Mentoring the Next Generation of Print Leaders

Like most organizations, copier dealers and MPS providers are constantly surveying the horizon for the next big thing to jumpstart their business. That “thing” could be a revolutionary piece of equipment or some new software application. The quest is never-ending. But it’s out there … somewhere.

Instead of a thing, maybe it’s a who.

Rather than relying upon and paying for this magical elixir, companies would be better served doing a deep dive within their organization to find the next generation of mentors and mentees to guide their companies into the future.

Mentors don’t necessarily have to be the most experienced or successful stalwarts in the company. They don’t always have to be more senior – in both age and experience – to successfully engage and shepherd colleagues to greater heights.

And the mentees can be just as diverse. Traditionally, mentor-mentee relationships are birthed organically, but career development experts say companies that initiate and support official mentorship programs will have a leg up on their less-prepared competitors as the mix of employees’ ages, skill sets and personalities diversifies over time.

According to the Association for Talent Development, 75 percent of working executives said mentoring was critical to their career development. Whether receiving the guidance and support of a more senior colleague or providing advice to younger up-and-comers, these relationships can be integral to continuity and employee retention rates over time.

Mentees gain real-world benefits including new contacts, skills and career development advice that are invaluable and not found in any textbook. Mentors bask in the appreciation for their hard-earned skills, some valuable insight into how their organization looks and feels to more junior associates and perhaps even some new tools – maybe it’s communication or tech-related – to improve their overall performance.

There are a number of ways to approach a viable mentorship program. Some companies are looking to increase specific demographics within their organization. This is particularly important for industries like tech, MPS and managed IT services, which tend to skew decidedly male throughout their organizational charts.

That’s not to say that women should only recruit and mentor women, or vice versa. The same goes for including, preparing and promoting employees of all backgrounds and areas of expertise. It needn’t be a formal directive from on high – though that’s sometimes the case as well – but rather an institutional appreciation for diversity, mobility and collaboration.

Management Mentors, a Chestnut Hill, Mass.-based mentoring consulting firm, has spent more 30 years helping companies of all sizes develop effective mentoring programs to increase employee retention, improve the overall morale of employees and management and, directly and indirectly, improve sales and profits.

It recommends that businesses first launch a pilot program to get their mentorship endeavors underway. While it might take longer to deploy something companywide, the lessons learned during the initial role and first year or so will provide opportunities to tweak the program for long-term success.

For organizations that don’t have a formal mentoring program, Management Mentors recommends that interested mentors and mentees establish an informal mentoring program. Who knows? Maybe one day those early seeds will develop into something more official.

For mentors, these relationships give more established and successful employees an opportunity to give back to their company and their industry and teach them how to listen actively rather than passively. In some cases, it can be re-energizing to executives or management who have been grinding year in and year out for decades.

Industry events or trade shows that may have grown passé or tedious get a new wrinkle and perspective when you’re showing an understudy the ropes. Often, a mentor will learn something new about other areas and departments within the organization and be exposed to people outside their areas of expertise.

For mentees, a good mentorship can boost his or her self-confidence and create a bond within the organization that many younger workers say they crave. For all the talk about the so-called “gig” economy, employees still, by and large, covet security and stability. Having a mentor share some successful tips, as well as ways to avoid pitfalls within any organization, helps mentees better understand the organizations’ culture and unspoken rules.

If it’s done right, it can be a self-perpetuating process that’s repeated over years and throughout different groups and departments to develop, promote and retain the leaders your organization will need for years to come.

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Larry Barrett

Larry Barrett

is an editor and analyst at BPO Media.