To Foster Innovation, Focus on Mentorship

Too often, mentorship programs just involve vague, brief interactions between leaders and newer employees. But growing a robust culture of mentorship pays dividends to both employees and the business itself.

Written by Mike Whitmire
Published on Nov. 11, 2022
To Foster Innovation, Focus on Mentorship
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One of the biggest misconceptions of the current workforce is that you only really need a mentor in the early stages of your career. The truth is that employees can reap a plethora of benefits from mentorship throughout the entirety of their careers. In fact, a CNBC survey found that 90 percent of employees who have a mentor at work are happier, more productive and feel empowered to contribute. 

Despite these benefits, Forbes found that only 37 percent of professionals have a mentor. This is likely because, in a competitive job market, many organizations aren’t investing time into mentorship opportunities. Neglecting to cultivate mentorship opportunities can greatly impact a company, risking leaving employees feeling disengaged, disconnected, and disillusioned, with the potential to negatively impact retention rates. 

Long-term mentorship is critical to supporting employees and fostering success in a company. To take advantage of these benefits, however, workplaces desperately need to shake up their mentorship programs.

What Should Mentorship Look Like?

  • Good mentorship should be more than weekly coffee chat or some goal-setting exercises.
  • It focuses on the employee’s desired and potential career path, the goals the employee must meet to reach said path, and the steps necessary to achieve those goals.
  • This kind of mentorship program empowers your employees to use their creativity and spark innovations.

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Mentorship Reimagined

As it currently stands, “mentorship” often just means a weekly coffee chat or some goal-setting exercises. But it can — and should — go beyond such a simple setup. The new wave of mentorship should be carried out with an entrepreneurial mindset. In other words, it needs to focus on the employee’s desired and potential career path, the goals the employee must meet to reach said path, and the steps necessary to achieve those goals.

Cultivating this mindset means developing a mentorship program that provides the employee with tools and guidance to not only adhere to this mindset but also climb the ladder. Even further, mentors and leadership should encourage proteges to be self-driven and take risks to advance their careers. 

For example, an accountant in your organization might one day dream of being a CFO. A mentor can help outline the expectations of the target role, promote a strategic way of working and thinking that aligns with a CFO’s duties and responsibilities, create an understanding of how the role has evolved in recent years, and help them set goals to rise within the accounting and finance organization.

When mentorship programs are focused in this way, employees get more opportunities to develop new skills, tap into their creativity and ability to innovate, and explore new avenues within their company or their career as a whole. This potential is particularly important as one of the main reasons employees leave companies is due to a lack of career development opportunities. Creating entrepreneurial mentorship programs can open the door to learning and growth and, subsequently, reduce attrition rates.


Opening the Door to Future Innovators

Of course, with this type of robust mentorship program, organizations run the risk of inspiring their employees so much that they leave to create their own brands or jump on new opportunities. In my experience as a CEO, however, the payoff is worth it. By encouraging an employee to take risks and be innovative, even if it leads them somewhere else, it’s likely that they also contributed greatly to the success of your own company. 

Even further, you’re helping to drive the next wave of great tech companies through the simple, yet powerful, act of mentorship. Having your company become a springboard for some of the greatest innovations and advancements, all because of a strong mentoring program, is itself an honorable thing. Teaching people to be creative and supporting them in their climb up the ladder is beneficial to you and your company. It imbues the organization with an innovative spirit and makes your company attractive to prospective employees.

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What Is the Future of Mentorship

At the end of the day, founders and C-suite-level employees should be dedicated to the advancement of not only their company or brand but their employees as well. Mentorship is a key resource that can help achieve both of those goals. 

Mentorship programs must not only span an employee’s entire career but also be structured with an entrepreneurial mindset. Using this mindset means that all employees — from upper- to entry-level — are given opportunities to try something new and get creative. 

Workforces have had a tumultuous few years, and shaking up the way we think about mentorship in the workplace can bring about a new future for employees and companies as a whole.

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