simultaneously modeling mentorship behavior to junior staff, so that they, in turn, will continue to pay it forward to the next set of new recruits.

For lasting results, set a strong foundation:

Model the behavior you want to see.
People are sensitive to the actions and energies of others, especially those who are considered leaders in the organization. Recognize that the way you behave, speak and engage with other people can and will inform that of others and ensure that you're demonstrating positive, respectful and solution-oriented approaches. Leave the politics to Washington and negative energy outside the door.

Know when to manage and when to coach.
There's a big, yet often unacknowledged, difference between managing and coaching. There are clear times when managing is an imperative - navigating a crisis, getting a brand new employee up to speed, executing a quick-turn deliverable. However, to effectively mentor you need to put your coaching hat on, facilitating trial and exploration. This takes time but the investment is well worth it. Provide context around the bigger picture and larger goals, but give junior team members the opportunities to think through potential approaches and solutions themselves and share their recommendations and point of view. You know the old adage: teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

Expect and embrace failure.
One of the keys to successful mentorship is conveying a sense of belief in your team members and what they are capable of accomplishing. Set high goals and expectations and give them the space to rise and meet them. However, know that failure is not only inevitable, but can also be a great teacher. A leader's role is both to push your team members outside of their comfort zones to achieve audacious goals and to be there to catch them when they fall, helping them to see how to avoid the missteps in the future. A culture that rewards creativity and trying new things - without punishing the misses - fosters a team of savvy problem-solvers who can think on their feet and are energized vs. paralyzed by new challenges.

See the whole person.
In our hyper-connected social world, the lines between our personal and professional lives are more blurred than ever. Walls are down and increasing value is given to the soft skills and unique interests that each individual brings to the table. This makes it critical to consider the "whole person," understanding the forces and pressures impacting all facets of their lives so you can coach them in the most effective way. Are they exhausted with their first baby at home? Be supportive of their efforts to juggle it all or put them in touch with another colleague who has had a similar experience. Are they passionate about something outside of their existing role? Identify ways to help them hone their interest and skills in that area. Make having this kind of insight into their direct reports a critical component of any manager's job.