Investing In Mentorship And Sponsorship To Foster Employee Growth

CEO, Healthcare, LexisNexis Risk Solutions. Responsibility for Healthcare Business Unit: Payer, Provider, Pharmacy and Life Sciences.

Today’s competitive business environment requires that you stand out among your competitors. Typically this means you have the best product, the best marketing or the best price. An often overlooked yet critical component is hiring and growing the best talent. After you attract and hire the right people, a commitment to retain, engage and develop them is paramount. Many employees aren’t showing up just to “punch the clock.” Whether in our personal or professional lives, we want to learn, change and grow.

The course of career development can often be riddled with uncertainty, indifference and apprehension. Most employees need and value the company’s support to help them grow, but a direct manager or colleague in a higher position isn’t always the ideal candidate for guidance. Often, a leader with perspective and influence in a different department or market segment can be a good resource. This may seem counterintuitive at first, so it’s critical from a corporate perspective to engage employees in their own career growth through a culture of mentorship and sponsorship. Mentorship enables the mentor and mentee to identify important skills and strengths through guidance and advice, while sponsorship directly focuses on upward mobility at the organization through promotion.

By providing opportunities for open discussion about professional assets and gaps, networking, goal-setting, continuous education, and career advancement, you can help enable employees to pursue their dreams. These interactions facilitate building relationships and can generate loyalty and trust, which are beneficial for employee development — and ultimately your company’s success.

Supporting Mentorship From The Top Down

In our healthcare business, we are proactive about career development. When employees begin their tenure, they start by documenting previous work experience, skill sets and aspirations for future growth. This is important for two reasons:


1. It sets a foundation for where they are.

2. It serves as a reference point for tracking progress.

The information is available to managers and human resources to help keep the focus on each individual employee’s talents and career trajectory.

Our organization also provides channels that support workforce development from the top down to foster diversity and inclusion. Our “Accelerate and Ignite” program pairs high-talent women in our business with female senior executives for sponsorship. We also have employee resource groups that create peer networks and connect employees who are solid matches for both mentorship and sponsorship. It’s important to remember there’s no single path to establish these relationships. You can get involved with official company programs, be approached by employees for help, or reach out to those who need guidance. If the support of associates and mentors over the years has contributed to your success, help others achieve the same.

Mapping Out Career Development

Once a workplace support relationship has been established, it’s helpful to structure the process. As a mentor, you can set up regular monthly meetings and document details extensively. Use the first two or three meetings to get to know people both personally and professionally. Talk about influential professionals in their fields, including those empowered to help them grow their potential at your organization. You can then reach out to those individuals and informally interview them about your mentee and ask questions about skills, strengths and gaps to identify what it would take for the employee to make it to the next level of their career. When I do this, I don’t share their feedback verbatim but rather use the guidance to layer in additional perspectives about realizing professional potential.

In one of these early meetings, I ask mentees to commit to both short- and long-term professional goals. Occasionally, mentees aren’t sure of their goals for the mentorship or their career aside from adding more value. I push them to clearly define their objectives, which we document. By articulating short- and long-term goals, employees can determine precisely what it will take to get there, which makes the goals much easier to achieve.

The Two-Way Street Of Sponsorship And Mentorship

In a recent goal-setting conversation, one of my mentees admitted that she hadn’t thought much about career direction. We agreed to tackle that during our next meeting. We had established a solid rapport, and I was excited to learn what she came up with. She presented her plan A, near-term and pragmatic, and a three- to five-year plan B: a “throw caution to the wind” leap that would truly align her daily responsibilities with her life’s passion.

I was inspired by her introspective efforts, direction and courage. As a mentor, you can learn just as much from your mentees as they learn from you. Hearing about your mentees’ roles, challenges and perceptions of the organization can help you become a more aware and engaged leader. It prompts my professional scan about what insights I can bring back to my role to make the organization stronger. As in any rewarding relationship, sponsorship and mentorship are very much a two-way street, with both sides giving and receiving to make the relationship mutually beneficial.

Embracing Growth

Just as in personal lives, professional relationships and career needs evolve. Mentorship is no exception. Earlier in my career, several mentors helped me focus on my performance in the business setting. They supported my growth as a communicator to produce good business results. Most recently, my mentor and I worked on public speaking as a means of inspiration and motivation. As my career continues to develop, my goals evolve.

Finally, it’s important to note that mentorship is cyclical. I’ve found that after about a year, most mentors have imparted the knowledge they have on an individual’s career advancement, which creates opportunities to take on new mentees. By opening yourself up to new opportunities for leading and learning, you and your employees don’t get too comfortable and can expand your business networks and promote growth. By using employee mentorship and sponsorship to help establish what’s next on the horizon, you’re strengthening your entire company to secure a bright and thriving future.

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