“Employees want to be part of something that is bigger than a company. The business culture is internally based, but the philanthropy is external. That volunteer ethos provides something more than a quarterly return on earnings… It stretches employees beyond their day-to-day job.”
-- Rick Luftglass, Former Senior Director of Corporate Philanthropy and Community Engagement, Pfizer, Inc.
Why Mentorship Matters
Decades ago, I started my own construction company with two partners in the Washington D.C. area. After blood, sweat and tears, being one of the first women in a male-dominated industry, and introducing automation to an otherwise non-professional culture (in the 80’s) I’m proud to say I’ve walked the walk, and I can talk the talk. Business, that is. My next endeavor was consulting within the commercial real estate field—teaching best practices and helping companies expand their development departments.
Indeed, as much as my learning experience has been multifaceted and wondrous, none of my efforts have been dearer to my heart—or as rewarding—as when I started mentoring. In parallel to running a consulting practice, I started mentoring underprivileged students in my community through a program called The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). When I told other businesspeople about it and got them involved, they too stepped up. I observed a win/win/win for the school, for the practitioner—mentors, and most importantly for the students.
After developing a mentor program in one region, NFTE asked me to expand the model for other regions. I conducted countless interviews of my fellow mentors (other business folks) and learned how much they embraced this program—businesses across all sectors including manufacturing, consulting, media, finance, pharmaceuticals, and technology. And I was so impressed with the nearly unanimous, positive experiences I was hearing, I wrote a book about it!
In doing research, I was honored to meet with dozens of business owners and executives who spoke about how mentorship programs have changed the culture at their companies. For example, Rick Luftglass at Pfizer beamed about how benefits extended throughout their company and boosted morale within. Post-publication, I have continued to interview large and small businesses, as well as schools, teachers, and students who have been witness to the growth and transformation that result from mentorship relationships. You can see those reports on my blog page.
Several interesting patterns emerged. I observed that every company, regardless of size, should consider pursuing mentorship for a host of reasons. And that applies even more so now—when the pandemic has created greater community stress, financial insecurity, childcare problems, and isolation. Mentoring within your community, during this pandemic has become even more crucial.
Today, I want to give you seven oft-cited reasons why businesses benefit from mentoring from their own observations:
Through active mentorship, internship, and apprenticeship programs, companies can proactively train their future pipeline of employees.
Moreover, as Gallup reported in its “Great Jobs, Great Lives” study, students were twice as likely to be engaged in their work and internalize a sense of well-being later in life if they had face to face time with an adult while in school.
Hiring Advantage and Culture
In this day and age, Millennials—and others—seek out companies that have a social imprint, who demonstrate care about the community, and have active programs that involve employees. Applicants are more likely to select employers that engage in civic-mindedness and are not just profit-driven. In addition, mentorship programs, more so than random charitable endeavors, can further a company’s culture, morale, and corporate purpose.
Companies find that when they give employees an opportunity to give back, they are giving the employees a new experience—one they may not have had on their own accord. These employee volunteers are acting as ambassadors for their company. Mentorship makes them feel valued and important and provides opportunities to socialize with other mentors at the company and with the community in general. Cumulatively, this results in less turnover because there is an increased sense of happiness and loyalty between the employee and the company.
Employees who become mentors also grow during the mentorship experience. Employees find themselves being viewed as a company representative; they are valued in this intergenerational relationship; and through speaking to small groups of youth, employees build confidence that transfers to their corporate journey. Companies report that these mentorship roles develop new leadership skills, jumpstart a young professional’s understanding of their own impact on the next generation, and offer a new sense of responsibility to all participants.
Companies report that volunteer programs introduce another dimension to company life, bringing a broader sense of purpose to the organization. New collaborations form when working in the program, whereby an entry-level staffer and a vice president might be paired to come to a school together, forming a unique bond.
Interestingly, employees who queue up for the volunteer roles report feeling happier and more satisfied with their jobs. Teamwork often improves as a result of volunteer programs, and more fulfilled employees exhibit better job performance. Higher morale, improved employee productivity, and overall better employee retention results.
Mentorship programs make it clear that a company cares. The goodwill trickles throughout the community, from youth and their families, to a business district, and to local political arenas. A new face on the business landscape paves a road to better relationships as the mentorship effort publicly states, “We want to help our community.” A culture shift unfolds as employees share stories about their own community efforts, and quite frankly, these often translate to better community relations all the way around.
Not to be missed, companies that embrace mentorship programs will also reap financial benefits. For all the reasons above, employees are happier and more motivated, and that attitude can be sensed by customers and clients. Moreover, as news of the company’s mentorship efforts makes waves in the community, customers become more aware of and loyal to the company’s brand.
My objective, my vision in writing articles like this (and in writing my book) is to encourage companies of all sizes to take steps toward closing dangerous and growing divides. Tensions of the day—including an ever-present skills gap, isolation and fear caused by the pandemic, political unrest, or Black Lives Matters—add to community disharmony. The question remains, what can each of us do? How can we make a difference during this holiday season? Nothing says it better than this year-end letter from Tiffany—14 years old.
Today there are rare occasions when you find people who are willing to visit, teach high school students, and enjoy it. Especially at a predominantly African American school where we are looked down upon with stereotypes and chosen to fail. With your encouragement, I have walked away with the knowledge of running a business. Thanks to you I have found a whole other view of the world and the kindness of strangers.”
I am confident that you too will experience the benefits of mentorship and quickly learn that they will far outstrip your expectations.