Kara noticed something was going sideways on her team. She decided to implement a buddy program, sensing that the younger professionals were hungry for guidance. Because she didn’t have time to review her idea with everyone individually, she sketched it out briefly in a team meeting. She hoped the program would just take off running all on its own.
The feedback she received from her senior team wasn’t great. It was a busy season, and they didn’t have time to decipher what it was she was asking them to do. The rising leaders were hesitant and not sure how to approach their more seasoned managers. Kara didn’t connect the dots until employees began leaving and turnover rates started rising. She figured it was just part of the “Great Resignation” but wasn’t sure how to overcome the added setback. What went wrong?
If you’re like Kara, just the mention of increasing turnover can send shivers down your spine. Countless reasons and remedies flood your brain: “It must be the pay. We’ve got to fix the culture clash. People just aren’t loyal anymore.” You’ve been working diligently toward a solution, but it just isn’t coming together.
Here’s the secret
If you’ve ever found yourself in this situation, staring down the twin challenges of cultivating employee loyalty and promoting leadership, you’re not alone. Consider this solution: mentorship. Often underrated and underused, implementing a well-crafted, consistent mentoring program is like unlocking a secret door. You just have to find a way to open it. And here’s the bonus: There’s real treasure on the other side of that door.
An effective and efficient mentorship plan not only paves the path for future leadership, it creates and inspires loyalty. Consulting firm Deloitte tells us that 68% of longer-term millennial employees (those staying at least five years) most likely have a mentor. The takeaway is simple. If you want to have a powerful impact on your employees and help them build long-lasting professional relationships, the time to implement a strong mentoring program is now.
Let’s outline some steps that you can take right away to develop a plan for your own organization.
First, the difference
Are you wondering what the difference is between mentorship, sponsorship, and coaching? Distinguishing between them can be confusing, as these terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Don’t despair! There’s a helpful visual we can use to remember what’s what.
Picture the hub on a bicycle wheel: This is mentoring, a core strategy for leadership and retention. Through mentoring, a mentee and a mentor build a relationship meant to guide and foster professional and personal growth. With a mentor, mentees can ideally converse about the “GBU”—the good, the bad, and even the ugly—about their role, their career choices, and the organization.
Now picture the wheel’s spokes: This is where coaching and sponsorship fit in. Coaching, which also promotes growth, is typically done by someone outside of the company who offers an objective “third eye” perspective. Coaches are independent observers who help leaders reach their full potential by both creating goals and acting upon them. Accountability is key.
Conversely, sponsorship is when a senior leader takes specific opportunities to help another leader advance. Sponsors are your champions. They are the ones who stand up for you when you’re not in the room. With a sponsor, employees can consider discussing the “GGG”—the good, the good, and the good. Sponsors are often key to getting ahead, as they can open doors and heighten visibility.
Witness this experience from Brett Voeltz, CPM, property manager at Berkeley Partners and an IREM 30 Under 30 award recipient. Voeltz credits his first supervisor with kick-starting his career by sponsoring him.
“My first boss was truly my sponsor. She always put my name out there and was key to my visibility within the organization, whether it was for a project, an award, or a promotion. She encouraged me to become involved in IREM and to take advantage of its excellent networking opportunities. Even today, I still feel the impact of her willingness to sponsor me.”
Where to start
If you’re struggling with how to begin, sometimes all you have to do is ask and let your prospective mentor know what you’re looking for. And there’s good news: It can be helpful to have several mentors for developing different aspects of your personal and professional lives. Nancy O’Brien, CEO and founder of The Magnetic Truth, LLC, a Chicago-based interpersonal performance advisory, recommends just that. “It’s helpful to have at least two or three mentors, especially if you’re considering entering a new field or re-entering the workforce after a long break,” she offers. “You may not always be able to find the same insight in the same place.”
Voeltz chimes in: “In a smaller organization without a formal program, I find it beneficial to look at the leaders who have a role I may want down the road. Then I reach out. I ask for a few minutes of their day for a coffee or lunchtime chat. Connecting through volunteering at the IREM chapter level offers incredible opportunities and the ability to expand your network. It’s a great way to hear about another path and an alternative perspective. Sometimes it’s a shorter conversation; often it can turn into mentorship.”
What’s in it for me?
What went wrong with Kara’s plan? She was missing the “what’s in it for me?” Not surprisingly, successful mentoring is a two-way arrangement where each party—mentor and mentee alike—needs to know how they can benefit, and benefit from, each other. Reciprocity counts. This starts with getting buy-in, understanding expectations, and seeking participants’ commitment to a shared plan.
A great mentor finds a way to connect the needs of both the employee and the organization and help future leaders advance along their plotted career paths. Willing mentees are open-minded and take full advantage of the opportunity to learn, practice, and ask questions.
“I like to look at it this way,” O’Brien suggests. “You can take the stairs or you can take the elevator. It’s really all about getting from point A to point B. How long will it take you, and is there a better way? While there’s some advantage to taking the stairs, going about your career journey alone can take you longer.”
And don’t forget the tangible value to your organization—top talent is more likely to stay and to be more committed and loyal, according to experts Rajashi Ghosh and Thomas G. Reio, Jr., in a 2013 study called “Career benefits associated with mentoring for mentors: A meta-analysis.” Their published findings show that mentoring results in greater job satisfaction for the mentors, too. The reason? Mentoring is both reciprocal and collaborative.
Action is key
How can you best elevate and shape future leadership? Take action now. Let’s look at how to set the stage for success.
Establish clear roles and expectations. Decide what goals you’ll want to put into action and who will do what. Develop a short, simple mentorship agreement and ask these five questions to solidify your planning:
- Will your program be formal or more casual?
- How often will you meet?
- Who will set up a clear meeting agenda?
- What will you discuss?
- How will participants communicate (i.e. Zoom, phone)?
Meet regularly. Consistency matters. Mentoring won’t matter much if the participants don’t meet. Even if your program is less formal, establishing a regular time to chat builds rapport and trust.
Go for one-on-one. It can be tough to build connection and rapport in a group, especially when it’s virtual. Don’t be tempted to forego valuable one-on-one time; this is often when it’s easiest for people to open up.
Maximize your resources
It’s easy to overlook the resources that are right in front of us. Amy D. Martin, CPM, senior property manager for The Muller Company, AMO, recommends considering IREM’s Diversity Inclusion Succession Initiative (DISI) Leaders scholarship as a significant starting point.
“Winning the DISI award afforded me the opportunity to attend the IREM Global Summit in Washington D.C. As a DISI leader, I met some of the most wonderful professionals and mentors who I’m still in touch with,” she says. “I highly recommend any young real estate professional who truly desires to understand all that being a member of IREM offers to become involved as a DISI leader.”
Voeltz adds: “I discovered that being a DISI leader offers an excellent opportunity to model a different kind of diversity and mentoring. The honor of receiving the DISI scholarship has allowed me the chance to connect, network, and learn from professionals who have differing perspectives and who have all put mentoring into action.”
It’s clear that the ability to create and implement a strong, consistent mentorship program can help you unlock the secret door to your organization’s future. Developing and shaping leaders at all levels creates opportunities to frame, impact, and even define your workplace culture. You have the key, now open that door.