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The Power of Mentoring in Communities

Mentors are often the key that distinguishes successful people from everyone else. Learn how to foster mentoring in your online community.

Take a moment to think back on your career, however long or short it’s been so far. What moments stand out, and who helped you get there?

Everyone hits bumps in the road, no matter how smart, driven or successful they’ve been so far. Think about the straight-A high school student who struggles once they get to college. Or the ambitious entrepreneur, slow to take off. How do you get through those rough times when the future is hazy, you’re filled with self doubt or you don’t quite know what you should do?

The strategies to unstick yourself are endless, but many successful people have one thing in common: mentors.

Mentorship has been around for ages, but people don’t always realize how transformative those relationships and connection can be. It doesn’t matter your age, career stage or background, having mentors is often the key that distinguishes successful people from everyone else.

Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors Company, credits mentors for her achievements. At the beginning of her career, she set her heart on engineering. As she continually struggled in that field, she turned to mentors for guidance. Listening to outside perspectives helped inform her decision to change her path from engineering to HR. Since making that decision, with the help of her mentors, she’s never looked back — and is now CEO of one of the largest companies in the world.

Education is About Connection

One place mentoring has a measurable and positive effect is education. Studies show a direct correlation between mentorship, reduced dropout rates and higher achievement for high schoolers. It goes to show how powerful having an advocate and role model are when you’re in a critical developmental stage.

Why does mentorship create a magic formula that spurs success? Education and learning are about creating strong connections and relationships — among teachers, students, ideas. Those are the most powerful forces that motivate, teach and help us live up to our potential. Having another perspective, a champion who believes in you and an example for what the future could look like, are significant.

Increase Retention, Reduce Churn

It’s refreshing to hear mentoring can reduce high school dropout rates and encourages students to push themselves harder, but what does it have to do with your organization and professional development?

As you grow in your career, you never stop learning. And if education is facilitated by strong connections and relationships, mentoring is the perfect match. It brings the younger generation along, bridging age gaps, and creates long-term loyalty for your organization. Plus, it ensures you’ll always have a strong group of future leaders, trained and excited about your mission.

All professions have a certain amount of churn and turnover. Can mentorship help curb those professional dropout rates? And, if so, does it make good business sense to facilitate mentoring programs?

Yes, mentoring does make business sense, especially for those high stress, high turnover industries. Low retention adds up as people revolve, making it an expensive problem.

In 2013, The American Nurses Association (ANA) found that their members had a turnover rate ranging from small (4.4%) to very high (44.6%), in certain hospitals. What’s more, each turnover cost an average of $36,000 to $46,000. ANA heard from members that the problem wasn’t just  frustrating for hospital staff (training people only to have them leave), but it quickly sucked up hospital resources.

As ANA dug into the problem and possible solutions, they found mentorship played a key role for many of their nurses. One hospital in particular had an especially successful mentorship program. Before the program, that hospital had a 31% turnover rate, which was expensive and bad for morale. To remedy the situation, they created a program in which they paired “nurse proteges” with seasoned nurses. Within two years, they cut their turnover rate by a third, to 10%. Now other hospitals in their network have a similar program to make sure new nurses feel supported and are successful.

What Mentorship Looks Like

Does simply pairing young professionals with older professionals work? No, it’s not quite that simple. It’s important both mentors and mentees want a mentoring relationship, and they share certain values, respect and trust each other. In the nurse pairing program, the hospital was careful to choose the right nurses to be mentors — they didn’t want to put reluctant nurses in an uncomfortable position. Otherwise who knows how successful the program would ultimately have been.

That’s why integrating a mentorship program into online communities can work so well. Rather than pairing young professionals and mentors who don’t align, it’s important to let members connect organically with people they truly want to learn from. Online communities give members even more access for mentoring opportunities — to both mentors and mentees — no matter the geographic location.

Giving space for members to find each other doesn’t just result in better natural pairings. It makes the process less arduous, requiring much less administrative bandwidth — simply allow members to add a “Mentor” or “Mentee” badge or button to their profile. It removes awkwardness or uncertainty if someone is searching for a mentor — they know this person wants to be contacted.

Mentoring Millennials

When Millennials need knowledge, they look to their networks for answers and, professionally, your community is probably one of their biggest networks. Setting up a mentoring program through the community is another good way of engaging Millennials.

To really take full advantage of your community, don’t just look at mentoring as a one-on-one relationship. Create discussions where Millennials or other developing professionals can ask mentoring-related questions to the group. Those conversations will live on your community for anyone to access, and could also spur one-on-one relationships beyond the discussion.

Mentoring is a Two-Way Street

Mentoring isn’t about knowing all the right answers,or about making the mentee a carbon copy of the mentor. It’s about helping the mentee reach their full potential and be more themselves, as Mary Barra can attest to.

The most powerful relationships are ones that go both ways — older professionals have a lot of experience they can teach, and the younger generation may see the world in a different, fresh light. Both perspectives are valid and important.

In a good mentoring relationship, both mentor and mentee benefit and learn from each other. When presenting a mentorship program to your members, highlight this important aspect — all generations can benefit and learn from each other

Molly Talbert

Molly is the Content Marketing Manager at Asana. Previously, she did client services and social media for a small leadership development company. In her downtime, Molly reads through the internet, bikes, hikes and daydreams about her home state, New Mexico. She graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont where she studied the environment and writing, learned how to mountain bike through mud, and helped edit the student newspaper.