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Podcast: The Role of Mentorship in Career Advancement

Podcast with Ashley K. Taylor, D.B.A., Faculty Member, School of Business and
Linda Beach, Business Coach

COVID-19 has profoundly impacted the business world in many ways. But what impact has COVID-19 had on mentoring programs and relationships? In this podcast, APU business professor Dr. Ashley Taylor talks to Linda Beach about her experience participating in both informal and formal mentoring relationships during her 30-year career.

Start a management degree at American Public University.

Learn about the most successful approaches to matching mentors and mentees and the importance of aligning personal and organizational goals, as well as common mistakes organizations make in their formal mentoring programs. Also learn how the shift to teleworking has impacted mentoring relationships and what organizational leaders must be doing to ensure this critical professional development strategy continues to help them develop knowledgeable, competent, and confident employees.

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Read the Transcript

Dr. Ashley Taylor: I’m Dr. Ashley Taylor. During this episode, we’re going to explore mentorship and its role in organizational development and transformation.

Mentorship is a multifaceted concept. I discovered some of the nuances of the mentor-mentee relationship while I was interviewing some of my research subjects during my doctoral program. And their experiences made me want to delve deeper into understanding mentorship relationships and their impact on an organization and the stakeholders within it.

I framed the mentorship interaction in the 1970s, relational-cultural theory, which still rings true today. And there are several key outcomes derived from that mentorship relationship. Some of them are the relationship effect, relational competence, personal and professional learning growth and development, organizational performance, and there are also non-work outcomes.

I’m pleased to introduce today’s guest, Linda Beach, and she’s here to share some of her personal mentoring experiences and current observations. Linda has over 30 years of experience in industry and government, in both small business and Fortune 500 organizations and in academia.

She’s been actively involved in mentorship programs in all of these areas. Her success as an outstanding mentor has been acknowledged by many and the academic and career success of many has been credited to her personal mentoring. Thanks for joining me, Linda.

Linda Beach: Good morning, Dr. Taylor. First, I’d like to say that your research was excellent on this topic, and I think it brings out a lot of issues. Today, we might discuss a little bit about how current some of those issues are in mentoring employees in all sectors.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Sure. We can explore all of that. I’d like to know, just to get a little foundation, how you define mentorship. And then we’ll explore some of the different types of mentorship that you’ve been involved in and you’ve seen in different organizations.

Linda Beach: Basically, there’s many types of mentoring, but we look at it academically from a professional activity perspective. In reality, a lot more goes on in the background.

It has to be a trust relationship in both parties have to have a commitment. And this commitment, I think, is what drives the personal relationship with mentors and mentees.

One mistake that I see a lot of times is that organizations will sign up a person to do on-the-job training and they call that mentoring programs, and it really isn’t. The different types then I see, as you have this formal organizational mentoring program that is normally present in large organizations and even the military.

For example, the Marines has an excellent documented mentoring program. The formal organization is basically the organization assigning a mentor or multiple mentors to help the younger or new, inexperienced employee kind of progress through the organization.

There has been a lot of issues with that. Mainly, it’s the mentor has not been relieved of any responsibilities. And of course, if they are, that kind of negates any of the benefits of the mentorship. There’s a time issue there as a mentee goes through the program.

The other issue is that it is often very political in the sense that the mentor that’s been assigned has been assigned power structure within the organization and how good or bad that power structure is depends on how good the mentee will really perform in the program.

The second type, which I think we’re seeing more and more of with the internet generation, is the network mentoring. And this is where you get together with known people and basically with the same interests. And basically, you network and focus on skills, what certification you might need to obtain certain jobs, and even job opportunities. It still doesn’t get into that personal skills, the soft skills that a mentee needs to have to be successful.

And there’s also simply the ones that’s requested, where an employee will look at a certain person and go, “Wow, I want to be just like that when I grow up in the organization.” An individual might approach someone to be a mentor.

