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There's never been a better time to invest in mentoring support to engage and foster the personal development of the talent around you. Following a global pandemic that dramatically altered the way in which we interact, learn, live our lives and build relationships in the workplace, our approach to mentoring needs to evolve to embrace flexibility and fluidity.

Traditionally speaking, mentoring is a relationship between two people, with the goal of professional and personal development. The 'mentor' is usually an experienced individual who shares knowledge, experience and advice with a less experienced person, or 'mentee'. At its heart, it's an exchange of ideas, helping to remove barriers for the next generation of talent. From my personal experience, and having spoken to many other mentors, it's clear that both mentor and mentee learn from the experience. Everyone wins!

Benefits of mentoring

Quite simply, mentoring is critically important when it comes to developing the next generation of up-and-coming talent - and the need is particularly acute for women, who are still under-represented in senior roles. As of March 2022, just nine of the UK's FTSE 100 companies were headed by a female chief executive, with experts blaming a more general shortage of women in senior leadership roles.

Yet, for those who engage productively with mentoring programmes, the benefits can be career-defining. Mentoring helps mentees to grow in confidence, improve their leadership capabilities, achieve promotion and progress towards their career goals. Mentors benefit by gaining new perspectives and honing their own people and leadership skills.

Furthermore, both mentees and mentors have a higher chance of getting a pay rise. When technology company Sun Microsystems - now part of Oracle-evaluated its own mentoring programme, it found that 25% of mentees and 28% of mentors benefited from a positive change in their salary grade, compared with 5% for non-participants.

A flexible approach

A flexible workforce requires a flexible approach to mentoring. Forcing people to commit to a long-term process that may not be right for their situation won't produce the best results. Nor will unnecessarily lengthy or burdensome application processes or forms that slow down the match- making process.

Mentoring sessions don't necessarily need to be a formal, sit-down meeting. Grabbing a coffee with someone to support them on a project or to give advice, helping someone find new connections and build their personal network, or just being an approachable face, can all count towards mentoring. Mentors don't necessarily need to be senior leaders, either. In fact, peer-to-peer mentoring can be hugely valuable too. After all, everyone can bring experiences to the table that are inspiring and informative for others.

Five tips for mentoring the next generation

1. Remember that knowledge exchange benefits both sides. Mentoring is a great way for both parties to advance their leadership, listening and communication skills, and to develop empathy.

2. Empower those in your organisation to reach out to others for help put a structure in place, whether formal or informal, to help people drive their own mentoring relationships.

3. Don't rely on just one mentor Throughout our careers, we face specific and varied challenges, so it can be very beneficial to learn from a number of different mentors.

4. Great relationships often come down to chemistry if you feel a mentoring relationship isn't the right fit, or you would benefit from a new perspective, reach out to someone else.

5. Encourage connections across generations. That's from junior levels right up to the most senior. Your Gen Z workers can teach you a lot.

When designing a new mentoring programme in our agency, we decided to break many of the 'traditional rules'. The outcome was Magpie, a self-serve app that connects staff to mentors, depending on their needs. Magpie is integrated into our day-to-day tool, Microsoft Teams, and it features a directory of mentors that can be searched by role, name or topic. Think of it like the well-known Top Trumps game: users can explore the profiles and message the most relevant person.

Mentors and mentees

If you would like to be a mentor, think about who you might be able to help, and how. Is there someone in your own organisation who fades into the background at meetings? Could you help build their confidence? Or might you be able to mentor someone from a different company? Through connecting, you could build not only their network but also your own. If you want to give back, ask around to see if your colleagues and contacts know of anyone who might benefit from mentoring.

If you are a potential mentee, ask HR about the mentoring programmes that exist within your organisation. If you are looking for a mentor from outside your organisation, try using your social channels. Popular networking platforms, such as LinkedIn, can be a great place to start.

Suggest a coffee before asking someone if they would consider being your mentor. If it feels like a great fit, it'll happen more naturally than you think. Your mentor may not even realise that he or she is even acting as a mentor!

Once you've got a mentor, don't expect them to do all the work. Reach out. Ask for advice. And while you don't need to put unnecessary constraints on a session, do go prepared. Have a topic or question that you need advice on. It can work well to start with a quick chat to explain what you want advice with and what you hope to gain from the experience.

We all thrive by having allies - people who support us and raise us up. When leaders act as mentors to the next generation, they get the personal satisfaction of seeing others succeed. At the same time, they gain greater understanding of a range of workplace dilemmas and can even help to solve issues before they arise. Meanwhile, creating a network across - and indeed beyond - the organisation fosters collaboration and can help to boost engagement and morale, as well as provide an environment in which workers can thrive.

Helen Lee is Wunderman Thompson's UK head of new business and marketing, and co-founder of the agency's women's network, Rise. She helped to develop Magpie, an app designed to connect women mentors and mentees within the organisation.

This article first appeared on the Yule 2022 edition of EDGE Journal. Become a member now to view the full EDGE Online library.

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