Personalized career development is no longer a perk for the privileged few at the top. An intelligent mentoring app called Ellen matches mentors and mentees from all levels of the organization.
Launched by San Francisco-based NextPlay.ai, the Ellen app is popular with a growing number of major companies worldwide, including in the U.S. and Asia.
“Digital business is hyper-connected, yet people are increasingly siloed. Using our mentorship app, companies can build one-on-one human relationships at scale, whether it’s for career planning, cross-functional conversations, or creating communities,” said Charu Sharma, co-founder and CEO of NextPlay.ai. “You don’t need external resources. You’re tapping into your own people to provide mentoring.”
Mentors Change Lives and the Business
The Ellen app is tailor-made for a new generation of workers who want more feedback and growth opportunities. Sharma said that after six months of using Ellen, mentees at one company improved their career path clarity by 118 percent.
For companies, mentoring can boost succession planning, diversity and inclusion efforts, and employee retention. Employees at one organization were 25 percent more likely to strongly recommend working at their company after six months of participating in the program. Another customer identified a multi-million-dollar business opportunity after Ellen linked a mentee in product development with the director of sales.
“Our scalable engine connected these two employees who otherwise would never had met,” said Sharma. “When your people talk, innovation happens.”
Unlike traditional manual mentoring tools, the machine learning algorithm generates better matches at a massive scale by factoring in numerous, individualized parameters.
“Goals aren’t always about someone’s next career move. Someone going on maternity leave might be matched with a mentor who has children,” she said. “Location will be important to someone who prefers in-person contact.”
Shared Passion to Give People Opportunities
Sharma viewed NextPlay.ai as a way to uplift workforces in every industry in an era of fundamental change and uncertainty.
“I grew up in India and women in our family weren’t allowed to work, making equal access to career opportunities very important to me,” said Sharma.
After graduating from Mount Holyoke College and joining a prominent cloud-based business service, Sharma realized that women, people of color, and others lacked the same career development opportunities as men. One mentor changed her life.
“Monthly coaching from my mentor helped me do well and transition to a better role,” she said. “I realized how mentoring can help anyone who feels excluded, so I started a mentoring program.”
Sharma’s epiphany came when the number of potential mentors exceeded mentees. She launched NextPlay.ai with Co-Founder and CTO Nawar Nory to tap the tremendous power of mentors across every organization.
Mentoring App Goes Where You Are
The Ellen app keeps mentorship conversations going with personalized nudges. The chatbot seamlessly connects to data in existing daily tools, like mobile devices, email, and calendars. After a meeting is scheduled, Ellen recommends discussion topics. If weeks go by without any activity in the app, Ellen sends reminders with potential meeting times based on calendar availability for both people. Following every meeting, Ellen asks how it went, sharing feedback immediately with the mentor.
“Many people don’t understand what mentorship is. It’s very common for mentees not to engage after a first conversation,” said Sharma. “The app provides a personalized structure and guidance so users can have quality conversations.”
Using data from the Ellen app, companies can learn more about employee expectations, such as skills development gaps or career aspirations. Data can help identify strengths of mentors too, potentially multiplying their contribution.
Inclusive Support and Business Leads
NextPlay.ai was among the HR startups that recently participated in the SAP.iO Foundry San Francisco. As a veteran of Silicon Valley accelerator programs, Sharma found this experience uniquely supportive.
“We received customized attention that addressed our needs,” she said. “It helped us generate over 30 introductions to new potential customers. We also learned about the enterprise buying space. For example, with guidance from SAP cybersecurity experts, we created documentation that helped us close a deal with a security-conscious prospect. Now we’re ready to sell to similar, regulated industries.”
Sharma appreciated the large number of women involved in the .iO Foundries program: “Having women running this program who were personally invested in helping us succeed was so valuable.”
Besides development tools, SAP.iO Foundries works with startups building solutions that incorporate new technologies, including mobile microlearning and artificial intelligence-enabled recruiting.
Meaningful People Connections at Scale
Sharma saw NextPlay.ai ideally positioned for career development today. “Buyers are ready to make investments in their people, and we have the AI technology to help them scale mentoring to everyone in the company,” she said.
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