Workplace mentoring’s quiet revolution

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Mentoring programs in the workplace have many benefits – from improving employee engagement to improving staff retention.

Today, more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies run some sort of mentorship programme. But setting them up is no easy task, as there is no one-size-fits-all template for an effective model.

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Mentorloop is a Melbourne-based startup that takes the administrative burden from businesses, and matches mentors with mentees from different companies and diverse backgrounds – based on their experience, interests and desired outcomes. In a way, its platform acts like a dating site for mentoring relationships.

“We believe the right connection can change your life, and we want to make that right connection accessible to everyone,” says Lucy Lloyd, Mentorloop’s co-founder. She decided to create the startup in 2016 over a glass of wine with a friend, Heidi Holmes. Today, the company has raised over $1 million (£780,000) in funding and is gaining a foothold in the UK, having already signed up BBC, Sky, Quilter and Just Eat.

Mentoring is not the same as training, coaching or supervision, and in the traditional structure, starters are paired up with senior staff – typically the mentee’s manager – to share knowledge of their role and workplace. But as companies and work teams become increasingly fractured, with flexible and remote working a new norm, online platforms such as Mentorloop can create a company culture that encourages learning and knowledge sharing among employees, and help them to stay connected even when working in different companies, time zones and continents.

Mentoring should be a two-way street that benefits both individuals; they should learn from each other, says Allison McWilliams, a mentoring expert at Wake Forest University, in North Carolina. “Mentoring relationships are, first and foremost, relationships. You want to be sure to put the elements in place that will allow those relationships to form and grow.” Key among these elements are making time commitments, and setting goals for professional and personal development. With the growth of technology and global workforces, she adds, this might mean both parties will have to work extra hard to build trust and rapport. If face-to-face meetings are not possible, video calls are still better than email or text.

Mentorloop’s platform allows companies to send employees a link to a customised questionnaire. Once mentors and protégés have been matched, they can contact each other directly, share files and track progress in the portal. And mentoring goes beyond role-specific competencies and organisational hierarchy: a mentor may want to tap into a younger generation and brush up their own technology skills or learn about new industry trends ‒ mentoring relationships are changing in modern workplaces, and it is not uncommon for a mentor to be younger than the mentee.

Women or ethnic minorities can especially benefit from such relationships, says Lloyd, explaining that women often try to do things themselves and are reluctant to ask senior leaders for help. “There is a gender imbalance in the tech community specifically,” she adds. “But equally, we know that women are great at starting businesses.”

And, she adds, asking for advice is what makes a successful entrepreneur. “It’s basically a superpower: to ask for help and press for that bit more clarification.”

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