Culture is a huge factor in the success or failure of an organisation. There are cultures so focused on performance and talent that they leave everyone drained. And then there are cultures where individual members, no matter how talented, put the needs of the team over their needs and, as a result, everyone wins.
When you hear many people describe their culture, they point to easily observable elements like symbols, slogans, dress code, and meeting etiquette. But going all the way back to Edgar Schein’s initial research on culture, we find that those observable elements don’t matter as much as we think. It’s what’s below the surface that matters.
The foundational elements of culture are values and beliefs, and observable elements like rituals, training, language and symbols flow from there.
The term mentorship often conjures up images of older people pouring into younger people, but the reality is that a mentor can be younger than a mentee. It’s not age that counts, it’s experience.
So how do you create a mentorship culture within your organisation to help it thrive? Read on.
1. Define it
In order to create a culture, you must define it. You must embed it into the foundations and the fabric of your organisation. Write it in your company vision statement. Have it written in visible places where your staff congregate. Have it in your email signature. Define it, remind people of it, and rehearse, always.
2. Tell people from the outset
In order to create a mentorship culture, you need to let your staff and team know from the outset, so it’s important to mention it in job adverts and job descriptions. Tell people from the outset what they are coming into, and the expectations. Talk about it in job interviews, and ask prospects what they understand by it. This can include role play too.
3. Assign new starters with mentors
Outside of your line managers, it’s important for your team to have peers they can trust. When children start a new school in a new area, they are often assigned to someone who can help to show them the ropes, and this should be similar. It’s that trustworthy person that they can ask questions. Mentors should never smother mentees. Give them space, particularly when they first start but let them know you are there.
4. Arrange regular check-ins
Consistency is everything, and a mentor/mentee relationship cannot thrive without consistency. Arrange to meet at least once a month. Have development points. Action points. Set tasks and assess the performance. Make it fun!
5. Support your mentors
Leader burnout is a real thing, and when you are creating a mentorship culture, it’s important to support those who mentor. Have group sessions where they can meet and talk. Not talk about specifics about their mentee as you have to also create a culture of confidentiality, but talk about overarching issues. Life is full of patterns and it always leaves us clues. You might find that there are recurring themes. Issues that keep coming up. Be analytical. Look for the patterns and see what can be changed.
6. Have fun together
The term team building sometimes seems outdated, but culture is truly built when you have downtime together. Eat together. Arrange a boat ride, but inject an element of fun. This will help your team to unwind but it also gives the mentor and mentee the opportunity to gel outside of a work environment. This is crucial for creating trust and to main the relationship
7. Remember that mentorship is one part of the picture
As an organisation, everything needs to be aligned and your mentorship culture needs to form a part of the wider company vision. It cannot be contradictory. A mentorship culture cannot work in an ageist company. They are totally opposing. It cannot work in an organisation that is not committed to listening and growing. It should not be part of a tick box exercise.
I have worked with leadership teams in over 40 countries from MNCs like Google, Airbus, Johnson & Johnson, Syngenta, Roche, and Pfizer. I have seen mentoring relationships soar and mentors and mentees have gone on to do great things. I have seen lives transformed, confidence raised and more. But it all starts with getting the foundations right above.
About the author: Shivangi Walke is a Master Trainer, TedX speaker, Leadership Branding Coach and Founder of the vibrant non-profit organisation Thrive with Mentoring – a global women’s mentoring network active across 8 countries that has catalysed thousands of mentoring relationships.