10 tips to build an effective mentoring culture

With firms facing an existential crisis, inspiring and leading employees is a strategic necessity, says Ed Parsloe

Ed Parsloe

One of the greatest truisms is that the world of work has been constantly evolving ever since people first stepped out of the factory into the office and, in the post-Covid era, the pace and scale of that change has accelerated.

Organisations and leaders have pivoted 180 degrees on everything they once held true, from strategy to leadership style. As the dust has started to settle, businesses are rethinking their strategies for attracting, developing and retaining people.

The talent war is well and truly alive. According to PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2023, one in four UK workers (23 per cent) expect to change jobs within the next 12 months – up from 18 per cent in 2022. A fifth (21 per cent) are not satisfied with their current job, which is a sign the ‘Great Resignation’ or ‘Big Quit’ is far from over.

This poses an existential threat to organisations that have not been able to adapt quickly enough to the new post-Covid reality. However, in this uncertain environment, creating a mentoring culture can be a powerful tool to address these evolving challenges. Investing in mentoring programmes can support a wide range of strategic goals – from upskilling managers to improving innovation, recruitment and retention to building a more diverse, equitable and inclusive culture or to deal with a specific business problem such as reducing grievances.

Mentoring has evolved beyond being a mere nice to have into a strategic necessity. Research from Forbes shows that 70 per cent of Fortune 500 companies run mentoring programmes and 77 per cent of firms with such programmes report improved employee retention and performance. Additionally, 79 per cent of millennials believe mentoring is crucial to their career success.

There are also tangible business benefits. A recent government report – Mentoring Matters – revealed three quarters (76 per cent) of UK businesses felt mentoring had been key to business growth, with 60 per cent saying it specifically helped develop their business strategy and half (52 per cent) saying it helped boost revenue. Significantly, 66 per cent of businesses that invested in mentoring said it helped them survive.

Creating and embedding a mentoring culture will not happen overnight; however, when it does you will see a change in levels of trust within an organisation and higher levels of collaborative working.  

The war for talent 

A lack of career development or opportunities for promotion are key reasons people leave organisations, so businesses need to think differently about how they move people around and the opportunities they can provide, which can mean rethinking job roles and creating enough development opportunities to keep people satisfied. Successful organisations will be those that offer people a varied and broad career journey. 

Workplace demographics have significantly shifted in recent years too. Most companies have several generations of people in the same organisation and all of them want different things out of work. From an organisational perspective, this drives a greater need for knowledge transfer and cross-generational learning than ever before. 

Furthermore, the pace of change and the fluid nature of the modern workplace require leaders and managers to be able to communicate this change clearly and effectively. They must develop excellent listening, questioning and feedback skills – the bedrock of effective mentoring and coaching conversations – to create engagement, commitment and accountability to implement the latest strategy and shifts in organisational culture effectively. 

We know there is a greater need for organisations to create the right culture and more are turning to mentoring. Rather than just designing a one-off mentoring programme, more companies are asking how they can create a mentoring culture, a sustainable environment where conversations facilitate continuous individual and organisational learning.

Mentoring can bridge these generational gaps by creating an environment for sharing experiences and wisdom and by creating a mentoring culture it can mean that in these busy times of flux and uncertainty, the work environment can provide a sense of calm that people are looking for. 

What does a good mentoring culture look like?

A good mentoring culture tends to be unique to different organisations and aligned with their strategy, culture, people and environment. However, typically a mentoring culture will create an environment where people listen to each other and the managers and directors ask questions, give feedback, have powerful conversations and are actively engaged with their team members. This tends to be a place where there is good effective talent management, solid employee retention rates and loyal staff. People will be engaged and motivated and individuals will go the extra mile for the business and their colleagues.

How can you achieve a good mentoring culture?

Creating and embedding a mentoring culture takes time. Signs that it is taking shape are:

  • People of all levels are generous with their time and willing to pass on knowledge, insight and expertise to others freely. 

  • Managers have regular conversations with their team about performance and development throughout the year. 

  • There’s a move from a directive to a more non-directive culture. 

  • Employees at all levels have open, honest and supportive conversations, including giving each other regular feedback.

  • Employees own and drive their own career development and progression, leading to the emergence of more career and development opportunities.

  • Higher engagement scores will exist around personal and career development.

  • HR responds proactively rather than reactively to organisational learning and feedback with visible links between feedback and intervention.

  • Senior leaders talk passionately about the benefits of mentoring and how it has helped them.

  • Teams work collaboratively.

  • There are higher levels of trust within the organisation

What business wouldn’t want to see and hear all those things? We know that integrating all of these things into an organisational culture isn’t easy and takes time, but if organisations are going to address many of the talent and leadership-based challenges created in the post-Covid workplace and tap into the potential of knowledge transfer across a multi-generational workplace, what better way to try than by creating a mentoring culture based on human conversation – one where mentoring sits at the heart?

Ed Parsloe is chief executive of The Oxford Coach Mentors