And the problems with that, of course, is it possibly could conflict with the employee’s line of supervision, it could possibly conflict with the other managers. And basically, it doesn’t always have meaningful promotional opportunities in an organization.

I see the three types. I have seen the three types — the formal organization, the networking from an individual perspective and the request at once from the individual perspective.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: And when you’ve seen those types of interactions take place, has it been clearly defined that this is the type of mentorship that’s taking place? Does it really depend on the outcome that’s expected?

Linda Beach: I think in all cases, particularly when you realize that the formal organization of mentoring programs is typically done in [a] large organization. I think you will see it goal-oriented, based on the organizational goals. We might see — and we have seen — the lack of personal growth that a mentee could receive from such a program.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Within those programs, what are the key things that you would say creates a good mentorship program?

Linda Beach: I think it’s a trusted relationship and it’s got… a mentor has to be trusted. In other words, if you’re assigned to a mentee, you cannot go and tell the higher-ups that somebody messed up. And on the other hand, the mentee can’t be running around the organization saying, “This person stinks. I got a really bad mentor.”

I think it’s really the trust relationship and that both parties have a commitment to achieve. I have seen mentees that will reject every single suggestion that a mentor has. And that might be a diversity gap between ages or even cultural backgrounds.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: How do you think the best way to pair the mentor and mentee? Do you think that that person should select their own based on their desired outcomes or be assigned? How do you think that the best way to define who’s going to be the mentor?

Linda Beach: I think what I have seen is regardless what the organization assigns to an individual, they will still look for like personalities to kind of guide them through the workplace and personal challenges that they face. Even though you get a personal mentor in the workforce, what you’ll find is that the energetic employee that really wants to succeed and prosper will look for like cultural and trusted, as well as respected, individuals and try to get that personal relationship for mentoring.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: I think that’s important. I also wanted to highlight the point that the mentor really needs to try and ascertain what the mentee needs. I think that’s important because the relationship, sometimes they’re organic. You’ll be paired with your mentor, not so much assigned, but like you said, you find somebody with personality traits that you can get along with or have done things that you would also like to do. But I think that it’s really important that even though the mentee may identify that person, that potential mentor really needs to listen and find out what the mentee needs.

Linda Beach: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. One of the important things — and this will be written down in formal mentorships where the goals are defined — and that’s the gap I often see where it’s organizational goal-oriented and not particularly aimed at the mentee’s personal goals.

I think it’s important for a mentor to understand the goals, basically for the relationship, and then work together to achieve them. I think that’s very, very important, that the mentor has to not only listen to what is expected from the mentee, but they have to lead that mentee towards those goals.

And what I’ve seen, particularly as a mentor myself, is that the employee, or sometimes it’s not even an employee, but there’s fears. “Can I do this? Those people are mean. They don’t relate to me.” There’s fears of speaking up and being confident and building that confidence.

And I think the main important thing is failure. I think that in mentoring, one thing that has to be understood is that everybody fails. It’s not so bad to make a mistake. What’s so bad is that you don’t know how to correct it.

Guiding through the fears, the failure, gaining the confidence, that’s something that comes out through working together at working together and understanding the goals of the individual mentee. That’s a very good point, Dr. Taylor.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: I also wanted to explore maybe the formality of the mentorship program. As you’re going through the program with the mentor and the mentee, you also want to take a minute to pause and assess the benefit of the relationship. Because even as you go through the program, could have been a good fit at the start, but as you’re going back and reassessing the goals and the outcomes, some things may need to change. What do you think about going back through that program and reassessing?

Linda Beach: The individual assessment or the organizational assessment?

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Well, I think both are necessary, in my opinion.

Linda Beach: Absolutely.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: The mentee has to be able to really benefit from the relationship, and that can demonstrate itself in both the personal and professional outcomes. But then there’s also the thoughts of the organization as to how that relationship has been beneficial to them.

