Does The Office Facilitate Mentoring?
RTO and the Elusive "Mentoring and Learning in the Office"
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This Week’s Newsletter:
RTO and Magic Mentoring and Learning
Podcast Playlists on Talent, Careers, and People Development
1.RTO and Magical Mentoring and Learning
Note: Before I start, let me qualify this by saying this is not meant to be an Anti-RTO post!
There are many eyeroll reasons as to why executives and organizations are saying that employees should get back into the office. But one of my favorite ones is “for mentoring.”
It’s true that mentoring is important, from a talent attraction, retention and performance perspective. It’s also true that for employees, being able to build relationships that fuel success in your job and in your career is vital. Your career development is a team sport, and the quicker you realize that your success is correlated to the amount of people who want to succeed, the faster path you’ll be on to achieving your career goals.
But there’s a slight problem with forcing people back into the office “for the mentoring and training:” In most organizations, it doesn’t happen.
One example of this is in the law industry. Law, especially big law, has some pretty clear and consistent beliefs about the world of work and ways of working, many of which were built and started in a world of work that was much different than what it is today.
In an article titled, “Return to Office Is a Focus for Mentoring, but Training Gaps Have Existed for Ages” This article in Law does a great job highlighting some of the core issues.
Law firm leaders are signaling they want employees to come back to the office, sometimes as much as to before COVID levels, and one of the main reasons they cite is “for training and mentoring.” Employees are pushing back, reminding their bosses that mentoring and training is hard to come by at times, actually exist, regardless or not of being in the office. For example:
“Oftentimes, [the lack of training is] linked to attorneys not being in the office a lot. But it’s not just not being in the office,” said Summer Eberhard, a partner in the associate practice at recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. “It’s not having processes and technology in place that would allow for training to happen in a more remote working environment.”
To be sure, what mentoring and training looks like can vary from law firm to law firm, but the experience cited in the article is not an uncommon one regardless of what industry you are in.
While it’s true that the pandemic forced challenges to mentoring, training and learning, these issues (especially for junior staff) existed far before the pandemic.
Law firm leaders have been pushing lawyers and staff back to the office, partly citing the training and mentoring benefits that come from working together. But training gaps existed well before the pandemic, according to law firm leaders and analysts.
“If you were to say, ‘Were associates complaining about training pre-pandemic?’ The answer would be, ‘Absolutely yes,’” said Kristin Stark, a law firm consultant and principal at Fairfax Associates.
One of the main frames in these articles is the lack of alignment between the desired outcome, the expectation of leaders, and what associate's experience in the day to day work. For example, according the the article:
Paul Schmidt, chair of BakerHostetler, said in an interview that one of the challenges of training that began to creep into the profession before the pandemic, and remains pervasive today, is the increased pace.He noted that email chains have long since replaced written memos, for instance, which previously served as helpful training tools for younger lawyers because they required precise thinking and feedback during edits.
“ The pace of practice has really accelerated such that, even in-person, it’s harder to take the time to properly train,” Schmidt said, adding: “Everything is quick, quick, quick, and everyone wants a quick response.”
To clarify, the line of thinking is, we need to get employees back to the office because it’s important for training and mentoring. However:
There isn’t much employee training and mentoring happening
They don’t actually make time for training and mentoring
The nature of the work and how lawyer’s work gets done makes it really hard for training to be effective
Which brings us to the question of how is making people come back to the office helping with training and mentoring and making the business more effective?
The Office Has a Place in Mentoring and Training
This is not actually meant to be an anti-RTO piece. I do think there is a lot of value in bringing people into the office and while I do think you can absolutely do mentoring and training in all types and mediums, having people come together to share, learn, and connect is really important, regardless of what kind of company that you are.
What I do think is that most organizations don’t actually l tap into the power of their people, and do mentoring, informal learning, and development well. If you want to test if this is true or not, think about what it was like in your first professional job in your career, and what that experience was like onboarding and getting started in your first job and first professional company. How did you get trained? How did you find a mentor?
How did you learn all of the unspoken roles, implicit norms, ways of working, and how to get things done? Chances are, you eventually picked many of these things up, but perhaps your journey to learning them wasn’t necessarily as effective as it could have been.
The reason for writing this is not to bash RTO, but rather, to highlight the fact that mentoring actually matters, and when done right (including in the office) it can help your business. But implicit in that is well, actually doing it!
What We Can Learn From Management Consulting Firms About Mentoring
This isn’t all doom and gloom and I do think that there are examples we can learn from about how we can actually tap into mentoring to fuel retention and performance in your organization. And one example of this comes from professional service organizations, namely management consulting firms.
I am biased because I started my career in this industry and currently serve a number of clients in this space, but despite that I still think there is a lot to be learned.
So here’s a bit of a case study as to what we can learn about mentoring in the workplace from management consulting firms.
1)The Business Model
In a professional service firm, the business model necessitates an investment in people and human capital. People “are the product” and companies can charge a premium when they have people who are generating great results and producing great outcomes. Just like a business might invest in R&D to build a better product, in many ways, mentoring and learning becomes “R&D in a professional service firm. When your people are smarter, have more skills and are better able to solve problems, you can make more money. This means that getting your people to share knowledge and information with each other (often through mentoring) has a direct impact on the business.
