By Andrew Geant
My entire business is predicated on the belief that 1-to-1 tutoring is the most impactful way to learn academic and professional skills. This is embraced almost religiously across our organization because we’ve seen thousands of instances of the dramatic impact tutoring can have. Yet, when surveyed about their own careers and professional growth, 64% of our employees said that they did not have someone they considered to be a mentor. This is consistent with other research which has shown that 70% of millennials say they do not have a workplace mentor. However, experience has also shown us that people thrive with the help of a mentor, so businesses should be solutions-minded when it comes to the issue of mentorship in the workplace.
More and more adults are recognizing the benefits of 1-to-1 learning—but what’s taking them so long? Why don’t we all have tutors and mentors? Nearly every successful business executive, musician and athlete talks about the profound impact mentors had on their careers. But many professionals, particularly millennials, are still “going it alone.”
Through a series of in-depth interviews with a variety of professionals, we uncovered some key insights that help explain the relative lack of mentorship in today’s workplace. Here are three ideas — all of which my company is implementing now — to get your employees feeding off of one another and embracing the role mentorship can play in their careers.
Employees are hesitant to seek help internally
There are two primary reasons why employees are hesitant to seek help from managers or peers. First, they often feel badly for not already knowing the answer or having the skill. And second, they recognize that they need consistent, long-term coaching to reach the level of mastery they are seeking, and they know that their peers don’t always have the ability to make this commitment.
The first of these issues—hesitation to ask for help—is completely addressable by building a culture of support and openness. A core business value of mine is “Always Be Learning.” From the very first interview, employees are indoctrinated to invest in developing new skills and expertise, and to leverage one another whenever possible.
With respect to the second issue—the need for long-term coaching—the reality is that learning something new does generally require a significant commitment. And it may not always be possible or the best use of resources for employees to invest significant amounts of time training one another. Making outside resources available to your employees can motivate them to find mentors who can help them grow.
Mentorship is a two-way street
The best long-term mentor/mentee relationships are mutually beneficial arrangements in which both parties bring something useful to the table. Steve Blank makes this point nicely in his blog post, “Mentors, Coaches and Teachers.”
“Now I realize that what made these relationships a mentorship is this: I was giving as good as I was getting. While I was learning from them — and their years of experience and expertise — what I was giving back to them was equally important. I was bringing fresh insights to their data. It wasn’t that I was just more up to date on the current technology, markets or trends. I was able to recognize patterns and bring new perspectives to what these very smart people already knew. In hindsight, mentorship is a synergistic relationship.”
Approaching mentorship as a two-way street not only serves to increase the overall value and sustainability of the relationship, it also facilitates better learning. The old adage rings true that the best way to learn something is to teach it. One way to promote teaching is through hosting weekly ‘Lunch and Learns,’ in which individual contributors across an organization share their knowledge of a variety of technologies and disciplines.
Networks can’t be confined to the office walls
Once you begin, it is relatively easy to build strong professional relationships with your peers and colleagues within your own company. In fact, it should be a prerequisite to joining an organization. But for most people, it feels much harder to build these types of relationships with people outside of the company. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be.
As a general rule, people love to help other people. It’s gratifying, and it makes the world a better place. With social networks it couldn’t be easier to identify the right people who can help you learn and develop as a professional. Not everyone will respond to you, but if you’re genuine and thoughtful, you’ll be surprised how many people will make the time. Additionally, realize that as new talent comes into the company, you are not only hiring them, you are also gaining access to their networks. Of course not all of the people you connect with will end up becoming long-term mentors, but if you play the odds and have enough of the right conversations, over time, you’ll find yourself building highly productive, rewarding and long-term professional and personal relationships.
So seek out a mentor, and become a mentor yourself. Your organization will thank you.
Andrew Geant is the CEO, Co-founder, Wyzant. Drew co-founded , Wyzant in 2005 with his Princeton classmate, Mike Weishuhn. As a tutor himself, Drew saw firsthand the confidence that 1-1 learning inspired in students, yet knew how difficult it was for tutors to build their business. After launching nation’s largest tutoring marketplace in Northern Virginia, he relocated Wyzant to Chicago and raised $21.5 million from Accel Partners. Drew lives in the city with his wife, Katie, and incredibly photogenic labradoodle, Bogey. @Wyzant.