Mentorship 2.0: Embracing the Changing Nature of the Workplace

Over the last handful of decades, so many things have fundamentally changed the nature of the workplace. Technology, the role of women, diversity initiatives, the end of permissive harassment, the erosion of the hierarchical workplace into more team-oriented styles—all of these have transformed the workplace into something that would be unrecognizable by a middle-aged man in 1950. What’s more, young people today place an extremely high priority on work-life balance and demand for employers to acknowledge the entire human experience, complete with ups and downs. Some may call them lazy and entitled and long for the days when a good dressing down would correct these insolent youngsters.

Smart business owners will embrace this new wave and appreciate this forceful redefining of what it means to be an employee. Studies on motivating factors for employees all boil down to quality of life inside and outside the office, and all of us would benefit from having more time to live our lives and less time spent at work. Plus, the economy is strong these days, so businesses are hardly suffering from this upheaval. Lastly, these young workers want to have some meaning behind the hours they put in for their bosses beyond a paycheck. Quashing that passion in favor of obedience means killing off any internal motivation for innovation. The question is now to find a path for employers to change their workplaces to meet these demands.

Enter Mentorship 2.0

Our leaders must be better able to both evaluate and develop talent in light of this changing, more purpose-driven and tech-enabled work environment. Mentorship can help make this happen as mentors guide others, serve as a role model, question ideas, and model behaviors that will serve others. Mentors show us what it means to be a leader, and leadership today means creating other leaders, not producing ranks of followers. 

The concept of mentorship made its debut in America in the 1970s, and by the 1990s, it was fairly commonplace. Now it’s time for mentorship to evolve to accommodate modern workers. These principles should be the guiding force for shedding old ideas and welcoming Mentorship 2.0:

  1. Relationships First. Mentorships only work when the relationships are genuine. They cannot be another dry HR initiative that gets checked off a to-do list. People must be able to find common ground between each other and baseline chemistry must exist if they are to break from their formal roles and titles (boss vs. employee) and move into “real life.”
  2. Character over Competency. Mentorship is not a training program meant to help employees acquire skills for the job. Instead, mentoring should be about shaping character and values while helping people develop better self-awareness, empathy and the capacity for respect. All of these ideas apply to the human being in a holistic sense, not just the company or the role of the employee within the organization.
  3. Open to Ideas. Success in the business world relies on finding new ways to achieve business goals, and mentorship must be a safe place for ideas to be explored. Off-the-wall or seemingly unrealistic ideas are where innovation happens and mentors need to be sources of energy, not consumers of it. In other words, mentors should be open to an optimistic exploration of ideas and leave pessimistic realism to someone else.
  4. Be Loyal. Loyal to the human being, that is, not the company. Leadership is a duty and a service toward others. The best way to inspire commitment is to be fully and selflessly committed to the best interests of colleagues and employees. Mentors should look for the underlying passions of their mentees, not just their technical strengths, and help them find their calling—even if that’s elsewhere. 

Long story short: mentors and mentees must be able to have an authentic, personal connection with each other and the mentor must be committed to helping their mentee grow in all directions by having a sincere regard for the mentee’s real life, both inside the workplace and out. By doing that, the mentor can not only address the business needs of the company, but also address the growing demand for employees to feel like their work has a purpose beyond the organization’s bottom line. Everybody wins.

When is Mentorship Appropriate?

Practical training will always have an important role to play in the workplace as skills will always need developing. Mentorship, however, should be about both being and creating good people around us—people who are committed to helping others become the best versions of themselves. There’s a reason why the most admired organizations are the ones devoted to bringing others along with them. Mentors aren’t there to teach their mentees how to use a program or device (although they certainly can); instead, their job is to move beyond practical know-how and into the realm of the human experience in the workplace as a whole.

Mentorship is right for new employees and temporary employees. It’s beneficial for those who must change jobs, are going to lose their job, or are about to retire. It’s perfect for anyone longing for personal and professional development, whether that’s the recent college graduate who is starting their first “real” job, or the manager who wishes to develop their leadership skills and abilities. In other words, anyone who wants to grow is ripe for a mentor.

Who Makes a Good Mentor?

The best mentors avoid killing the dreams of their mentees. They help create a sense of shared purpose within the organization and give perspective to the bigger picture outside the company. They understand the importance of skills acquisition while also underlining the importance of soft skills. Successful mentors promote baseline respect in terms of gender equality, age differences, racism and other social issues. In short, it’s time for mentors to shed the idea of mentees as a protégé and instead build bonafide friendships complete with respect, honest regard and sincere guidance.