Aug 182011

Mentors: Keeping Great People with Three Kinds of Mentors

By Anthony Tjan, CEO, Managing Partner and Founder of the venture capital firm Cue Ball, Via Harvard Business Review Blog, 10:45 AM Friday August 12, 2011

To attract and retain great people, several things need to coalesce. From the extrinsic reward of a salary to the more nuanced (and more important) intrinsic reward of people feeling that they have a meaningful role, it requires thought and a proactive approach to keep talent once you’ve got it.

One of the most critical elements in retaining great people is effective mentoring. But what does that really mean? The word “mentoring” is too general to capture the specifics of what people need through the different stages of a career. It is akin to saying that people need to be educated — and then implementing a teaching curriculum that is the same every year for everyone. Like education, mentorship requires different things at different stages, including different types of skills and advice, and different types of teachers and learning styles.

Few firms think as carefully about mentorship as they should. So for most companies, a wake-up call on the basics of mentorship is in order. The first step, of course, is just having mentorship as part of your people development strategy. This does not need to be a complex, bureaucratic HR-department process. It should be something people know is embraced as part of the ethos of a firm. It can start simply by having existing employees volunteer to be mentors to newer staff members. And while it can and probably should be communicated out to staff and emphasized top down from leaders, people will believe it more when it is a “show, don’t tell” process.

Mentorship, delivered in an authentic manner, shows that you care about employees’ professional progression. This basic “I care about you” culture is the foundation for effective mentorship. It requires knowing a mentee’s ambitions and capabilities, their successes and challenges towards, and the ways you can help push their ball forward. I’ve already written about how the best mentors are able to get a mentee snap-shot in five questions. But to put in place a more systematic and thoughtful mentorship program across any size company, it is helpful to differentiate among three types of mentoring:

1. Buddy / Peer Mentoring
2. Career Mentoring
3. Life Mentoring



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