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We all know the importance of learning and development when it comes to advancing employee growth and increasing employee engagement. Yet only three in ten U.S. employees strongly agree that someone at work encourages their development1.

So how do organizations in today’s digital environment help employees reach and exceed their full potential to drive better business outcomes? One meaningful way is through mentoring.

Indeed, mentoring is one of the most beneficial development opportunities that organizations can provide. In fact, a 2016 predictions report by Bersin by Deloitte found that coaching and mentoring are the most valuable talent practices to be developed in an organization.

Yet for most organizations mentoring programs are challenging. Not only can they be complex and hard to manage, but in many cases, they are incredibly difficult to scale. Add to this the fact that mentor-mentee matching is often highly manual which makes the process both time-intensive and imprecise.

Why employee development is deemed business critical

At SAP SuccessFactors we’ve spent considerable time exploring the topic of mentoring to better understand the key challenges that organizations face. As part of the SAP SuccessFactors Future Proofing HR Survey Series, we recently surveyed our customers to learn more about the state of mentoring in today’s organizations and determine what is required for companies to get more value out of mentoring. Survey participants included leaders from more than 64 SAP SuccessFactors clients from North America, spanning across 21 industries and representing leadership, business, and IT functional areas. The research yielded some interesting insights.

Not surprisingly our survey confirmed that effective talent development is deemed a business imperative. When asked why employee development is strategically important, respondents cited three primary reasons:

  1. Critical for engaging and retaining top talent

  2. Necessary for building bench strength and ensuring that “ready” successors are available for key roles at the right time

  3. Proven to increase and accelerate employee productivity

Organizations agree that mentoring delivers significant value for both employees and managers. Perhaps this is why the majority of today’s organizations invest in some form of mentoring. More than 70% of our survey respondents have mentoring programs in place. At the same time, however, only 31% rate their mentoring programs as effective. This is likely due to a number of factors but for many companies it comes down to culture. Only 14% of our survey respondents say they have a culture that encourages mentoring to help advance employee development and growth.

What stands in the way of successful mentoring

A question we have to ask ourselves then is what are the barriers to successful mentoring. Why do mentoring initiatives often fail? According to our survey, more than 38% say the administration of mentoring programs is too burdensome and time-consuming because the process is too manual to manage. Thirty percent say that programs are difficult to scale. Twenty-two percent say that they aren’t able to measure the effectiveness and success of their programs. Twenty-two percent also say that their mentoring efforts aren’t well integrated with other talent management initiatives.

What our customers confirmed is that ensuring mentoring is an integral component of other talent management initiatives is something that’s easier said than done. According to our survey, less than 60% of organizations integrate mentoring with career development in their organizations, 42% with succession management, 34% with employee onboarding, 25% with performance management, and only 20% with diversity and inclusion efforts.

Harness the power of technology

Fortunately advances in technology can drive more successful mentoring to support new hire onboarding, leadership and top talent development programs, diversity and inclusion efforts, retention initiatives, post-merger or acquisition employee incorporation programs, cultural acclimatization efforts, and more. According to our survey, organizations believe that mentoring tools can add significant value by:

  • Simplifying program administration and easing the pain of mentor-mentee matching

  • Delivering flexibility to support a range of different program types e.g., invitation-only programs, open-ended programs, etc.

  • Fostering ongoing mentor-mentee interaction and collaboration to boost participation and engagement

  • Enabling integration of mentoring with other talent management processes and programs

Tips for getting the most out of mentoring

There’s no doubt that mentoring programs can be a viable path for driving ongoing employee growth. Based on the findings of our survey, here are a few tangible tips for how to get the most out of your mentoring initiatives:

  • Embrace the right culture. Successful mentoring requires creating conditions that foster a culture of continuous learning and development. Make sure mentees and mentors are given training on how to effectively collaborate and give and receive feedback. Implement mechanisms for mentees and mentors to recognize and appreciate program participants. Provide resources to help participants establish positive developmental relationships. Hold senior leaders accountable for effective coaching behavior and setting the tone to create a healthy learning culture.

  • Take a holistic approach. Mentoring should not be a standalone program, but instead an integral part of other talent initiatives. Think through how you can align mentoring programs with onboarding, learning, performance management, succession management, and other developmental processes. Then be sure and define specific success metrics so you can measure the impact of your programs and improve existing processes. Make sure you can answer questions such as how effective is my development of talent, is readily available talent available at the right time to fill key roles, how diverse is our executive leadership pipeline, and what impact is mentoring having on speed to productivity, career mobility, retention, and employee engagement.

  • Leverage technology. Take advantage of mentoring tools that are specifically designed to make mentoring less manual, more measurable, faster and scalable. Mentoring tools can automatically and intelligently identify and connect good fit mentors and mentees. They can also simplify the entire end-to end process, starting with creating and launching programs, managing programs, and finally tracking and reporting the success of programs. Make sure program administrators, mentors and mentees understand the value of moving to a process that is more strategic, well-integrated and technology-enabled. Lastly, be sure and provide adequate training on how to use mentoring tools including tips and best practices (Access our latest paper Leveraging Technology to Maximize the Power of Mentoring: A Step-by-Step Guide).

With this guidance, you’ll be on your way to not only developing best in class employees and keeping them engaged but also developing future leaders of your organization.


1Gallup 2017 State of the American Workforce