Mentors, key to improving competitiveness within companies

Photo: Nick Karvounis / Unsplash
16/01/2017
Nereida Carrillo

New entrepreneurs and new workers are searching for points of reference to act as role models and encourage them to develop their professional careers. These key figures are mentors, professionals who, although they hail from historical models associated with learning, are a new and growing phenomenon in business. Joan Torrent, professor with the UOC's Faculty of Economics and Business, will compare the relationship mentors have with those they are mentoring or their protgs with the relationship traditionally enjoyed between "teacher and student in the education sphere, or apprentice and master in industry". Mentoring is being introduced into Catalan and Spanish companies as a way of increasing worker productivity and ensure that the company operates smoothly.

Gina Aran, Course Instructor on the UOC's University Master's Degree in Human Resources Administration and Management, defines this phenomenon as "a process whereby a person, who has experience, provides a point of reference and tutors or guides another person so that they develop in a certain specific aspect or overall". Aran and Torrent stress that for the model to be a success, an interpersonal relationship based on trust between the mentor and the person they will be guiding is essential, trust that needs building and strengthening. "The efficiency of the exchange is related to a trust threshold that is usually associated with the time that the two parties are linked," says Torrent. For her part, the professor Gina Aran says that for the exchange to be productive, the mentor has to take an interest in the person they are helping, "their needs, who they are and what they want".

Joan Torrent goes on to say that "the upsurge in mentoring in entrepreneurship" is linked to the fact that there is a growing "need for collective and collaborative entrepreneurship". This means that given how complex it is to push forward a project in a difficult context of today's world where knowledge of many wide-ranging fields is required, new entrepreneurs and workers cannot do it on their own and they need the support and wisdom of successful veterans.


Involved and available

Although mentors tend to be experienced figures, with a significant career behind them, younger generations can also sometimes be the ones to advise more experienced workers in areas such as digital skills. Both to be a mentor or a mentee, and irrespective of age, certain skills and abilities are required. According to Aran, mentors "must be experienced, have a great sense of responsibility and be closely involved with the organization". She also says that they must have "a great deal of empathy", they must be "willing to collaborate in the development of others and be readily available". "Mentors must provide support, inspiration and set an example," says Aran.

Following on from this, the professor Joan Torrent adds: "People who are mentored value experience in similar initiatives very positively, as well as the social networks of their mentors in order to get to know the necessary people and organizations to help resolve specific problems." Not only do these new teachers need to have skills, but the learners must also fulfil certain specific characteristics. Gina Aran says: "The attitude of the person being mentored, or the mentee, must be one of learning, of working and of being highly receptive." Aran says that at some point learners must be able to go it alone: "Mentoring is a long process, but it has a start and an end. There should be no dependency created between mentor and mentee."


Intergenerational transfer

Experts all agree that mentoring in business is growing as a model to help improve competitiveness and the transfer of intergenerational knowledge and between the different waves of workers. The model could be useful at different stages, "when carrying out entrepreneurship and business consolidation projects and when a young executive enters an organization," says Torrent. Applying mentoring to a company or organization is easy: pair off mentors with mentees, train the former, set objectives and assess the results of the process.

Aran says that the work method between these pairings needs to be established: the frequency of meetings, assigning challenges, etc. Trust, methodical and continuous work and active listening are some of the key requirements for the mentoring model to work. In this sense, Joan Torrent says: "This relationship of trust must work and, therefore, break down the psychological, cultural and language barriers that often put the brakes on the relationship or even destroy it."


Greater productivity for companies

The model has reported benefits for mentors and mentees, as well as the companies and organizations where it has been implemented. "Senior mentors have contact with modern technology and new forms of consumption and junior mentees acquire knowledge and skills linked to market experience and knowledge of organizations," says Torrent. Aran says that mentees "develop their professional career, improve performance", while mentors improve their "communication skills", such as knowing how to listen, expressing themselves accurately and asking the right questions. She goes on to add: "Mentoring is useful for companies from the strategic point of view, as it helps them grow and retain talent."

Although mentoring is being introduced into companies and organizations, experts say that there are still barriers slowing down the generalization of this model. Torrents says that, in order for the environment to be conducive to the development of this type of process, "prior collaboration cultures need to be established", something that has yet to happen in certain companies that are "traditional, not particularly flexible, decentralized and vertical". Therefore, in our more immediate environment, mentoring still has a long way to go. Torrent explains that in the English-speaking world, "where new companies tend to be based in collaborative contexts and relationship links with external agents, mentoring does not have so many initial barriers as in Mediterranean contexts, where the culture of collaboration is not so well established".