Mentors are Key to Success and Retention

By Barbara Jaworski
Canadian organizations are facing a double dilemma.
Most of their highly experienced managers and leadership teams are KAA-Boomers (my word for Boomers who are in the midst of creating an explosive second act for their lives) who will be retiring in the next few years.
To make matters worse, there’re not enough seasoned younger employees available to step into those vacant leadership positions. The generation that follows KAA-Boomers – Gen X — is an extremely small demographic and Gen Y, the children of the KAA-Boomers now in their 20s, are highly skilled and plentiful, but they’re still many years away from assuming senior leadership positions.
But business continuity depends on good managers and great leaders so companies see just two choices – persuade their older executives to delay retirement, or replace them.
The latter means promoting promising young workers whether they’re ready or not. And most are not. In fact, the chief complaint of new managers is that their companies aren’t providing them with the support they need to succeed. 
But there is a third option – mentoring. Mentoring programs are inexpensive and easy to implement and benefit everyone – older executives, their younger successors, and the organizational bottom line!
What is mentoring?
Mentoring is not supervision. Supervision has an inherent power imbalance with an employee in a more senior position overseeing the competencies and performance of an employee in a less senior position.
Mentorship is a relationship of equals and changes over time as the mentee moves from some degree of dependence to independence. The boundaries between the personal and professional are less well defined – it’s a partnership that’s personalized to the mentee’s specific work and development needs in an environment which is supportive, non judgemental and non-competitive.
It fosters trust, facilitates the sharing of information and is based on a foundation of mutual respect.
The Benefits for KAA-Boomers

Feeling valued and having opportunities to pass on their knowledge are two of the top reasons why an older employee will delay retirement. But there are other advantages for mentors:
  • The opportunity to practise and develop their own managerial skills
  • Increased job satisfaction and enrichment
  • The chance to build wider professional networks
  • Increased corporate and industry visibility
  • Increased self-confidence
By involving key older employees in the identification and evolution of the next generation of company leaders, and giving them the role of supporting, training, and guiding those leaders, organizations are more likely to retain irreplaceable skills and knowledge.
The Benefits for Younger Employees

For younger managers, mentorship is essential to their long-term commitment to an employer and their immediate success. They know they have someone senior in their company on their side, someone who wants to help them achieve their goals.
They’re given honest feedback and are guided around procedural obstacles and pitfalls by someone who understands the game. Mentors are imparting knowledge learned through decades of experience and this speeds up the learning curb for their protégés.
And finally, the mentee’s self-confidence is enhanced as she knows she can consult with a trusted advisor and are better equipped to handle any issue or challenge that comes her way.
The benefits for Organizations

So what are the benefits for oganizations? Plenty. They include:
  • Faster, more effective transitions into senior positions
  • Retention of quality staff – young and mature
  • Enhanced transfer of knowledge and skills
  • Gains in productivity and the performance of individuals
  • Increased on-the-job learning that reduces off-job training costs
  • Better communication, commitment and motivation
  • A cost-effective method to enhance staff development and knowledge transfer
  • A stabilizing factor in times of change.
Getting Started

So how does an organization begin an effective mentorship program? There are three initial steps:

  1. Identify corporate vulnerabilities. Create an age profile of your workforce by work unit or by function. This clearly shows what areas are most at risk of losing the most employees. How old are members of the leadership team? 
  2. Identify types of knowledge at risk. Where should you focus knowledge retention efforts? Who can you not do without? Whose retirement would have a serious effect on the organization? Where are the individuals?
  3. Establish a mentorship program that teams an older senior employee with valued skills with a younger worker identified as a possible successor.
Mentorship programs are not a luxury or an attractive “add-on” to corporate strategies. They’re now essential to business continuity and future growth.  

Barbara Jaworski is the founder and CEO of the Workplace Institute, North America’s leading think tank on baby boomers in the workplace, and author two books on mature workers: KAA-Boom: How to Engage the 50-Plus Worker and Beat the Workforce Crisis; and Rebel Retirement: A KAA-Boomer’s Guide to Living and Creating an Explosive Second Act. Barbara founded the Best Employers Award for 50-Plus Canadians and is recognized as the nation’s leading expert on baby boomers in the workplace. She can be reached at