Part of the Employer-Employee deal of working for a management consulting firm is that you get to work on interesting and diverse projects, get paid well, get to work with smart people, and work a ton of hours. This generally speaking attracts a lot of talent who genuinely is interested in A) learning and B) interested in working with others. It’s hard to be a “lone wolf” in these models, and your ability to succeed on a diversity of types of projects is often correlated to how interested and engaged you are in learning.
This does a number of things that lead to mentoring. First, you attract people who have an intrinsic desire to learn, which means that they often ask questions, look for new ideas, ask about training and certifications, or constantly are expanding their skills, because doing so is in their best interest professionally. Second, you also have people who are sharing knowledge or teaching others - because so many smart people exist in one place, oftentimes, the easiest way to learn something is to “find the expert” pull them aside, and get mentoring, coaching, or guidance. This in many ways becomes a virtuous cycle.
3) Culture & Social Capital
Many management consulting firms have “strong cultures,” or cultures with very clearly and defined descriptions around norms, behaviors, ways of working, language, workflows, expectations, etc. In many respects, this is necessary because you have to work on teams with diverse people, oftentimes who you have never worked with or met before. Having a tightly defined culture in a large organization ensures consistency and standards that allow people to work together and build trust fast and maximize all of the talent and potential on the team.
This is usually baked in norms as well as expectations about topics like mentoring, training, asking for help, making time to learn and upskill, and sharing knowledge and information. A few examples of how this comes to life:
An organization that values training and learning time,, so much so that if you as a leader try to interrupt your employee’s training time, you will get reprimanded
Being able to “reach out” to someone inside of your organization who you have never met before, and having them give you 30 minutes of your time to ask a question or get advice on how to handle a situation
Having systems of knowledge management in place to help people find documents, deliverables and artifacts that can be reused and repurposed
Internal communities of people who share a similar interest or set of skills to collaborate, mentor and support each other
4) Rewards and Performance Management
There is an expectation at many firms that in order to advance and to move up in the organization you must have demonstrated an ability to mentor and grow other people. Going back to point #1, consulting firms are people-businesses. Great leaders grow the business, which means that great leaders in theory should be growing people. At a certain point, before you can get promoted to the next level,, you must have a demonstrated track record that you are actually someone who is investing in developing others, whether that be in mentoring, training, or any other sorts of people development efforts. Before you go up for Partner/Managing Director, the Partner/MD Committee will often interview junior practitioners to validate whether or not this individual is someone who is actively mentoring and growing other people.
But even if you aren’t going up for promotion, the nature of the work incentizes forward thinking managers and leaders to mentor and apprentice others. Consulting works on a pyramid model - and the more that you can teach and coach others to do, the more it actually frees you up to take on other priorities.
What this also does, is it encourages others, even those who are not necessarily in positions of formal power, to mentor, coach, train, and help other people, partially because people want to do this, but partially because people see that it’s something that the culture values and that leadership rewards.
5) Some X-Factor
I don’t have a name for this yet, but something I have found from my experience working in consulting firms and training a lot of leaders and managers in consulting firms is that there is an X-factor in certain individuals who work in these firms that often comes to life where people are genuinely interested in things like sharing knowledge and ideas, connecting with other people, supporting and helping others achieve their potential, and contributing and working on something that serves a greater purpose. Maybe it’s just the type of person who wants to work at these companies who wants to learn, or maybe it’s because if you work in client service there is a people and service oriented approach you just need to have, but these individuals, just have a sense of “People Smarts” and the ability to work well with others, as well as the ability to share knowledge, connect the dots, and bring the best out of everyone they work with. This in turn, creates that culture of mentorship and learning. (Note: if this is you and it resonates, let me know..)
Mentorship happens when you have people who believe in sharing their knowledge and experiences to unleash the full potential of the people in your organization. That is less defined by where it happens, and more defined by the values, norms, and people who play a role within it.
So maybe the lesson is that instead of thinking about mentoring and learning in the context of where it happens, and more about what kind of people exist in your organization, and how you can tap into them to unleash the creativity, innovation, and productivity of others, regardless of where they sit.
2.Podcast Playlists on Talent and People Development
Searching for podcasts is still kind of a cluster, as is growing a podcast (the two are related) Since I host two podcasts, I spend a lot of time preparing and researching by listening to other podcasts to find guests, ideas for shows, and ways to interview guests.
I decided to try to solve these issues by putting together a few Spotify playlists on topics that I’m currently researching and interviewing guests about so others could find value and not have to spend hours searching. Below are three playlists, which feature a diversity of podcast and podcast episodes. Hopefully you not only will find some good listens but maybe even a few new podcasts to add to the rotation.
If these resonate with you, please let me know as I hope to do more of this in the future.
If you’re looking for some help for your learning and development, team meetings or professional development for next year, I’d love to work with you: Here is how I might be able to assist:
Team Trainings & Professional Development: Happy to facilitate training or professional development opportunity for your team & organization - common topics include: career development, influence without authority, effective relationship building, and stakeholder management
Support Your Offsites & Meetings: Speak or facilitate at your team’s offsite. Need a guide to facilitate or speak at an upcoming offsite, QBR or all hands? Happy to engage here.
Leadership & Learning Programs: Formal training and leadership development in your company, such as new manager or new leader training, or skill-based programs.
Feel free to contact me directly for more details!
Have a great week!