Think of your favorite teacher in life. Was it somebody from your career? Probably not. Most likely it was an influential teacher or college professor.
Formal mentors at work used to be common, but it is rare to find one at big enterprises today. This is affecting younger workers in particular. In one study reported in Harvard Business Review, every professional over 40 could name a mentor -- but only a few younger interviewees could.
Recently, I asked folks on social media if they think real mentors still exist. The consensus was that finding a mentor is a rare experience. Despite asking (even begging) for these types of relationships with leaders at work, they do not feel that employers put a priority on mentorship.
This longing is natural -- one of the best ways to grow your career is to gain new skills and knowledge. And it is important for employers too.
In one survey of employees by the Society of Human Resource Management, 86 percent of respondents said professional and career development benefits are important to overall job satisfaction. I am sure this is not a surprise to you.
Yet there is a gap between what people want and what companies are delivering. In a Gallup survey of millennials, only 39 percent strongly agreed that they "learned something new in the past 30 days that they can use to do their jobs better." And only 22 percent of companies have a formal mentoring program in place. But we know that they want to. Everybody wants to learn new skills and contribute in meaningful ways. And employees will reward companies who give them the chance to do so. In a LinkedIn survey, 94 percent of employees said they would stay longer at a company that invests in their career development.
So why is there a disconnect? One reason may be that developing formal mentorship and development programs takes time and money. These efforts require leaders to understand where the company is headed and can map the programs that will help people gain those needed skills.
I know from experience that this is hard work. As the co-founder and CEO of Aha!, I have put a lot of thought into building a learning organization. Helping our teammates grow professionally and personally is a linchpin of our culture. Doing so across a completely remote, exceptionally high-performing team at one of the fastest-growing software companies in the U.S. certainly adds another layer of complexity.
And obviously, your company has its own complexities. But our approach to building a learning organization has worked for us, and I am happy to share some of our insights with you.
Here is how we help our teammates learn and grow:
Each new hire's training begins even before their first day on the job. As soon as they accept the offer to become part of our team, we send them books that help explain the Aha! philosophy and the way we work. Not only does this help the new hire feel like they are already part of the team, but it also emphasizes the great value we place on learning.
Some companies give new hires an employee handbook and call that an "onboarding." New teammates at Aha! are immersed in a four- to eight-week program. Leaders from across the organization contribute content dedicated to all aspects of Aha! -- our product, our company, and our culture.
Teach and inform
We place a high priority on keeping our completely distributed team informed and up to date. On our weekly company-wide video meetings, department heads share developments and progress for their teams. And at our twice-yearly offsites, leaders present the plan for moving forward and hold specialized training sessions for their teams. This transparency and guidance give everybody the tools and context they need to get better and better at their jobs.
All group leads are required to have weekly 1:1s with every teammate. This is a great opportunity to discuss the current work and any wins or sticking points. But it also gives leaders the chance to mentor their teammates. By providing tailored coaching, setting growth goals, and recommending learning opportunities, leaders can help teammates reach their next level of performance.
Encourage cross-functional learning
Learning about other teams gives colleagues a holistic perspective -- it helps them understand their own part in the big picture. This is why we host a monthly TED Talks-style event, where team leads give an in-depth look at a project or work style. These opportunities for teammates to satisfy their curiosity are completely optional -- and always very well attended.
Some leaders might be concerned that if teammates get great education on the job then they will just leave for bigger and better opportunities. And sure, nobody wants to lose top talent. But the best leaders help their teammates outgrow their current position.
How does your company help teammates learn and grow?