Biz Beat Getting Schooled

Learning and Growing Through Mentorship

By: Leanne Cobb

January is designated as National Mentoring Month, a month to recognize and celebrate the benefits of being both a mentor and a mentee. Mentoring is a powerful way to help others realize their potential, strengths, and interests by learning from others who have already walked a similar path. No matter where anyone is in life, a dedicated and engaged mentor can be a turning point in one’s ability to understand their own experiences and self-reflect at a deeper level. As the mentee benefits, so does the mentor. While sharing their own experiences with others, the mentor gains a new perspective while feeling an increased sense of purpose and happiness by finding success in something that cannot be measured in sales, profits, or promotions. Anyone can benefit from mentorship, but for students and individuals new to the workforce or changing careers, it can be a vital part of their academic and career development. 

Students, of any age, need someone outside of their immediate circle of family and friends who they can ask questions of, learn from, rely on, and confide in. Students with a consistent role model have statistically proven to have fewer disciplinary issues, better academic performance, make better choices at school and in life and have an overall more positive attitude about the present and the future. Additionally, students with mentors have lower drop-out rates. Steve Nail, Dean, of the College of Business at Anderson University, is a proponent of mentorship as a retention tool and has used it effectively with students.

“Frequently, retention issues happen in students’ first year of college,” says Nail. So, we have upperclassmen in the College of Business mentor freshmen in the College of Business to get them through the challenges of being a new college student and share the secrets of what classes to take and how to be successful academically and socially.” 

A mentor can help build a student’s confidence and be a trusted advisor on decision making, career guidance, and exploration. Nail uses this sentiment as the basis for the professional mentoring that Anderson University offers students. 

“We assume students know things that they really don’t. There’s no substitute for experience and a mentor shares experience with a mentee. You need different kinds of mentors throughout your life to grow and develop, especially when trying to grow as a professional and make decisions about your future career. We matched students in our Human Resources program with top HR professionals in the state to share their experiences in HR with students. They met either virtually or in person once a month and faculty suggested questions for the mentee to ask the mentor. In some cases, it even resulted in post-grad jobs for the students, so there was a long-term payoff for both.” 

In the same way that students on the cusp of the workforce need a strong mentor, so do individuals out of school and entering the workforce for the first time or transitioning to a new career. The workforce today operates in a different fashion from the workforce as little as five years ago and it will continue to rapidly change, so being able to adapt and collaborate with others for continuous improvement is vital to career success. Companies that use mentoring as an intentional part of their onboarding process have increased rates of retention, employee performance and satisfaction, and internal promotion. A mentor in the workplace will help the mentee understand the company culture and the work environment, introduce them to the right people, advise them on how to advance in their field, and give constructive feedback. They will ensure their mentee understands their new position and how it fits into the successful day-to-day operations of the organization and the industry overall. This mentorship provides a supportive environment for someone new to the industry to develop skills, feel like they are a valued member of the team, and decreases the learning curve. 

Since the success of mentorship is contingent on the quality of the interaction between mentor and mentee, there are three key components to mentoring. The first is consistency. A weekly meeting or call is advised so that lines of communication are kept open, and mentorship is prioritized. Cancellations and reschedules should be minimal for the mentor or mentee. The second key is listening and being present. Again, this is important for both. The mentor should listen to understand the concerns and interests of the mentee so that the information shared is of value. The mentee should listen to learn and reflect on what is being shared. Distractions should be minimized, and the focus should be on engaging in meaningful conversation. The third and most important key is that the mentorship should be transformational, or powerful to both the mentor and the mentee. This is an experience that should foster personal growth and development for both parties and inspire collaboration and camaraderie. To maximize the long-term success of the mentorship, efforts should be made to ensure positive takeaways for the mentor and mentee. 

“Mentoring programs are a valuable retention tool in the workplace as in education. In a previous company I worked for in the business world, we surveyed our top performing employees to see why they stayed with the company, and the top reason stated was because of the mentoring they received during onboarding,” says Nail. 

If you would like to be a mentor to a young person, a great way to do this is to get involved with the Anderson YMCA or the Anderson Rec Center. Both organizations have thriving youth sports leagues and there are opportunities for coaching, refereeing, umpiring, and even sponsoring teams. Another way to mentor young people is to reach out to any of the Anderson school districts to find out how you can volunteer. If you have professional knowledge and experience that you’d like to share with budding young professionals, Anderson University is always looking for professionals to share their insights by speaking to classes, campus organizations, or being a part of one of their mentoring programs. If you are interested in this, contact Steve Nail, Dean, College of Business at [email protected].