Moulding the leaders of tomorrow

Mentoring relationships can improve the professional development of both parties and their organisation. HRM explores the advantages and best practices for today’s globalised economy.

Mentors play an important role in an employee’s career.

As an individual who has a wealth of experience and knowledge, mentors are in a good position to advise staff, help them fit into the work culture, and navigate through workplace challenges.

This is something Chan Wing Git, Vice President of HR at BreadTalk, stresses.

Yet, the responsibilities of a mentor do not stop there. Chan identifies the other key areas where mentors can provide a helping hand.

“The mentors also serve as role models and ambassadors of the company’s core values, and help to model the way for the staff,” he says.

“They help to guide the employees on the right path to achieving their personal goals, while also aligning them to the bigger business mission and goals.”

While a mentoring programme is obviously seen as a benefit for the mentee, Imre Vadasz, Regional HR Director at Sony, says there are actually advantages for both parties.

“Having the opportunity to discuss any situation, issue, dilemma, or concerns with someone independent in an informal, confidential and open environment can strongly support and accelerate learning, thus enhancing performance,” he says.

“At the same time, it is a great opportunity for senior leaders to hear and learn directly from junior employees. This helps them to understand the values, aspirations, feelings and concerns of someone in a different career stage.”

At Heineken, mentorships are practiced as part of an effort to groom new trainees and talents with great potential.

Annually, the beer company holds an Asia-Pacific graduate programme which comes after a rigorous selection process regionally.

“Each Asia Trainee is assigned a mentor for the duration of the programme as we feel it is very important to support them at this early stage of their careers,” Peter Crawshaw, Regional Learning and Development Manager at Heineken Asia-Pacific, explains.

On top of this, he adds that mentoring provides an independent sounding board and allows the opportunity for trainees to get feedback in a safe environment.

In turn, it provides a great boost to their confidence.

Selection of mentors

To help mould individuals into better employees, mentors must first prove that they are able to guide them and showcase their ability to do just that.

Specifically at Sony, mentors are selected from a wide range of criterias and are examined beyond their leadership positions.

“We select mentors based on their personality and leadership skills, and not based on the position,” says Vadasz.

“However, we ensure that mentors are not from the same function as their mentees to minimise dependency, encourage ease of communication, and to provide a different viewpoint.”

In a typical session between the two parties, Vadasz shares that the agenda is usually driven by the mentees themselves. It would cover several topics that the mentee is busy with at the time.

“Time is spent talking about career development, and also very often we talk about the ‘big picture’,” he adds.

“This is about the company’s corporate mission, how things interlink at the strategic level, and about the ‘how’ and ‘why’. So often, I will hear an ‘ah, now I can see’ response from the mentee.”

Sony’s selection procedure is similar to that of BreadTalk.

BreadTalk considers all staff with supervisory responsibilities to be mentors, due to the fact that they are already expected to guide their teams to excellence.

“We encourage our supervisors, be it of mid or senior management, to take it upon themselves to train and lead the next generation of employees,” Chan explains.

“At the same time, we hope that they will get to grow in their roles and hone their leadership skills.”

BreadTalk has a more laissez-faire approach for the mentees and employees are able to seek and choose who their mentors are. “In so doing, we hope to encourage our employees to take ownership of their own development,” Chan says.

“We have also realised that a forced approach would not be effective, and it is important that the mentor is someone whom the employee respects, and has a good rapport with.”

Conversely, Asia trainees at Heineken are often paired with exemplary senior leaders.

“This demonstrates the credibility of the programme and the commitment of our leaders,” Crawshaw shares.

“The mentoring assignment also allows our leaders to further hone their people development abilities by engaging and grooming young talent.”

Mentees are accountable for the mentoring relationship. He states that once a successful matching has taken place, it is up to the trainee to organise the meetings.

“Usually on first meetings, they will agree on the objectives of the mentoring programme and make it more specific to the objectives of the trainee,” he adds.

Helping one another

Vadasz shares that mentoring programmes also help to solve a range of challenges that can be faced within the workforce.

“It supports potentially different generations to allow us to work better together, enhance teamwork, and even have a positive effect on managing diversity,” he says.

“It all starts with a better understanding of another person, value and benefit from a different viewpoint.”

At BreadTalk, a team of senior staff make the time and effort to help to mentor their subordinates.

In one example, production heads spend time to impart their pastry making skills to the younger bakers.

Additionally, several senior management staff share tips on how the people in charge can improve the management of outlets.

“Such formal and informal sharing help to accelerate the learning and development of our employees, resulting in a more productive and engaged workforce overall,” Chan explains.

“The benefits are two-way. While the new employees learn from the mentors, the mentors also widen their perspectives when working with the new colleagues and improve their people management skills.”

Heineken sees such opportunities as a useful tool to retain their high-potential talents, and further improve employees who are already excelling in their jobs.

“Effective mentorships will motivate and retain our key talent, strengthen our culture of growing these future leaders, reinforce our values and behaviours, and accelerate the growth of the trainees,” Crawshaw shares.

Tables turned

The satisfaction of grooming younger employees to become better professionals plays a vital part in boosting a mentor’s professional development, even in HR itself.

“The mentoring process has taught me a lot in the area of people management,” says Chan.

“Specifically, I have learnt to listen better, to empathise, understand challenges and concerns from another person’s perspective, and to suggest constructive ideas to help my officers achieve their work aspirations and resolve problems.”

He says these skills have been relevant not just in his role as a mentor, but in being an effective leader and a professional.

For Vadasz, the mentoring programmes has helped him in both his professional and personal lives.

“These conversations are always refreshing for me, where I learn a lot from my mentees,” he shares.

“I learn from their feedback and from their questions, and many times I also ask them about dilemmas I have and ask for their opinion because naturally they often see things from a very different perspective.”

Crawshaw also emphasises that it has been a two way learning process for his own career as well.

“Not only have I taken huge satisfaction from engaging with and contributing to the trainees’ development, it has also certainly helped build my own skills, both personally and professionally,” he says. “This has especially taught me about listening more empathetically, giving and receiving feedback, and continuously working out what my strengths are, and what improvements will assist me in my career development.”

How to be an effective mentor

  • Set a mentorship goal: Find a goal you’re passionate about and get involved in a group that aligns with it. Both you and your mentee will get more out of it.
  • Dedicate time: Once you know how much time isn’t taken up by your business, figure out how much you can use to give back.
  • Know the qualities of a good mentee: Familiarise yourself with the qualities of a good mentee. Someone who has the potential to grow will jump through hoops to do so.
  • Cut when necessary: This may sound harsh, but your time is valuable. If a mentee has some critical flaws, don’t be afraid to say no to the relationship. Ask questions such as, does he respect your time by being punctual? Does he accept constructive criticism well?

Finally, don’t forget that this should be a mutually beneficial relationship.

Source: “Four Tips for Getting the Most Out of Becoming a Mentor” from Entrepreneur


How are you impacting your mentee?

A survey by the Internet Marketing Association identified the key areas that an individual mentoring relationship should touch upon.

They are:

  • Strong personal branding
  • Business ethics
  • Persistence
  • Clear communication
  • Exposure to new experiences


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