Mentorship to Up-Skill and Re-Skill Your Workforce: Interview with Daisy Hernandez

Twomentor — which shares bi-weekly thought leadership from phenomenal executives and social entrepreneurs focused on a multi-generational workforce, social impact entrepreneurship, mentoring cultures, sponsorship and elevating women in their careers — talks with Daisy Hernandez, global vice president of Product Management, Enterprise Collaboration, for SAP Labs.

A recent PricewaterhouseCooper study states that 98% of millennials believe working with a mentor is a necessary component in their career development.

Q: Where do you see companies most struggling these days in terms of workplace transformation?

A: Many businesses know that change management is a necessary part of workplace transformation, but the complexity and challenge of change management is often underestimated. The first challenge is knowing what you’re changing to. Once you have determined that vision, moving your entire workforce around it is no small task.

In addition to changing business models, you also have to take a look at whether you have the right workforce in place. You need to look at what kind of training, development and mentorship it will take to up-skill or re-skill your workforce. Planning for all that is especially difficult because you can only plan for it so much; you need to be flexible and adapt based on the evolving needs of your employees.

While businesses want to change and want to do it quickly, managing the pace of change is a highly nuanced and critically important factor. You have to determine scalable ways to implement change or the process will be endless – and by the time you change it will be time to change again. However, going too fast can leave parts of the workforce behind. This all hinges on change management, which can make or break a successful workplace transformation.

I’m really impressed with your passion for mentoring.  You mentioned that there is always a shortage of mentors, not mentees. Can you elaborate?

The need for mentors in the workplace is only increasing. In fact, a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study states that 98% of millennials believe working with a mentor is a necessary component in their career development. Since learning is a constant across all levels of people’s carriers, there will always be a larger number of people who want or need to be mentored vs. available mentors. This is also the case because usually someone becomes a mentor because they have had a lot of time in their role, or have spent years honing a particular skill. Additionally, when looking for a mentor, people want the best and will be vying for the most experience and skilled or highest performing experts.

Lastly, it’s one thing to have a skill; it’s another thing to teach it. Not everyone is cut out to be a mentor and not everyone wants to be a mentor. Mentorship is a skill in and of itself, and this narrows the number of available mentors even further.

Where do you feel mentorship best fits into an employee development cycle?

While mentorship is often thought of as most necessary at the start of a career, it fits into all career phases. Statistics show that mentoring can increase managerial productivity by 88% when managers are involved in a corporate mentorship program, as compared to only a 24% increase when managers received only training but no mentorship. There is no such thing as a “bad” time to be with or without a mentor, and the types of mentors people will need will evolve over time. For example, as your needs change and there are new things you want to learn, it may be necessary to seek mentors outside of your organization.

You don’t necessarily need to have a mentor throughout your entire career – in fact, you should not have a mentor just for the sake of having one. For a mentor/mentee relationship to be beneficial, the mentee needs to know why they need a mentor and what their goals are. Otherwise, you run a high risk of wasting both peoples’ time.

I shared with you that many companies have the ‘nice to have or have to have’ debate on mentoring — what are your thoughts?

Many studies have shown that having a mentoring program in place correlates with a higher retention rate; this is just one example of why mentoring is a must. If a company is really serious about making a workplace change, I don’t see how you could do it without leveraging the expertise you already have within your walls. Any change management plan that does not include mentoring as a factor is missing a key puzzle piece and will see much more growing pains.

You are an expert in collaboration, how do we strengthen mentoring and engagement with an increasing remote workforce?

Using collaboration technologies opens the floodgates of possibilities. It opens new doors to matching mentors and mentees that aren’t in the same location or even time zone. It can also facilitate 1: many mentorship, which can significantly improve scalability. Using online communities to share feedback or ask advice from mentors can also make mentorship more accessible to more people within an organization.

It is also possible to use collaboration solutions to find influencers within the organization. Online communities can uncover experts and advice that may never have been shared otherwise, from people who may not even realize they are a good mentor.

Tell us about SAP Jam and the new mentoring software SAP launched?

SAP has a history of accelerating business processes as we know speed is of the essence for businesses of all kinds. Our latest mentoring technology came from us taking a look at how we could provide a solution for customers to help with mentor/mentee matching and connecting virtual workspaces.

In August 2017, SAP Jam brought new collaboration capabilities to mentoring programs with a new in-user interface integration with SAP SuccessFactors Succession & Development. SAP Jam makes it easy for employees to share their knowledge and experiences and enables them to connect and engage in new ways, by automating the process of providing private mentoring groups and virtual workspaces after they’ve been intelligently matched. SAP Jam’s technology also streamlines the management, communication, and coordination of these programs.

Are there any early metrics of success? What’s the demand out there?

The demand for mentorship programs is steadily increasing as businesses start to identify mentoring as a key factor in employee engagement and retention. The growing presence of millennials in the workplace is also feeding this: according to Deloitte, millennials planning to stay with their employer for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68 percent) than not (32 percent).

Most of our customers blend peer-to-peer learning with mentoring, and our customers see the most success with sustained use of mentoring programs.

Are there any case studies you want to share?

In 2015, half of SAP customer Sargeant and Lundy’s workforce became eligible for retirement. These employees had a huge amount of knowledge about the business and were masters of many processes and programs. Before these valued employees started to retire, the organization used SAP Jam to capture as much information from them as possible before, so that they could use these experts as a virtual mentor long after they left the company. This included capturing both business knowledge and experiences in story form. By gathering so much of the information that was in experts’ heads in a format that is easy for current and future employees to access and review, the company was able to keep that knowledge in the organization long after the experts retired.

Last question: Do you have a mentor or mentee you’d like to share about? 

One of my recent mentees was someone I had no organizational ties to, but she approached me and asked what I did and if I could be her mentor. She was in a developer role and wanted to go into project management and wanted a mentor to help her make this move. I shared with her that you can’t just go from a developer to a project manager role without some history and gave her homework to look at what project managers typically do and what the requirements for these roles are. Once she identified the requirements, I asked her to find ways to develop the skillsets she did not already have in her current role. She looked for initiatives and projects within her own role that would help her to develop project manager skills and also took some external classes.

As a mentor, I primarily asked a lot of questions. I believe that the responsibility for career development is very much on the mentee. In this case, my mentee knew her goal but not how to get there and used me as a sounding board. Mentorship is most effective when the mentee has a clear goal and takes responsibility for their development, using their mentor as a guide and sounding board.

In another instance, someone who asked to be my mentee wanted to know how to get promoted. She was looking at her career development as a checklist of what to do in order to get a reward at the end. If you are looking to be associated with a certain level, rather than to develop skills or improve yourself as a professional, you will not have as much luck working with a mentor.

In the first example, the mentee had a very clear goal, knew what she needed, sought a mentor and owned her career development. If you’re not clear on what you actually want from a mentor and are not willing to take on responsibility for your growth, it’s likely that you will not experience the true value of working with a mentor.

Julie Silard Kantor is CEO of  TwoMentor.

This article was first published on Medium.