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Will Employee Mentorship Programs Survive The Pandemic?

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Oct. 21 2020, Published 1:15 p.m. ET

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In recent months, I’ve had a lot of conversations with organizations about their internal mentorship programs.

(You know, those pairings we put together in January, and have been ignoring since the pandemic forced us all to scatter.)

However, credit must be given to the organizations that have tried to keep these programs going in their new work-from-home cultures. Like other conversations these days, they’ve transitioned their programs to Zoom launches & check-ins and leaving the mentorship to be conducted at a convenient time for the pair.

Question becomes:

Have any of us found a “convenient time” in recent months?

I sure haven’t.

I sent out a search party for a “convenient time” in early March. They came back a week later wearing yoga pants & face masks dragging behind them a calendar full of awkward Zoom interactions.

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The Current State of Mentorship

Since the search party’s return, I’ve hosted nearly 20 virtual mentorship events including:

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And in all events, two resounding collective sentiments have emerged:

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  1. The desire for mentorship is universal and greater than ever.
  2. Isolation & loneliness are seeping into the souls of our teams, leaders, and cultures.

Leaders & employees are all facing similar challenges around the uncertainty ahead. But instead of being able to commiserate the daily slog of our shared individual challenges, we are further isolated from one another in our WFH cultures.

Employees, and frankly mentors too — now more than ever, need the benefit of communicating our struggles and receiving hopeful, or at least corroborating, feedback.

So the challenge for an organization becomes how do we create a virtual mentorship program.

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Evolve To A Mentorship Community. Stop Employee Pairings

Mentorship cannot be manufactured, especially in a time when no one has previous experience.

Those who know me know I’ve been blowing up HR brains with this one for a while.

We must stop pairing “experienced” employees with “inexperienced” employees and calling it a “program”. It undervalues the fresh perspective of a new employee and crushes diversity of thought within an organization.

Mentorship cannot be manufactured, especially in a time when no one has previous experience — like a pandemic.

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Instead create a safe place virtually where employees can share their experiences, ask questions, and have organic meaningful conversations that lead to connection. Provide a framework & common vocabulary for the community. Model the behaviors that are expected. Allow employees to practice them until they become ingrained in the organization’s culture.

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Capture & Showcase Executive Leadership

A dear mentor, Tim Miner, recently coined the term “Now Normal” meaning normal is evolving.

Every moment of the “New Normal” is fleeting. We must not chase it. We must instead prepare for & welcome the “Now Normal”.

I’ve thought a lot about what type of leader excels in these environments. I’ve come to the conclusion that the hero of the “Now Normal” will be the Imperfect Leader.

In recent conversations with employees & teams, I’ve discovered the number one thing they are asking for right now is Executive Vision & Direction. When I explored further, I learned it was really Executive Empathy & Communication they craved.

They didn’t expect any leader to have all the answers today. But they want their leaders to feel what they are feeling, and show up anyway. Now is such an opportunity to show up as an Imperfect Leader. The one who doesn’t have all the answers today, but is committed to finding them and continuing the communication.

During this time, I’ve witnessed leaders share incredible video diaries with their teams where they a plan or even answers. Rather, they are showing up as a human being going through a pandemic & perhaps the most impactful racial justice movement of our time.

Showing up as a human is enough for now.

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At its purest form, mentorship is learning from someone else’s experiences. Start at the top. Then, explore places where there is racial or gender underrepresentation. Capture the mentorship from those leaders. Give all the opportunity to learn from those experiences.

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Train Leaders To Be Mentors. Hold Them Accountable For The Work

I’ve had recent conversations with well-intended executives who made the declaration to their teams to “we must mentor us”. My first question is always “What does that mean?” and then, “What organizational outcome do you hope to see from that directive?”

Good intentions like these, barely make it beyond the doors they were dreamed up in.

Without guidance or direction on who to mentor, what that relationship looks like, how it will be measured…these declarations will fall off the overcommitted plates of already exhausted WFH leaders.

We must be intentional about what mentorship is & what it is NOT within our cultures. It must be the responsibility of all leaders to mentor & sponsor talent around them, but it’s the responsibility of the organization to inform everyone on how that will work & where it will be measured.

This piece was written by Stacy Cassio and originally appeared on ThriveGlobal

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