Most succession-planning efforts acknowledge the important role mentoring can play in cultivating top talent. But when it comes to programming a schema that optimizes the inherent value of mentoring, most organizations follow an antiquated model that yields modest results at best.
Many succession-planning schemas limit the use of mentoring to a top-down approach. In this model of mentoring, mentees are the successors and mentors are the incumbents within the succession chain. In some cases, mentees have no idea that they are in the line of succession. This type of process has many drawbacks and limitations. A few worth mentioning include:
• Image oriented: There is a high likelihood that the mentoring relationship will not be focused as much on learning as it is on projecting a positive image. Mentees may spend more time trying to impress the mentors than they do trying to learn. For mentoring to work, there needs to be a high level of disclosure and honesty between the parties regarding shortcomings, failures and missteps.
• Ambiguous focus: Because of the “cloaked” nature of some of these succession mentoring engagements, there is likely to be a good deal of ambiguity. Lack of clarity and direction usually cause these relationships to degrade over time into pseudo-mentoring or formal friendships, rather than live up to their potential as high-performing learning relationships. Most high performers are intuitive enough to play into the situation strictly for promotion purposes.
• Myopic perspective: In today’s global knowledge ecologies, reliance on a single perspective for professional development is simply inadequate. Successors should not be trained to repeat the success of incumbents. Instead, they should be challenged to innovate, create and collaborate to a higher level of performance than their predecessors. This is not likely to happen when one is forced to rely on a single person’s experience.
Web-based technologies have evolved to a point where a more robust application of mentoring can be leveraged to improve the effectiveness of succession plans. In this model of mentoring, successors are empowered to create vibrant knowledge networks to prepare them to ascend to higher levels of authority in the organization. They are directed to be both learner and teacher by engaging mentorship from both the mentee and mentor roles.
They also are directed to cultivate different relationships for different learning purposes. In fact, they are free to have multiple mentoring partners concurrently. Their mentoring engagements last as long as they need to and not a moment more than they are useful. Successors can access top talent across the enterprise and are encouraged to engage with people of various backgrounds and perspectives. Some include:
• Knowledge synthesis: This, in fact, is the skill of the future. With search technologies bringing us more information than we can possibly assimilate into productive action, we are more in need of the ability to merge concepts into a new, comprehensive understanding.
• On-demand learning: This is pivotal to fulfilling the knowledge-sharing needs of today’s top executives. To meet the demand, successors require highly tuned skills in cultivating multiple developmental relationships concurrently, and they need the freedom to access mentor resources.
• Global reach: This is essential for commanding mastery of top enterprises. The Web can bring the world to our desktops, yet many people still rely solely on temporary cross-cultural assignments to build this awareness. It is possible for successors to have diverse cross-cultural relationships without leaving their offices.
Organizations would be better served if they leveraged technology to broaden the depth and breadth of mentoring within succession planning. Potential successors seeking to advance in the organization need to learn how to create and maintain an ever-expanding network of knowledge-sharing relationships. These expanded knowledge networks and learning connections benefit the organization as whole, not just the aspiring leaders.