Opinion: Why mentoring beats training as a way to boost employee performance

by Contributor08 Sep 2017
Michael Horton writes that mentoring provides a holistic approach to an individual's development and should not be overlooked in the L&D mix

Each year, Australian businesses spend sizable sums on staff training in an effort to raise skills and improve performance. Yet many could enjoy far better returns if those investments were instead focused on mentoring.

Structured, one-on-one mentoring provides an opportunity for a more holistic approach to an individual's development. Rather than the focus being on the acquisition of qualifications, it becomes about the person's performance across all areas of their life.

This is not to say that skills-based training doesn't have a place. Clearly, staff need to have the knowledge and experience required to fill their role. However mentoring goes way beyond this, helping to guide and nurture individuals as they progress along their chosen career path.

Mentoring is particularly powerful when it comes to addressing the lack of gender diversity that exists within Australian businesses. With just 12 female CEOs in ASX 200 companies, there is clearly work to be done. Mentoring can assist the female leaders of tomorrow gain the focus and confidence they need to move to the next level.

Mentoring in action
As a practical example of the power of mentoring, HCL Technologies recently held its second Women Lead Australia program. Conducted over a 13-week period earlier this year, the program paired 15 mentees with mentors from a broad cross section of Australian businesses.

The program involved a series of workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions during which the professional and personal aspirations of each candidate were explored and a plan established for future development.

The results speak for themselves. Of the 15 candidates who completed the program in June, five have already either been promoted or changed role within their organisation. Others have made significant changes in their personal lives that will propel their career development in the future.

Mary-Anne Kamel, Managing Director at MAK Executive, says these outcomes clearly demonstrate the power of mentoring. Responsible for guiding both mentees and mentors throughout the program, she was impressed with the enthusiasm of all involved and the progress that was achieved.

"The program was clearly a catalyst for change," she says. "It provided a time for reflection and gave participants an opportunity to assess their priorities and focus on those areas in which they needed to develop."

Mary-Anne says her measure of success for a mentoring program is whether it triggers change for those involved. This could be a major change, such as a promotion, or a more subtle shift such as a strategy for tackling a difficult situation.

"It's like planting seeds," she says. "They are likely to grow at different rates and you may not know the end result for quite some time. This is the case when it comes to mentoring."

The Women Lead Australia program also demonstrated mentoring can be a two-way process. While the mentees clearly derived benefit from their involvement, the mentors also reported gaining fresh insights into themselves and their careers.

The mentoring exchanges are set to continue with many of the parties involved planning to continue their newly established professional relationships. This demonstrates that the value of mentoring can continue well after formal schedules of meetings have been completed. 

Commitment required
While mentoring clearly delivered significant benefits to those involved, it also requires significant commitment. For people with already busy lives, this means allocating time and headspace to work on strategies and map out a plan of action.

Encouragingly, all 15 participants in Women Lead Australia maintained momentum for the full 13-week program. This was despite heavy workloads and events that placed pressure on their personal lives.

"Mentoring only works if both parties, the mentor and mentee, are 100 per cent committed to the process," says Mary-Anne. "You need to recognise from the outset that getting the results you seek is going to require a significant level of sustained effort."

Participants should also recognise that discussions around new ideas and approaches must be followed by putting those ideas and approaches into action. Mary-Anne terms it "closing the knowing-doing gap".

"We can know a lot of things, but it's when that knowledge is put into action that the benefits are realised," she says.

A holistic approach
The power of mentoring comes from the fact it treats people as people, rather than a resource that needs to be trained to fill a particular role in a business. By taking into account past experience and future aspirations, it can help nurture and steer people to greater heights.

People often identify themselves with their career, but at the end of the day they are not a role or a title, they are a person, and mentoring can have a significant positive impact on all areas of life.

The success of Women Lead Australia is proof of the power of mentoring. By following a similar process, Australian businesses can ensure they are nurturing the leaders of tomorrow.

About the author
Michael Horton is Senior Vice President and Country Manager Australia and New Zealand, HCL Technologies


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