Linda Beach: I think the assessment for an organization — and this is a problem that I have seen through the years — any assessment done by an organization — and we just have to be honest about this — there are expectations that a mentee will contribute not only currently, but has the ability to do so in the future.

Not everybody gets a mentor, and there are very high expectations typically in an organization when a person enters a mentorship program. I think one of the things through the assessment of an organization is basically: Have you contributed? And if so, have you met the goals that we expected you to accomplish in this mentorship? I think what we’ll see from a formal organizational point of view is basically a productivity goal-oriented assessment.

What I think we typically miss is what did you gain from the mentorship? The leadership there is in many areas, and it should be a partnership and it’s not. I see assessments as basically, and historically, in my experience, as not being an assessment of how did the mentee or the mentor gain, but basically how did the organization gain.

A good mentor will sit down with a mentee many times and talk about those three areas of personal needs — the challenges, the fears, the failures — what happens if I don’t make it and build that confidence. I don’t see formal organizations focused on the individual gain, just on the organizational gain.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Right. And so now that we’ve set the foundation of our conversation about mentorship and the experiences that you’ve had and that you’ve seen in other organizations and in organizations as a whole. Let’s talk about what mentorship is going to look like in our new normal.

What I mean by that is clearly we’re in the throes of the pandemic right now. COVID-19 has really changed the world of work, and the mentor relationships that were developed before we were in this constant change may not necessarily be as beneficial right now. How do you think that mentorship, how do you think that fits into the new world of work?

Linda Beach: I think we have a gap. Some of the things that I’ve done personally as a mentor, I make sure that the individual goes to meetings with me, prepares presentations, perhaps gives part of them. I show them my toolbox full of tools and techniques to do analysis. I take them to company social activities, and basically discuss constantly how to do ethical decision making and point out ethical behaviors and the limits that they might face.

I’ve had an enormous amount of opportunity to follow up with individuals, both in the workplace and through telecommunications. I can guide individuals through change.

And that is often upsetting to individuals because you’ve learned this way and all of a sudden their organization is doing something another way. This flexibility of numerous components that a mentor can take a mentee through is not going to be there anymore.

What I see as the new normal is the — and most of the workforce has gone to teleworking, so their work is behind a screen. And this has not only caused chaos with the individual workers, but businesses have definitely had to rethink their business models and reorganize their workforce. They have to compensate for this shrinking pool of workers, either those that cannot work due to illness, those that have to stay at home, or those that simply are out of the workforce and won’t come back.

Businesses are struggling right now, and I’ve done quite a bit of personal research on what they’re doing, but they’re struggling to work with this. And on top of this, we have this recession. And they won’t have the workforce, they won’t have the numbers, they won’t have the power to get the productivity that they had in the past.

What we’re seeing is teleworking is a requirement and it’s either stay at home orders, self-imposed quarantines or simply, “Hey, I like this. I’m sitting here in my bunny slippers, and I haven’t had my hair done and I can still do my work.” A lot of people will not be willing to go back to teleworking.

We’ve seen the supply chains dwindle away and the technology infrastructure’s being stressed. And what has happened is organizations, including government, have put a great deal of money into improving this technology infrastructure.

And basically, that investment has to pay off. I personally think that businesses will stay with a large percentage of their workforce as telework.

What happens to any mentoring programs? And I think those trends are there. I mean, Google has over 200,000 workers teleworking. Other tech companies are doing the same.

Congressional members are looking at the long-term benefits of teleworking in the government. And the numbers are already out there. It’s a savings of $11 billion, so the savings are out there.

You see, on the other hand, large companies and Walmart, other retailers, Macy, they’re laying off their corporate management personnel. And this is the key: If we lay off corporate personnel and managers — and we’ve seen this happen in the ‘80s where almost all mid-managers got laid off — but if corporations lay off your middle managers, who will do the mentoring?

In particular, we have to take a look at the Boomers. Boomers have been through this several times — this layoff, the recall, the reskilling, skilling of individuals. And they’ve seen this a whole bunch of times. And truthfully, I think they’ll just say, “Quits. I’m not coming back. I am truly retiring this time.”

