AMA Toronto’s Alan Middleton with a salient reminder of the power of mentorship in professional communities
Jan. 17, 2022 marked the seventh year of celebration of International Mentoring Day. While mentorship is an ancient concept, dating back to the Greek character Mentor in Homer’s “The Odyssey,” its role in effective management practice is now needed more than ever.
The changes in organizational practice wrought by the impacts of the pandemic and the ongoing development of communications and other technologies mean that this most human element—mentorship—is a critical piece of effective management. This is especially true in marketing, a discipline blending art and science and crossing a range of activities and organizational silos.
Harvard Business Review Press defines mentorship as “the offering of advice, information or guidance by a person with useful experience, skills or expertise for another individual’s personal and professional development.” This often happens informally but with the changes around us, it needs to be available more formally and more extensively as well.
Old notions that mentorship was only for more senior personnel to mentor junior personnel and only within organizations no longer apply. Additionally, the notion that the value was only to the mentee also no longer applies as mentorship is itself recognized as a key management skill for mentors.
Some business researchers have described this as the need for more “transformational leadership,” which focuses more on leadership as a mindset to help others be more innovative and engaged. As I explore in my book, “Mentorship Matters — Now More than Ever,” mentoring today needs to be a rewarding two-way process that sees the mentor getting wiser and the mentee gaining valuable knowledge.
Good mentorship programs can work well internally within the organization and also externally. Each has strengths, with internal programs more able to help the mentee understand and work within the organization, while external programs enable mentees to understand the broader contexts.
In a positive two-way mentorship process, mentors benefit from improving their management skills: listening and asking, facilitating change management, influencing, and overcoming obstacles. They prove themselves as valuable transformative leaders by learning what it takes to develop others. Mentors gain fresh perspectives and stay updated with new thinking and knowledge. They learn more about themselves and share their expertise with others in the organization. They expand their professional network and reinforce their role as subject matter experts.
Mentees gain valuable perspectives and ideas from someone with relevant experience. When in an internal program, they learn about the organization and its culture and enable contacts and networking for greater job satisfaction and promotional opportunities. If in an external program, they add to their knowledge and perspective on the discipline, industry sector, or gender and ethnicity issues. Mentees gain perspective on their career and themselves, as well as future challenges and opportunities. And crucially, they gain perspective on managing others based on their mentorship experience.
Organizations that encourage informal and formal, internal and external mentorship programs also benefit in numerous ways. These types of mentorship programs foster a corporate culture that encourages personal and professional growth through the sharing of information, competencies, values and behaviors. Establishing an environment where leaders are building leaders helps the process of identification, development and retention of talent for key managerial and professional roles.
Job satisfaction for mentors and mentees is improved in these organizations, too, because mentorship helps flatten organizational hierarchies and reduce bureaucratic structure.
Lastly, we know that good mentorship programs have the ability to accelerate staff diversity and inclusion, which are critical for business success. In recognition of International Mentoring Day on January 17, mentorship advocates Eli Wolff and Mary Hums wrote: “Mentoring relationships help us to broaden our lens for diversity and inclusion, allowing us to see others as people first while moving beyond labels and stereotypes. Mentors and mentees can help each other to redefine normal and move to typical, creating visibility for individuals and communities. Through mentorship we can expand our minds, hearts and vision toward race, sexual orientation, disability, religion and culture. This is the power of mentoring.”
The need for progressive mentoring programs is particularly acute in marketing. Marketing requires a judicious blend of science and art. Its requirement for data to analyze target groups and the products or services, pricing, distribution channels, communications and branding required to attract them as customers is increasing exponentially. This will continue with greater use of AI, robots and cobots (collaborative robots), as well as ongoing changes in marketing communications.
However, the problem-solving, decision-making, judgment and humanity required in ensuring the respect needed in dealing with both potential customers and staff is equally important. This blend requires ongoing formal training and effective mentorship programs that help mentors and mentees.
Among the most recognized and best developed programs in the marketing sector today is AMA Toronto’s Mentor Exchange. Established in 2009, the program has a matching process for mentor and mentee, and ongoing follow-up and evaluations of the people and the process. It also offers training programs for mentors and mentees on how to maximize the value of the process and best practices, with speakers, panels and networking events to enable continual mentorship opportunities.
External mentorship programs such as the Mentor Exchange have many management advantages. They enable exposure to learning, ideas and judgment outside of the immediate needs of the person’s own specific organization. These practices also introduce different styles and types of management issues and aids in cross-silo and cross-organization knowledge and thinking. Avoiding political issues, external mentorship programs also expand networks and positive experience within new communities.
With marketing issues now so important for all organizations, especially small and medium enterprises, the industry’s greater commitment to better training and mentorship programs is a necessity. Indeed, in the emerging post-pandemic world mentorship is a critical management skill, one that matters more than ever.