Recently the CEO of a large nonprofit finished a one-year formal mentoring partnership as the "mentee." She was mentored by someone from another company, in fact, another state.
She is highly accomplished and enjoys a national presence and reputation in her field. Her comments from the final evaluation of this partnership included: "This mentor was exactly what I needed at this time in my career," and, "This is the best investment I've made since my MBA."
Mentors can be great, but have a formal mentor? Well, all of us can grow and develop, no matter what our role is within a company. If we stop developing and learning, we may as well throw in the towel, because that's called stagnation. This CEO recognized that in order to take the organization to the next level, she needed to expand her capabilities. She decided the best way to do that was to work with someone who had been down that path before her.
Another CEO just finished his mentoring partnership and the board chairman commented on how much he noticed the CEO growing in his role during the year and attributed it to the partnership.
All mentoring, formal or informal, is valuable. However, formal mentoring tends to yield more specific results. There's internal mentoring and cross-company mentoring. Each brings different results and I believe formal cross-company mentoring is the most beneficial because it tends to yield greater objectivity and candidness.
Formal cross-company mentoring is where a mentee is specifically matched with a mentor from a noncompeting company. It's extremely valuable in talent development whether your company's goal is to develop a pipeline of people to be ready for leadership, expand the capability of your current leaders, or retain talent. It is a tool that can be used for people at any level because the match is specifically for the individual.
What mentees get out of it is someone who has been specifically selected to work with them for a specified amount of time. (I recommend one year.) There are specific goals for the partnership, regular meetings —whether virtually or in-person — and progress checks throughout the year. The mentee drives the partnership and the mentor is there to guide the mentee. Both are trained on their roles, on how to build a successful partnership, and guided throughout the partnership.
Benefits of cross-company mentoring
Having the right partnership results in growth for both parties. Mentors want to give back and mentees get to be the sponge. Being from noncompeting companies, they can feel free to be candid, adding a significant benefit to the confidential mentoring partnership.
Benefits for the mentee:
1. A mentor from a noncompeting company provides an outside perspective that can be valuable helping him/her within their own company.
2. They benefit from a mentor whose experience has taken her/him down the path the mentee is now trying to navigate.
3. The mentee learns how to accept feedback in important areas such as communication, leadership, and change management. It comes from someone who has no ulterior motive other than to help the mentee develop.
4. The mentor can help the mentee better understand how to navigate the culture of an organization and its politics.
5. It is hands-on learning and development with someone solely dedicated to the mentee's growth.
Benefits for the mentor:
1. It's reciprocal learning; mentors learn a great deal from their mentees.
2. It reminds the mentor to listen actively. It's not about them (the mentor), it's all about the mentee and how the mentor can help the mentee develop.
3. Mentors strengthen their interpersonal skills.
4. Mentors gain personal satisfaction from helping another professional develop and it helps them be better mentors within their own company.
5. Mentors are reminded of what people at the level of the mentee are going through in their own companies. They gain perspective from the mentee's challenges.
Benefits for the companies:
1. The mentee's company benefits from having an employee who is actively growing in her/his career and preparing for the next level or a leadership role feeding the succession pipeline.
2. Most mentees become more engaged with their work and company.
3. Both mentee and mentor bring new perspectives to their work and company.
4. The mentor becomes more effective and many times becomes a better leader and mentor within his/her own company.
5. The mentoring company facilitates the partnership. This is especially beneficial for smaller companies with limited talent development or HR resources.
Talent development takes many forms. Cross-company mentoring makes it interactive, safe and confidential. Both mentees and mentors gain skills, perspective, and enhance their leadership capabilities in ways never imagined.
If you have never been a mentor, you should. If you've never been a mentee, give it a try. Anyone can be a mentor and/or mentee at a particular time. No matter which role you choose at any one time, look at it as an opportunity for your personal and professional growth. You'll never regret it.
Kathleen Pytleski is CEO of Sekstant, a Minneapolis management consulting firm.