And we have been looking for the Boomers to retire, and they just won’t give up. And this includes myself. You don’t want to give up; you enjoy what you do. I really don’t think they’ll go back.

Not only do I not think they’ll go back, I don’t think that the companies will offer them — if they’ve been furloughed — I don’t think they’ll be the first ones to be recalled, because they’re the highest pay.

So we are losing — we have the potential to lose, I should say — a large portion with the corporate layoffs of managers and the Boomers not returning and the focus being on productivity, doing teleworking. I think we’re losing the large pool of potential mentors for the new workers or existing workers as well.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Yeah. I was just going to highlight that. You were saying how these people, they’re a wealth of knowledge that is leaving the organization. Even though the way we work has changed, we still need that knowledge base. And if they’re not coming back, they’re leaves a gap in the mentorship program.

Linda Beach: We saw this in the ‘80s when the issue was that with technology, we don’t need middle managers in corporations — IBM, all the large corporations, just laid them off. IBM, AT&T, laid off hundreds of thousands of people and that’s just to it in the group.

And they lost their corporate history. Once you lose your corporate history, you lose the ability to lead your operational personnel in the changes.

And what we found organizations doing back then was reinventing the wheel. And it’s okay to reinvent the wheel, but it should be done with improvements to that wheel. It was pretty disastrous. And I think we’re going to see the same type things, unless the organizations very quickly adjust their business models.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: With all of these changes, what do you think that means for mentors?

Linda Beach: For mentors themselves, I think it’s going to be the third type that we talked about where it’s requested. I also think that we need to watch and understand that we have a current group of employees that are network-savvy, and I think that they will do a lot of the personal networking. I don’t think that that will lead them through some of the issues of decision-making, ethical behaviors, making decisions strategically or even what I call posting for prosperity.

I think what we’ll see is mentors that have the ability to lead the individuals through the new norm, teaching empowerment or showing empowerment. Letting the mentor know you are an empowered employee; you’re teleworking, you don’t have the visibility that you might have if you’re in the office.

You’re empowered to make your decisions and how to make those decisions strategically for the organization. I think understanding empowerment is something that mentors will have to really impress on individuals in the future.

The other thing is the branding. We’re good at branding on the internet. We’re very good at that. Unfortunately, we’re not very…it’s sometimes we post for aggravation and frustration and so forth. I think the new mentor has to show that basically you need to clean that up and post for business prosperity, because branding is what’s going to be very important in the future.

I have seen…and I suspect that we’ll see it. I don’t know what degree we will be able to observe it, but I believe that in the past companies did not bring back these unemployed individuals, the laid-off or the furloughed.

What they did was bring them back as contract workers. And if this happens, the individual mentors have to understand how that works.

Branding an individual, both online, resume-wise and so forth, and networking as well, is something that the mentor has to understand and be able to lead, and I’m not sure current mentors have that ability. That’s something mentors have to basically look at as well.

I think the other thing is personal challenges, and this is something that formal mentors haven’t really focused on in the past. The new normal you talked about involves more than COVID.

We’ve got a bunch of stressed-out employees. They’re sitting at home. They have to meet productivity goals. They’re expected to be online at a certain time. Some of the telework agreements require that you’re not a caregiver for children, parents, dogs, pets. Basically, they cannot meet that requirement.

Organizations probably will change that going forward, but basically, employees are stressed out about that. They’re worried about their children, parents, their own health, and they’re worried about recession. “How am I going to pay the bills? How long will I have this job?” And putting everything in the correct priority is currently very hard for most people today.

I think part of the mentor’s responsibility will be — and this is hard for anybody to give advice on these challenges — but basically motivating the individual mentee away from these personal challenges and how to deal with them. I think the interaction with the mentor has to be a little bit more than what we’ve seen in the past.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: With all of the changes, do you think that maybe the mentorship relationships or the necessity of mentorship within the organization kind of gets lost?

