The relationship between a mentor and mentee is critical, and establishing that rapport is easier said than done. But its role – and one we’ll discuss here – in impacting an organization and its culture is just as important.

Our time spent in both corporate, professional services and entrepreneurial environments has allowed us to witness the opposite ends of the mentorship spectrum. Organizations with great financial results but individually-oriented employees often experience high turnover. But when mentorship is a core part of the culture, it can contribute to elevated levels of engagement, retention, and business results.

We work for a business and technology consultancy whose mission is to build the next generation of leaders. While mentorship is integral to delivering on that mission, West Monroe doesn’t have a formal mentorship initiative. Our firm’s philosophy is that the most meaningful and relevant mentoring relationships are those that develop spontaneously and naturally rather than being assigned through or required by a program.

This mindset encouraged us to also start thinking about our collective experiences and how organizations can instill a culture that values and reinforces mentorship.

1) Talk about it.

formal mentoring program isn’t necessary to convey the importance of workplace mentorship. We talk openly at West Monroe about our mission and the fact that we aren’t just in business together to drive business performance; we are about a bigger purpose of building leaders.

That resonates with people and inspires them to take ownership of it. Our leaders also set the tone from the top, making it clear that everyone plays a role in supporting each other’s professional growth.

2) Make it comfortable to ask for and offer feedback.

Regularly soliciting input from those on your teams – or even those with whom you interact –encourages both openness and transparency. It doesn’t need to be long or drawn out, either. It can be something as simple as, “What can I do better?”

Our organization employs various tools to support these goals, including upward feedback processes that reinforce a flow of conversation in both directions. These mechanisms also require us to consider how much time we invest in our teams and the people with whom we work.

3) Recognize and celebrate exceptional mentorship.

People respond to reward and recognition. In 2012, our firm created the Sequoia Award to recognize those who demonstrate genuine interest in developing and nurturing the careers of others.

Recipients receive an award inscribed with the following:

The roots of a sequoia tree are broad-reaching, supporting the growth of its fellow trees. The reach of a mentor is equally significant to the support and development of our people and the strength of our company.

It’s a reward held in high esteem within the leadership ranks, and more than 150 people have received Sequoia Awards since the program’s inception, including 66 in 2019.

4) Stress that mentorship isn’t a singular relationship.

We tend to think of mentorship in a singular sense: “I have a mentor.” Instead, our firm’s career development philosophy, “Building Career Equity,” emphasizes having a career board of advisors, a set of people inside and outside of your organization with diverse perspectives who can offer feedback when you need it.

People coming into a new organization tend to focus on establishing themselves for success and looking for an advisor or mentor to help them do that. We were both exposed to the concept of a career board of advisors early in our tenure here, and it significantly changed the way we thought about finding and being involved in a network of mentors and mentees.

5) Build your team with people who embrace being mentors and being mentored.

Use the interviewing process to assess candidates for alignment expectations, such as interest in making the organization a better place for everyone.

We utilize a values-based interviewing process that includes questions around interest in learning and professional development, willingness to work with and learn from a team with diverse perspectives, and ability to create a safe environment for sharing ideas.

As a result, we can more successfully identify and align candidates with West Monroe’s values and people-first culture.

A culture of mentorship delivers incidental but important benefits.

Most organizations measure the benefits of mentoring from an individual perspective and, perhaps, talent retention. Consider that a culture of mentorship not only magnifies those benefits across the workforce, but also has a profound impact on organizational transparency and engagement.

In turn, an organization with high engagement typically runs with high productivity. An organization with a greater sense of openness encourages the diversity of thought that sparks innovation. An organization with strong culture is uniquely positioned for success in a war for talent. Ultimately, all of these factors can influence financial performance.

West Monroe’s Human Capital Management group (within the Operations Excellence practice) is increasingly delivering work focused on talent, management effectiveness, organizational design, and productivity in general, confirming that this topic is on the mind of a growing number of business leaders.

Originally published on Ellevate.

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