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Investing in mentoring: why it matters

I grew up in the family business of ticketwriting & screenprinting. I went to TAFE to learn foundational skills in calligraphy, brush lettering, and screenprinting, and I spent time in the workshop with my parents showing me how to apply those skills. I was able to build on that learned foundation and they were able to transfer the kind of knowledge that can only be gained from years of hands-on industry and organisation-specific experience, such as why certain decisions were made. Essentially, it was a period of apprenticeship.

Corporate life typically doesn’t work the same way. The closest I’ve experienced to that is double-jacking in a technical support contact centre, allowing me to listen in on calls and learn how to do the job. Peer learning is valuable but it’s targeted to transferring existing process, and you frequently move your pairing relationships around so you can learn multiple perspectives. Like I said, it is certainly valuable, but it doesn’t do what mentoring does. Mentoring allows for meaningful one-to-one knowledge sharing relationships to form and outlast any particular tactical goals there might be. More tacit knowledge is shared organically throughout the relationship, than what happens with peer learning and e-learning, as the mentee develops trust and the psychological safety they need to ask questions they may have otherwise kept to themselves. For the mentee they develop a depth of knowledge in their subject domain, and for the mentor, their sense of self-worth gets a boost and they learn more from the process of teaching someone else.

I’ve covered mentoring tech on this blog before, and I’m proud to announce my commitment to Mentorloop as an angel investor. Mentorloop takes the administration overhead of spreadsheets and emails and manual matching out of running a mentoring program, making this valuable knowledge sharing format much easier to adopt and manage. It intelligently matches mentors and mentees and offers guidance throughout the relationship to keep both parties on track.

Better human relationships at work aren’t just about a market differentiation from AI-based services, although that is significant strategic move, it’s also about enabling our journeys towards self-actualisation and connection to meaning and purpose. Great mentors help us get there.


Establishing good habits

A knowledge management program is a change management program, and lasting behaviour change needs rewired routines. One of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to reinforce new behaviours is to make those expectations visible with posters in the work area. The Consortium for Service Innovation was smart enough to develop simple and memorable statements to help practitioners remember the activities most critical to the Knowledge Centered Support methodology.

Knowledge Centered Service doesn’t have a big following in Australia, yet, but it’s well-known in IT service management circles, and it’s perfectly suited to support environments like call centres and IT help desks. But KCS is in no way limited to those applications and the fundamental techniques are just good habits for all knowledge workers.

Search early, search often

Most of the time, the answer to any question you have already exists in your organisation or in your knowledge base (if you have one). Search first, so that you can understand what you already collectively know.

Reuse is review

Every time you reuse an existing knowledge asset, review it and improve it. The best thing about KCS is that it’s demand-driven maintenance, and means you aren’t wasting effort on maintenance overhead where it doesn’t add value.

Capture the customer’s context

This is a friendly reminder that the most searchable and reusable knowledge articles are those that are written in the customer’s words. The way a customer sees and phrases a problem is different from the way a knowledgeable person describes it. By using the customer’s words and context you can push that knowledge towards customer self-service, and that’s where you get your time back for interesting and less-repetitive work.

Download these PDF posters to help set good habits in your team.

       


Mentoring

“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”
― Phil Collins

In the first of my KnowTech reports, I am focusing on applications that facilitate formal mentoring programs.

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is a concept we’re all familiar with. We often form a mentor-mentee relationship organically, and it may only be through reflection that you describe an individual as your mentor. Some of us seek out mentors, and some of us are approached to be one. It doesn’t seem to go the other way quite so often, and I think that’s to do with a lack of self-worth and confidence, and perhaps the perception of it being a one-way benefit.

Mentoring is a knowledge management practice from the Growth quadrant. As individuals, when we feel a need to develop our understanding, we look for someone who can guide us there. They’ve been there before and they have a map. (A coach, on the other hand, has a torch and shines it in the direction you think you want to go.)

Why organisations offer mentoring

Organisations establish mentoring programs to grow the capabilities of their staff and to safeguard against the loss of knowledge from staff turnover. Mentoring programs are particularly helpful for onboarding new staff and for developing competencies where no external training exists. However, right now, we’re seeing a surge in organisations establishing formal mentoring programs as a strategy to achieve diversity and inclusion goals, and as a way of tackling hiring challenges where access to senior recruits and skills are limited. Two such organisations, in Australia, are Envato and Hooroo.

Mentoring technology

Mentoring is often facilitated manually with a staff member acting as a co-ordinator to match mentors with mentees and administering the program with spreadsheets. Mentoring pairs are then left to work the rest out between them. There are some consulting services that work to make your program more effective, and there are applications that exist to relieve the administrative burden of running an in-house mentoring initiative:

*Disclaimer: I’ve submitted an EOI to become an angel investor in Australian startup, Mentorloop.

When comparing mentoring software, consider the availability of in-product guidance to mentors and mentees, activity tracking, measurement and reporting, and intelligent matching functionality.

The future of mentoring

Artificial Intelligence will add a lot to this space and is a big opportunity for vendors looking to build out matching platforms, not just limited to the boundaries of an organisation or membership community but across whole industries and regions. The desire for millennials, in particular, to learn from their professional communities is strong enough that LinkedIn has caught on, just announcing a new feature that matches potential mentors with mentees.

From the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey:

Where it exists, mentoring is having a positive impact and six in ten (61 percent) Millennials are currently benefiting from having somebody to turn to for advice, or who helps develop their leadership skills. Again, this varies by market and appears more prevalent in emerging (67 percent) rather than mature (52 percent) economies. Mentorship levels are particularly low in Australia, Germany, Canada, The Netherlands, and France, where only a minority of respondents said they have mentors. Improving these levels can not only advance the careers of Millennials, but it will also go some way toward strengthening loyalty.

The demand for mentoring solutions is only going to increase with the recruitment pressures in the software development space, the collaborative attributes of millennials, and perhaps even the approaching mid-life crises of Gen X and the resultant desire to build a legacy before we turn our backs on our professional careers and become urban subsistence farmers or Etsy artisans.

 

KnowTech reports focus on emerging tech in the knowledge enablement space. Please leave a note in the comments or via contact form to let me know what else I should be looking at. Consider sharing a product review, too, if you like.


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