Linda Beach: I do.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Because the organization itself may be scrambling and not giving that focus to developing employees while they’re just trying to stay above water.

Linda Beach: This is an area that academics can help in very much. I do think the mentorship program will have to be redefined if even it’s reengaged. But I think the importance is that managers don’t know how to manage teleworkers they don’t know how to manage remote groups.

We’ve seen some discussions on this, but we have not seen the tie-in with organizational groups to this training of managers and academic programs. By that, I simply mean that a manager cannot just manage for productivity. They have to keep their employees engaged. They have to make sure they’re okay.

And this is something most managers kind of run away from. “I don’t want to know you; I don’t want to know your personal problems. I just want the numbers.”

Getting away from just focusing on the numbers and basically bringing the groups together to collaborate and also just a checkup. “Are you okay? Do you have everything you need? What are your challenges today?”

And I’ve seen that implemented in a telework program with a small company, where the entire organization, which was very small, had to get together, and basically, talk about what was going on in their life. What are the babies doing?

And at first I thought, “I can’t do this. This takes too much time. I have to meet these goals.” But the priority was really put on the employee’s wellbeing by the managers and president and supposed to particularly meet in the numbers.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Do you think that sometimes within the organization, the lines between manager and mentor are not clearly defined?

Linda Beach: I do.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: It can be a challenge, because you try to lump all of that into one person. And just like you mentioned, the manager may be focused on the outcomes rather than the employee, and it’s hard to juggle the two.

Linda Beach: That’s business, and we’re going to see that. And we have seen that where the people teleworking today, if you read the literature that’s out there and there’s no formal studies, except for one that I found.

But if you read the literature that’s out there now, the praise of teleworking is they’re meeting their numbers. They’re being productive. They’re actually being more productive. And the focus will be on that.

The primary goal — or primary responsibility, I should say — of a business is to maximize the wealth of the shareholders. And the focus will always be on that bottom line. We can criticize it. We can write essays on it or research it, but the heart of a business is the bottom line.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: And to reach that bottom line and to continue to remain productive, you got to take care of the people.

Linda Beach: Yes. And I think we’ll also will be struggling, and so will the mentors with diversity, as far as age groups go and some of the other issues. If you’re behind a screen, the organization doesn’t really know your age, they know your gender, basically if your name reflects that.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: Maybe.

Linda Beach: Maybe, exactly, and nationality. You are a worker as opposed to an individual. How do we handle things like this? Basically, it might be mentoring towards…and let’s just use women as an example.

During recessions, women are the first ones basically — and this is based on a study from two individuals — but women are the first ones to be laid off and the last ones to be recalled. And the ones that are recalled are basically the younger ones.

If we look at this type of official discrimination — and by that I mean you simply can’t prove discrimination because there’s a guideline that they’re applying to the whole organization — but it’s there and it cannot easily be identified.

Will we even have an issue of discrimination either for age or gender or nationality, because you’re behind the screen? I think that’s a possibility if you continue with the online meetings, like with Zoom and things like that.

And then even that becomes an issue. I had an employee tell me that they couldn’t go online, because they had an abusive spouse and they didn’t want any possibility of them being exposed to the location and so forth. I don’t know how many of those cases we’ll have, but I think people will start resenting some of these online meetings.

There’s already a host of material and jokes on Zoom meetings out on the internet. But how much that cultural resistance will have an effect, I don’t know. But we certainly know that we will have another issue tracking any workplace discrimination and how mentors can guide towards that.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: It’s clear that this pandemic has changed many different aspects of the way we have worked in the past, how we will be required to work now and in the future, and the different challenges that will arise. I also think that it’s important that, as hard as it may be, you have to remember the importance of that mentorship. We have to make sure that we’re not only taking care of those employees, that like you just mentioned behind the screen, but you have these leaders that are overwhelmed.

