Many successful companies use mentoring to address complex workforce challenges such as improving productivity and retaining top talent. Corporate mentoring is on the rise and is being driven more and more these days by millennials inquiring about a mentorship program when deciding where to work.

Organizations like SAP have developed formal mentoring programs to improve employee onboarding, leadership development and other initiatives. Jenny Dearborn, SAP’s senior vice president and chief learning officer, is considered a thought leader on the topic and is a mentor for the US State Department in partnership with Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women’s network. Dearborn shared with me why mentoring is important, how it can help your career, and where she sees mentoring going in the future.

Jenny Dearborn, SAP chief learning officer and SVP
Jenny Dearborn, SAP chief learning officer and SVP.

Brian Clendenin: Why is mentorship important in today’s workplace?

Jenny Dearborn: Mentoring is an important tool that can help an organization attract, retain, and develop talent while keeping them engaged. Mentoring helps with succession planning by growing and developing future leaders, improves retention of existing employees and provides opportunities for career development. Mentoring can also facilitate knowledge transfer between employees and helps to develop a learning culture while improving employee engagement.

Clendenin: Top performers crave feedback … what is your experience in relationship to mentoring?

Dearborn: “Top performing employees know the value of a mentor. Research shows that the most successful performers have between 8 and 12 mentors. Mentoring is a powerful tool to help employees grow and develop their careers. Mentoring provides an opportunity for mentees to acquire new skills and knowledge, develop self-awareness and learn in a safe and supportive environment.

Clendenin: You are very passionate about mentoring. Tell me more about your involvement with the US State Department mentor program through Fortune’s Most Powerful Women network?

Dearborn: “The partnership between the global NGO Vital Voices, the US State Department and Fortune Magazine Most Powerful Women’s network was founded in 1997 to identify, invest and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities. The goals of the partnership is to 1) combat human trafficking and other forms of violence against women and girls, 2) enable women to become change agents in their governments, advocates for social justice, and supporters of democracy and the rule of law and 3) equip women with management, business development, marketing and communications skills to expand their enterprises, help to provide for their families, and create jobs in their communities. The partnership has trained of 14,000 women from 144 countries who have returned home to mentor more than 500,000 women in their communities. The State Department mission to make the world better through improving the lives of women, is perfectly aligned with my values and personal and professional goals. This year I had a mentee from Egypt who in addition to be a successful business women was an instrumental activist in the Arab Spring uprising starting in Dec 2010. She wanted to learn from me about widening her circle of influence to be more effective. I was honored to work with her this year.”

Clendenin: How does one design a collaborative and valuable mentor-mentee relationship experience?

Dearborn: “Mentoring is an equal partnership between two individuals. The mentee should be the driver of the relationship, but both members have to be engaged to ensure success. The relationship should be based on clearly defined goals, roles, expectations and timeframes. There has to be mutual respect, open communication, trust and a regular cadence of meetings. Feedback throughout the program is crucial to develop both parties and this can only work where there is trust and transparency.”

Clendenin: Which demographic is most interested in formal mentorship?

Dearborn: “Research shows us that developing themselves through mentoring and coaching is in the top 5 things millennials want from their employer but in general, top performers, regardless of their age, are those who are most interested in formal mentoring.”

Clendenin: Where do you see mentor programs evolving in the future?

Dearborn: “Mentor programs are expanding at most companies and gaining in importance as a development tool, they are low cost with a high impact return. Mentor programs helps attract, retain, and develop top talent – in our recruitment process, we sell our mentoring program to attract top talent. Mentoring will play a significant part of employee development and peer-to-peer learning as organizations continue to focus on nurturing and developing their talent and keeping their employees engaged.”

Clendenin: Last question … What are your top 3 recommendations to ensure a mentor program is successful?

Dearborn: “1) Develop clearly defined goals and objectives with a strategy to measure success, 2) Ensure the mentor program has support from leadership and 3) Provide the participants with tools to be an effective mentor/mentee.”

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