By Rebecca Hawk
At most associations, leaders juggle the work of many different roles, and time often feels very tight. But the association sector is facing significant challenges with recruitment and retention—and mentoring, though it takes time, may be the key to beating it.
Julie Kantor is no stranger to this conversation. “In this world of go, go, go productivity and massive technology dependence, it’s becoming harder for people to take out time for each other,” says Kantor, the founder and CEO of mentoring company Twomentor who spent two decades as executive director of network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and Million Women Mentors. “The workforce is getting increasingly isolated, and the ROI or the business case for mentoring is not always clear to organization leaders.”
Kantor can name many instances in which she’s seen the effects of a lack of mentorship push an employee out of an organization. “One intern told me, ‘I don’t know what I am being measured on, and the other interns don’t either. I came here for experience,’” says Kantor. “Another let me know that she hadn’t yet spoken to her hiring manager—and it had been 10 days since her start date.”
Many professionals cite lack of time, lack of formal programming at the organization, or a belief that he or she doesn’t have the skills to be a mentor as reasons for avoiding this important role. But mentoring can be a great asset to your organization—for the people involved and for the association.
Kantor works with major companies and other organizations to help them build mentoring cultures, elevate a diverse skilled workforce, and drive millennial retention and engagement. She points to research showing the quantifiable benefits of a mentoring culture. For example, a study conducted by Wharton/Gartner on Sun Microsystems (now Oracle) produced these findings:
I believe it’s our civic duty to teach, mentor, and hopefully sponsor when interns and young professionals come to our organizations to learn.
—Julie Kantor, Twomentor
Kantor says these results shouldn’t be surprising. “Experiential learning is where it’s at,” she says. “It’s one thing to hear about the world of work. It’s another thing to be swimming without a life vest in what feels like shark-infested waters. A mentor can help their mentee enjoy the swim, dodge the jellyfish, jump up on a Jet Ski, and experience how not to just survive but to thrive in a new career.”
Kantor can relate to managers and other experienced professionals who feel like they barely have time to do their jobs, much less mentor younger employees.
“This is why I am a big fan of internships and job-shadowing,” Kantor says. “At my company, I mentor about a dozen young men and women, and I feel our interns and young professionals in the office get the best experience possible and more face-time with company leaders.”
Kantor recommends using short coffee breaks to connect with employees or people in other departments. Even taking half an hour after a staff meeting to troubleshoot, talk about short and long-term vision, or go over an action plan for the week to elevate your mentee can have powerful effects.
Kantor cites Brandon Busteed at Gallup, who said that “mentor duty is the new jury duty.”
“He taught us that there is a big—actually, huge—divide between how prepared college presidents believe their students are for work and how corporate leaders feel,” she says.
“I believe it’s our civic duty to teach, mentor, and hopefully sponsor (champion others) when interns and young professionals come to our organizations to learn,” says Kantor, adding that mentoring can be a key element of an employee onboarding strategy that lets organizations “test-drive talent. You can see if someone is a good fit for your company and culture.”
Mentorship goes both ways, of course. “My mentees reverse-mentor me on collaboration, technology, use of social networks, and so much more,” she says.
Creating a mentoring culture might seem intimidating, but it starts the way anything else does: slowly. “Start now. Just set aside 30-60 minutes every two weeks,” Kantor recommends. Taking small steps to create mentoring opportunities for new and existing employees will create significant improvements in retention and engagement.
If mentoring seems too heavy a lift, consider an analogy. “In a nonmentoring environment, people tend to swim in fear, visualize the fins around, likely want to leave—or worse, join the silent majority who are not engaged in their work and drift through their days,’ says Kantor. “That is not good for business.”
Rebecca Hawk is the product manager for Association CareerHQ at ASAE Business Services, Inc. Email: [email protected]