Traditional employee development relies on two main components. The first is an online learning management system, with virtual course content and videos. The second is in-class seminars that are usually half-day or full-day learning events. Both of these components rely significantly on courses and classes
The problem, however, is that this isn’t the best way for employees to learn. For starters, most of what employees learn through training courses is forgotten within a year. The generally accepted solution is repetition and reinforcement of learning. But we can’t have employees enrolled in courses and attending seminars year-round. It’s not efficient.
Instead, employee development is evolving to rely on more ongoing personalized relationships through coaching and mentoring.
Coaching and mentoring aren’t just fads. My company recently surveyed HR professionals about the current and future state of corporate mentoring and coaching, and our respondents predicted that coaching and mentoring will only become more important over the next few years.
In this article, I’ll explain why coaching and mentoring programs are growing in popularity and how you can incorporate them into your workplace development strategy. (Full disclosure: My company offers a mentorship platform, but this article will focus on ways your company can set up mentorship programs on your own.)
Employees value learning and will stay with companies longer if they offer it. But the science of learning calls into question the effectiveness of online courses. Modern research reveals that learning is about repetition and integration: Topics need to be reinforced multiple times before true learning takes place, and learning must be integrated into practical settings or else it is forgotten.
Connecting employees with coaches and mentors helps them learn the way modern science calls for in a couple of ways.
Firstly, meeting with a coach or mentor once or twice a month creates the repetition necessary for learning. Employees anticipate their next meeting, so there’s positive accountability to apply what they learned in the previous meeting. Likewise, the frequency of meetings helps keep what’s learned top of mind.
Secondly, the advice that workplace coaches and mentors provide is hyper-focused on the employee’s unique situation. In successful coaching and mentoring relationships, it’s the mentee’s responsibility to drive the relationship. They come to each session with their goals for the discussion. In this way, what’s learned is directly applicable to their situation.
Coaching and mentoring offer a more personalized approach to learning. Learning and development leaders are recognizing this and adjusting accordingly.
McKinsey’s ACADEMIES framework outlines the nine dimensions of an effective L&D initiative. One dimension that’s pertinent to this discussion is the “Design of Learning Journeys.”
McKinsey highlights the issue with many learning and development programs: Employees and leaders are time-constrained, so classroom learning is challenging to arrange. Likewise, the delivery often fails to blend knowledge into the actual job.
An effective learning journey builds on classroom learning, offering “continuous learning opportunities that take place over a period of time and include… fieldwork, pre- and post-classroom digital learning, social learning, on-the-job coaching and mentoring, and short workshops.”
McKinsey also includes scalability as one of its nine dimensions. It’s crucial to have a scalable L&D solution in place, but many companies conflate “scalable” with “replicable”; they opt for a module-based learning program that can be easily distributed.
Instead of a scalable course, try a scalable mentorship and coaching program, which may be more effective than a course-based learning solution.
In the same McKinsey report, they highlight the importance of the 70:20:10 framework for L&D programs. In this framework, 70% of learning takes place on the job, 20% occurs through interaction and collaboration and 10% occurs through classroom training and curricula.
By this logic, the most important learning and development experience a person can have is person-to-person interaction. Mentorship and coaching support both the 70% and the 20% of learning; they can be tailored to suit on-the-job learning and collaborative learning experiences. In short, having a mentor or coach embeds the learning process into day-to-day experiences.
There are many ways that mentoring and coaching can take place at work. Perhaps a newer employee forms a friendship with someone more experienced, and a natural coaching relationship forms to speed up the onboarding process. Or sometimes employees see the benefits of mentorship and deliberately seek out a mentor.
To capture the full benefits of coaching and mentoring, however, organizations need to formalize it by including coaching and mentoring in their L&D initiatives.
W. Brad Johnson, author of Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women, shared in a recent conversation on my company’s podcast that leaders can’t simply rely on chemistry between employees to form mentorship and coaching relationships. This can perpetuate inequality and keep the benefits of mentorship from reaching those employees who need it most.
Based on my company’s observations, a formal mentorship program should include these key components (this is an overview of the steps my company unpacks in our guide to starting a mentoring program):
• A clear definition of roles, expectations and benefits
• Matching based on skill set, interests and goals
• Regular check-ins with the mentor/mentee pairings
• Monitoring for success and tracking progress in achieving objectives
What seems like an investment of time and money at first glance will soon prove to be invaluable for any organization looking to develop its employees. What does your L&D strategy currently include? Are you ready to include coaching and mentoring?