February 18, 2021

Build Loyalty, Break Down Hierarchies, and Recruit Better Talent With Mentorship Programs

“Employees want to be part of something that is bigger than a company. The business culture is internally based, but the philanthropy is external. That volunteer ethos provides more than a quarterly return on earning — it stretches employees beyond their day-to-day jobs.” — Rick Luftglass, Former Director, Pfizer Foundation’s Education Volunteer Program

Do executive skills primarily come from the things a person learns as a subordinate? Do great leaders acquire the ability to inspire and lead from work experience alone, or do other relationships and activities influence it as well? Imagine what would happen if a company actively challenged its employees to encourage growth and provide new learning opportunities — even outside of the workplace.

Project-based mentorship is a paradigm in which a company’s employees act as mentors to community youths at local high schools and colleges. Those employees bring their whole selves — meaning their earned knowledge, their experience, and their talents — to the community. I believe project-based mentorship is a learning tool that works, and companies that implement it effectively stand to see major improvements in how they recruit and retain talent.

Here are five reasons why mentorship can contribute to your recruiting and retention efforts. These ideas have been seeded through interviews with such companies as Mastercard, EY, JPMorgan Chase, Comcast, SAP, 3M, General Motors, and Pfizer, to name a few.

1. Millennials Choose Companies That Care

“I do not believe any company in America can build a sustainable, enduring enterprise by just embracing profitability,” Howard Schultz, said former Starbucks chairman and CEO, said in a 2012 New York Times interview. “Employees today want to work for a company they can trust. They want to be part of something larger than themselves. They want to go home at night and share with friends and family that they are proud of what their company stands for.”

Employees today, particularly millennials, want to work at companies that are not driven only by profit. Rather, they prefer to be employed by organizations that stand for something in the community. Indeed, human resources professionals often remark that their companies’ philanthropic efforts are the most visited pages on their websites. Given a choice, a top-tier candidate would take a company with a sense of community values over one without.

2. Mentorship Builds Loyalty

“Don’t we all do our best work when we”re happy?” writes Susan Waldman in her Washington Post article, “Small Business Advice: Brilliant Branding Lessons From Zappos.” “Aren’t we happiest when we feel appreciated, connected with others, and have the chance to contribute to something outside ourselves?”

As I researched why various companies implement corporate social responsibility programs that include mentorship, I’ve found one consistently positive outcome. When companies share their employees’ knowledge with the students at local high schools, community colleges, or state universities, employees nearly always feel more loyal to their organizations afterward.

Why? When an employee has been given an opportunity to represent their company as a goodwill ambassador and a knowledgeable practitioner, they feel a sense of responsibility, pride, and ownership over their professional standing. Employees who participate in project-based mentorship programs have new experiences outside the four walls of the enterprise — experiences they would not have necessarily had of their own accord.

When I spoke with Rick Luftglass, former director of Pfizer Foundation’s education volunteer program, he shared an anecdote that succinctly captured the experience of project-based mentorship for many employees:

“One senior scientist who had been with the company for 20 years loved the company and worked hard, but he had not left his mark in the sense that he was never part of creating a blockbuster drug or a medical breakthrough. Through his work with students, however, the scientist regularly saw light bulbs go off in his student’s heads, and that was payoff enough for his years of scientific effort. A company cannot manufacture that feeling. It has to come from the experience and sincerity that goes with the effort.”

When an employee is given a new world experience, they feel a sense of gratitude to the company that gave it to them. Their perspective on the company — and themselves — is altered in a positive way. As a result, the employee feels a greater sense of connection to the company and wants to stay put.

3. Mentorship Mixes the Ranks

Deborah Holmes, EY’s director of corporate social responsibility, has been leading a mentorship model titled “College Maps” since 2003. In 35 cities across America, EY employees help students become aware of college opportunities and the benefits of higher education, demystify financial aid, and provide support and coaching centered on the life skills needed to obtain a four-year degree.

Holmes told me one of the great benefits of the program is the way it mixes up the ranks.  For example, she says a volunteer program may pair a partner-level leader with an early-career professional, like a first-year accountant or administrative assistant. The mixing of ranks helps build new internal networks, provide leadership exposure, and strengthen connections between all employees.

The executive and the administrator are thrown into new experiences where they feel their worlds broaden together. Colleagues learn to interact in new ways when they work together on volunteer teams. They see their coworkers in a new light, and their relationships become stronger as a result. Of course, stronger colleague relationships often translate to increased retention.

Check out the latest issue of Recruiter.com Magazine for more career advice and recruiting trends:

4. Mentorship Builds Tomorrow’s Talent Pipeline

When a corporation sends employees to mentor young people, a ripple effect occurs in two directions. I have written countless articles on how mentorship benefits students, but today we are focusing on how it can benefit the company.

Students are often reluctant to take on subjects beyond their comfort zones, especially in the STEM field, which can be particularly daunting. This is especially true for girls and disenfranchised youth, who often feel discouraged from pursuing STEM careers. However, mentorship from a major company can introduce students to new subjects in a way that feels accessible and deeply human. When a mentor describes their own trajectory, their own fears, and their own hurdles — as well as the innovation and excitement of their day-to-day job — students feel a greater sense of possibility.

Inge Thulin, 3M’s CEO, told me about the community programs his company engages in to support students entering STEM fields. 3M deploys some of its retirees and employees as company ambassadors to local Minnesota schools, where they spark student interest in science through fun experiments, connect students with internship opportunities at 3M, and host engineering camps.

Not only do these activities introduce more students to STEM, but they also position a company like 3M as a friendly and appealing organization in the community. Furthermore, certain star students can be invited to become company interns, apprentices, and ultimately employees.

Deep relationships are formed between mentors and mentees. Through mentorship activities, students are building their resumes, honing their skills, and getting hands-on experience. This can help them as they go on to pursue further studies, seek employment, and even apply to work at their mentors’ companies.

5. Mentorship Trains Managers

Susan Warner, Mastercard’s vice president of worldwide communications, explained to me that the company’s new corporate social responsibility program invites employees to contribute their unique experience to volunteer opportunities through skills-based mentoring programs.

Instead of participating in volunteer programs outside the employee’s wheelhouse — like building houses with Habitat for Humanity — skills-based mentoring allows an employee to use the skills they already have to coach and support local youths.

In a sense, Mastercard uses volunteering as a skills and leadership development program. Think about a mid-level manager mentoring a young person who is 10-20-years their junior. Mentorship can help the employee improve their ability to speak publicly, explain things simply, and build relationships based on respect and patience. Students look up to the employee, respect them, and heed their words. The employee begins to see themselves through their mentee’s eyes, finding new confidence as they reflect on how far they have come. The employee brings that new confidence — and competence — back to their tasks at work.

So let’s return to the question that opened this article. Do executive skills primarily come from learning as a subordinate inside the four walls of a company? I would say no. It comes from the kinds of experiences employees can have through project-based mentoring and other community-focused volunteering opportunities.

And it’s not just employees and their mentees who benefit from mentoring programs. Mentorship shows prospective employees that a company has strong community values and supports the development of its staff members — which makes the company much more attractive to top talent. Mentoring also breaks down hierarchies, promotes stronger internal relationships, builds new talent pipelines, and cultivates new managers. In short, everyone wins.

Patty Alper, author of Teach to Work, is president of the Alper Portfolio Group,

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Patty Alper, author of "Teach to Work," is president of the Alper Portfolio Group, a marketing and consulting company. Patty is a board member of both the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and US2020, the White House initiative to build mentorship in STEM careers. She consults with community colleges and universities in developing mentor programs.