The Best Mentees May Not Be Who You Think They Are

mentoring program

When setting up a mentoring program within your organization, some prospective mentees are obvious choices. But high performers and superstars are not the only people in your company directory who have the potential to achieve great things. That’s why we urge mentors to look beyond the “obvious choices” and develop hidden gems, too. 

Just as ships don’t “drift” into port, employees won’t “drift” into greatness. Mentoring is often the key to unlocking the potential in overlooked, seemingly average employees.

So who, exactly, are these “non-obvious choices”? You probably have someone on your payroll who lacks experience on paper, but whose leadership skills and ability to drive change could make a tremendous impact. Perhaps there’s an employee whose talents might be a better fit for a different role. Maybe a new supervisor is technically proficient, but their communication skills and demeanor could use some polish. Almost certainly, you have middle-of-the-pack employees who could quickly advance if given personalized training and advice.  

When you invest mentoring resources into non-obvious candidates, you pack your bench with engaged, loyal employees who are operating at the top of their game. You also broaden your talent pipeline and streamline the advancement process. That’s an ROI leaders can’t afford to ignore right now 

Here are nine powerful benefits you may receive when you build a mentoring program that develops a wide range of employees (not just the superstars):

You’ll attract and retain talent.

Especially in today’s environment of uncertainty and upheaval, companies need a strong team of employees. And it’s just as crucial that, once hired, good people stay on board. A mentoring program shows them there’s a path for advancement inside your company. 

Millennials in particular deeply value training and development. By sharing their knowledge and experience with younger employees, mentors help them grow and progress. At the same time, they teach younger people how to navigate challenges specific to their workplace so they are less likely to leave.

New employees will hit the ground running a lot faster.

We no longer have the luxury of long onboarding periods for new hires. The pace of business requires everyone to become a contributing member of the team almost immediately. Assigning new employees a mentor early on can help expedite progress while helping them avoid pitfalls.

A solid mentoring program can help cushion training budget shortfalls.

Quite often in times of economic turmoil (like now), training budgets are on the chopping block. Mentors play a huge role in transferring knowledge and vital skills. They are a great source of on-the-job training that costs very little. 

mentoring program

…and it sets the stage for the ongoing learning that will be needed in the future.

Increasingly, we need our employees to have a “just-in-time” skill set. The education system can’t keep up, and companies will need to ramp up their training to bridge the skills gap. Mentors will likely play a vital role in helping employees perform well while they integrate new learnings. 

Mentoring helps people weather tough storms.

COVID-19 has put incredible stress on leaders and employees. In fact, many organizations have moved beyond stress and into the realm of trauma. By putting things in perspective (“We’ve lived through other hard times and survived”), providing a safe space for mentees to vent about their stresses and struggles, and sharing coping skills, mentors can go a long way toward helping employees build resilience while easing their loneliness and isolation. 

It engages employees.

Mentoring makes it more likely that people will “lean in” to their work. They’re being challenged to learn new things, so they don’t become complacent. 

Mentees have a chance to prove themselves daily and to use their skills and talents in new ways. They may become a wellspring of new ideas. They feel invested in and valued. All of this sparks their passion and energy for their work and shores up their commitment to the company. 

negotiating your next job offer

Mentoring sharpens a company’s ability to execute.

Companies must be agile, fast-thinking, and fast-acting if they’re to survive. By sharing their years of accumulated wisdom, mentors help people broaden their perspective, cut through the information overload, and get to the heart of what matters. When we aren’t bogged down in extraneous details, we can move quickly and purposefully. 

It helps people build the relationship skills today’s companies need to survive.

Strong relationships—based on honesty, trust, transparency, and empathy—matter now more than ever. 

Companies must be masters at innovation, collaboration, and teamwork. All of these things hinge on our ability to foster strong relationships. Mentoring builds relationships in two ways. First, the mentor/mentee relationship creates a powerful bond as it evolves. But also, both parties apply the skills they learn in the process to other relationships. Eventually, a strong web of accountability, support, and continuous learning spreads throughout the company.”

Mentoring helps organizations become more diverse and inclusive.

There is a huge focus right now on these issues. In many organizations, older employees may need to learn how best to work with those from different racial and cultural backgrounds, belief systems, and orientations. 

This is where reverse mentoring (when a junior person mentors a more senior one) shines. But actually, any type of mentoring that puts people from different age groups together helps create more diverse, inclusive workplaces. The more folks from different generations get to know each other and have meaningful exchanges, the more we break down barriers…and the more unified we become.

In Bert’s 40-year career with Waffle House, he mentored hundreds of employees—and some of the most successful weren’t obvious choices for leadership to begin with. More employees than you think have the seeds of greatness within them.

Remember, your employees don’t know what they don’t know. Often, all it takes is sincere instruction and guidance from a mentor to help them grow, thrive, and drive your company toward greater success. When you look at it that way, can you afford not to identify and develop the non-obvious candidates on your payroll?

This guest post was authored by Bert Thornton and Dr. Sherry Hartnett

Bert Thornton

Bert Thornton is the former president and COO of Waffle House. He is coauthor along with Dr. Sherry Hartnett of the new book High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives (BookLogix, 2021, ISBN: 978-1-6653-0344-6, $19.95, His first book, Find an Old Gorilla: Pathways Through the Jungle of Business and Life, is a well-received leadership handbook for rising high achievers and emerging leaders. 

Dr. Sherry Hartnett

Dr. Sherry Hartnett is coauthor along with Bert Thornton of the new book High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives (BookLogix, 2021, ISBN: 978-1-6653-0344-6, $19.95, She is a marketing and leadership professor, consultant, author, and mentor. At the University of West Florida, she founded the pioneering, high-impact experiential learning Executive Mentor Program.

About the Book: 

High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives (BookLogix, 2021, ISBN: 978-1-6653-0344-6, $19.95, is available from major online booksellers.

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.