And they are overwhelmed with the task of, like you mentioned, keeping these people empowered and engaged and connected even, since we are all spread out and we’re in our own remote locations. I think we need to re-examine the business model and all that it entails.

Linda Beach: I agree. As you said, though, industry is overwhelmed. We need someone to lead in this area.

I think the guidelines have to be set down for all sectors of the economy. And I don’t think at this time that organizations have the ability or resources to even research some of these issues, as far as empowering, leading, and mentoring employees. I think this area is going to have to be covered by academics.

And that’s one of the reasons that I was considering, right, doing the study myself. But who has the time to do this? I think academics could contribute to industry, government, individual employee guidelines and policies, not particularly as—and this would be a different approach for academics—but we’re not saying the data says this and therefore A or B has to occur.

I think what the academics can do is do the research or surveys, both of managers, the employees, and mentors themselves. This would involve several sectors of academics. It’s the psychological effects of “Oh, I’m home. And I don’t know what’s going to happen to me.”

Linda Beach: And I think that you’re covering business and economics. I think that this research has to cover the psychological effect. And I think research has to make recommendations for toolkits, for employees that will lead them to, basically, proper tools for them to use when and if they get a mentor. I always want to say for mentorship. And right now, we don’t know if that’s going to exist.

But I think academics can guide this. And I think they have to. No one else has the resources.

What’s important is that some type of almost round-table recommendation comes out of any such research that basically says, “This is a proposal and organizations, government, and whatever can follow these guidelines, more or less a checklist, whereas an organization, we can do that, we can’t do this.” But I think academics can provide those guidelines.

And this is a little different type of research because it doesn’t necessarily have to come up with a conclusion. But it does necessarily have to come up with a model for mentorship and guidance for the new norm.

It’s very important. How do we mentor home employees? And if we stay with the bottom line, which I suspect we will, managers will not only not have the time due to the pool of skilled employees not being there, but they’re going to be focused on the bottom line. I think we need this mentorship program.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: You think you want to wrap up in this area?

Linda Beach: Sure. What I would recommend, and I don’t know how you work this, but I would recommend that you try to guide this. Your podcast would definitely lead to possibly a round table of these academics in the different sectors and come up with some definitive research categories and perhaps even find the time to do the surveys and the results.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: There’s several fine faculty that just come to my mind right now in the areas of psychology and economics, and even human resources in the areas of diversity and inclusion. There’s many different facets of the organization that need to be explored to make sure that these mentorship programs are being developed and are actually being offered to employees. And we have a wealth of faculty here that can really bring their heads together, as you stated, in that round-table type of discussion and come up with some really key recommendations.

Linda Beach: I think that’s a great idea, because like I said, we’re just rolling along. It’s one crisis after another in the United States.

And I think a significant point here is that this isn’t just a U.S. problem. This is an international problem. Like I said, supply chains are dwindling, and they’re dwindling because we have a global problem. We have the pandemic and we have recessions, and governments and the industry just are overwhelmed. I think it would be a great concept to just round-table this in the future.

Dr. Ashley Taylor: I agree. I want to thank you for taking the time to join us today on this podcast. Your knowledge and experience is invaluable, and I really appreciate you sharing that with us.

Linda Beach: It’s always a pleasure, Dr. Taylor.

About the Speakers

Dr. Ashley Taylor is an Assistant Professor in the School of Business at American Public University. She has a D.B.A. from Northcentral University and a M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. She has been a full-time faculty member at American Public University since 2008 and has spent over 14 years in higher education administration and management.

Linda Beach has 35+ years of experience working with Fortune 500 companies and large government agencies. She is a trained facilitator with expertise in group dynamics and interaction. Linda is a passionate educator and has been involved with academic institutions, holding positions from senior administrator roles to adjunct faculty. During her career, Linda has been involved in mentoring programs in large and small organizations, mentored young entrepreneurs, and led students to achieve academic and personal goals. She maintains lifelong mentoring relationships with several individuals. 

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