Many companies mandate mentorship programs as a quick way to grow people. Growing talent is the most important thing in the technology space. The challenge isn’t that we have too much talent, but that we have too little. There are many ways to grow talent, but two stand out as standards in the market today. The first is work your talent to death and cull the best from the herd. The second is to invest heavily in training and mentorship.
The first approach—working your talent to death—is mostly found in investment banking and financial services where, according to JP Morgan Wealth Management CEO Mary Erdoes, “graduates should be expected to work 72-hour weeks” (rumor says it’s often more) in order to achieve mastery. Hard to argue with the theory as “mastery” takes roughly 10,000 hours so if you work smart people hard and they don’t quit or explode, they will achieve “mastery” in 2.5 years instead of 5 years. This is valuable to both the worker and the corporation.
However, the work-them-to-death strategy would have failed in the companies I helped to start and grow. It’s not that consultants don’t work long hours, particularly before a development project goes live. It’s that investing in the people is more important than the hours they work. If a company invests in its people, their employees can solve more complex problems and are more satisfied with the work. Thus, the company has higher retention rates.
One critical component of growing people faster is the wisdom they receive through mentors. It goes without saying that I’m talking about industries that need knowledge workers in order to survive and grow. In a world competing for talent, what are you doing? Mentorship substitutes teaching, coaching, and wisdom for those companies that measure hours worked. It’s tricky though, because most people don’t know how to mentor at scale and companies are not investing in training mentors how to be mentors. Time to start.
If you don’t have a mentor or coaching program, start one. If there is an area outside of your expertise like networking or sales, hire people to train you. What makes this a bit more complicated is that most often it’s the mentees who select the mentors, so you have to be flexible. Most leaders in the organization are in the best positions to mentor, but they are also busy, so there has to be a trade-off between delivery, management, sales, and mentorship. In his book, The One Thing, Gary Keller asks, “What is the one thing that by doing it will make everything else easier or unnecessary?” What a great quote. Zig Zigler was famous for saying, “Build the people and the people will build the company.” This begins with investing, coaching, and mentoring. If your company needs to work on mentorship, get crackin!