Hello! You are at Axon’s new column page, where I will share my CEO-driven thoughts on different topics that are definitely interesting to business leaders. The first topic is the power of mentoring. Stay tuned!
What is mentoring about?
According to Cambridge Dictionary, mentoring is the process of helping and giving advice to a younger or less experienced person. I know many companies have mentoring programs, but some people may confuse mentoring with training programs or corporate education opportunities.
An obligatory mentoring program is an illusion.
Of course, mentoring is extremely important for the company’s growth, but such programs cannot be implemented on a mandatory basis. Due to my extensive experience as a mentor, I realized that mentoring is based solely on the mentor’s desire. You can create and encourage a mentoring environment where employees want to be a mentor or learn from mentors. But you cannot create a procedure and mechanism for this.
Mentors can only be those who understand and share the company’s goals, are involved in processes, and are integrated into management and communication systems. And thus, they know where a teammate needs to be led.
Regarding software development specifics, I distinguish mentoring for engineering and business. If we talk about engineering mentoring, there are many directions where to lead team members, but you need to understand the goals of the product and the project. Bussiness mentoring is more focused on the business development goals of the company.
Corporate culture of mentoring
It is vital to create a culture of mentoring in the company. You should start with talent acquisition - find ambitious, goal-oriented employees eager to develop.
Although we are talking about mentoring within the company, there is still some space for personal relationships. I haven’t yet encountered a mentor who didn't enjoy working with their mentee. However, for mentoring to be effective, mentees must possess a strong willingness to learn and the ability to understand and adapt to the thoughts and ideas of others.
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Mentoring can be an effective way for employees to learn and grow, but it requires both the mentor and the mentee to have certain skills and qualities. One key skill that is important for mentees is adaptability. Without this skill, mentoring may not be as efficient or effective.
Inflexible employees may struggle to accept someone else's opinions, making it challenging to work together towards a common goal. For mentoring to be successful, both the mentor and mentee should have a shared desire to follow a common path. This allows them to define comfortable conditions and paths leading to fruitful collaboration and growth.
Therefore, mentees need to develop their adaptability skills, enabling them to be more open-minded and receptive to different perspectives.
A mentor should be able to formulate thoughts well, operate with concepts and supplement them with meaning. This is not a trainee program where you can say “do 1, 2, 3” point by point. This is the transfer of meanings, approaches, and views on life.
Mentoring at the lower and higher job levels is very different. When mentoring trainees or junior specialists, the mentor shares mainly work tools and lifehacks. If you go up in the organizational structure, mentoring is more about the values. Such mentoring disseminates company values and helps tailor company approaches to the mentee’s work.
How to choose a mentee?
You can’t come to any colleague and say, “now I will be your mentor.” More often, the mentee is the initiator of mentoring. The mentee must demonstrate sufficient interest in their mentor and feel ready to learn from the experience. And the mentor, in turn, must understand that they are ready to devote their work and (often) non-work time to this teammate.
The fact that it is possible to create a universal or obligatory mentoring program is an illusion. You cannot force talents to participate in such programs because this works more at the emotional level. Both colleagues must have developed emotional intelligence.
Of course, the highest management level must encourage mentoring programs. You should identify and encourage colleagues who can be mentors and help them recognize team members who can be mentored. As a rule, such team members have good discipline, want to learn, and are ready to perceive. Through such interaction in real work, even a young specialist can be inspired to work harder.
A mentor is some kind of an evangelist. They spread the values and philosophy of the company.
Mentoring and business goals of the company
Any mentoring within a company always has a business purpose. The company's business goals are product development, geographic expansion, increased profits, optimized business processes, etc. They require tools - technological, ideological, psychological, etc. All this can be shared only through mentors who can harmoniously convey the correct meanings to their mentees.
Mentors in the company are those who have realized their influence and understand that they need more partners to build and disseminate ideas. The easiest way to achieve new results is not formalized training but mentoring. The task of a mentor is not to teach a team member but to achieve team synergy.
In fact, you can teach teammates to work even without mentoring: you can set up strict management, after which employees will perform their tasks well anyway. But the goal of mentoring is to get like-minded associates.
In my experience, former mentees rarely leave a company. That is, mentoring increases retention.
Mentoring increases retention.
About mentoring at Axon
While personal mentors and coaches can provide valuable guidance, having mentors within a company must be a more business-oriented approach that aligns with the overall company objectives. Effective mentoring involves setting objectives and key results based on the company's goals rather than simply transferring work experiences.
At Axon, we have found that having mentors within our company has enabled us to share the same meanings and work towards the same objectives. Many of our current leaders were once mentees, which has created a strong partnership and made planning and achieving goals much easier.
Mentoring can also help to reduce conflicts within the organization, as values are transferred vertically along the organizational hierarchy, and interactions are well-built. Our leadership team shares our values and contributes to Axon’s strategy.
For those who have not gone through the mentoring process, we formalize goals and closely monitor progress to ensure alignment with our overall objectives. In addition, our heads of divisions mentor their team members who have become head leads and other key roles, creating a holistic approach that enables us to provide added value to clients through the synergy of the team.
In summary, at Axon, we believe that having mentors within the company helps us achieve our goals more effectively, reduce conflicts, and provide added value to our clients through the collective effort of the team.