Frank, a management consultant with his own independent business, believes in networking especially as a source of potential clients. His week is filled typically with lunches with potential and former clients, and evening meetings with various business groups, e.g., other consultants, business networking events, etc. Fortunately, Frank is very extroverted and he loves schmoozing and meeting new people. He claims to have gotten some new business out of these networking opportunities but I suspect that he would go to these events regardless.
Harriet works for a global consumer products company that had piloted a mentoring program for high-potentials in the company. She was selected to participate in the program, and after an internal matching process, was assigned a formal mentor – a senior executive from another division who had also been selected to participate but as a mentor. They met twice a month; while Harriet found their meetings helpful, she did not feel that she was getting much out of these meetings. After a year, the pilot program was disbanded, and Harriet’s meetings with the senior executive stopped.
Two important pieces of advice for workers of all ages today are to network and to have a mentor. In fact, Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn and the author of The Start-Up of You, advocates that hiring managers should give preference to candidates who are connected because workers today need to have “network intelligence.” Both networking and having a mentor are important to one’s career, but is one more important than the other, and what do these mean in practice? And what is the evidence other than anecdotal that these actually work?
For networking, I will use the definition proposed by Gibson et al. (2014): networking is a form of goal-oriented behavior, both inside and outside of an organization, focused on creating, cultivating, and utilizing interpersonal relationships. (p. 150) Reid Hoffman emphasizes the relationship-building aspects more so than the traditional notion of networking – a way to meet as many people as possible in order to see what they can do for you. There is evidence from research that networking works, but the types of networks and the measures of success vary significantly across studies. I like the concept of reputation capital, which Meister and Willyerd (2010) define as the “sum total of your personal brand, your expertise, and the breadth, depth, and quality of your social networks.” (p. 214) They predict that companies will increasingly hire and promote individuals based in large part on their reputation capital.
The traditional concept of mentoring is that of a one-on-one relationship between a more experienced organizational member and a less experienced employee. There is plenty of research suggesting that mentoring has many benefits to the mentee (or protégé) and to the organization. In one study of U.S. Army officers, Payne and Huffman (2005) showed that officers who had mentors tended to show greater “affective commitment” (i.e., emotional attachment) and “continuance commitment” (i.e., awareness of costs and benefits) to the organization than those who did not. Mentoring was also negatively associated with turnover. DeLong et al. (2008) have argued persuasively that professional service firms in particular would benefit greatly from mentoring their young professionals. Unfortunately, competitive pressures have eroded the traditional practice of mentoring in many firms. As a result, retaining talent has become a key issue. Allen et al. (2004) did a meta-analysis of hundreds of studies of mentoring and found that mentoring does have a positive impact, but the impact (especially on objective career outcomes such as compensation and promotions) was relatively small compared to the impact on such psychosocial outcomes like job and career satisfaction. It is important to note that other studies have shown that mentoring is especially beneficial among traditionally discriminated-against groups, such as African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian American men and women.
For women in particular, however, the Catalyst organization found that their mentors tended to play more of an advisory role, while male employees’ mentors tended to play more of a sponsorship and advocacy role for them.
Perhaps because of this, research and practice on mentoring over the past several years has advocated both formal and informal mentoring, as well as the use of peer and multiple mentors.
As Kram (1985) has indicated, mentoring has a dual purpose: helping you to enhance your career (e.g., through exposure and visibility, coaching) and helping you to enhance your professional effectiveness (e.g., counseling, friendship). She refers to these as the career function and the psychosocial function. An ideal mentoring relationship is when both are present. According to the research, the most important variable to predicting the outcomes of mentoring is the quality of the mentoring relationship.
Both networking and mentoring have benefited from recent technologies, with the increase in the use of social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. For example, a recent trend in mentoring is that of online or e-mentoring. I have not had direct experience with these sites, but the idea is that you can find an anonymous mentor on-line and get advice from anywhere from six months to a year. Some NGOs like the Global Action Networks have mechanisms to match mentors and mentees globally and provide support for e-mentoring.
Networking and mentoring can be especially challenging for the global manager. Carraher et al. (2008) have pointed to the challenges expatriate managers have in being mentored. In my experience, I have seen expatriate managers struggle to find mentors in their host country for various reasons. First, host country executives may not be fully aware of the concept of mentoring and what its benefits are, both to them and to the expatriate manager. Second, they may also be somewhat resentful of the expatriate manager, or at least view them with suspicion, and therefore establishing a trusting relationship becomes quite difficult. Third, expatriate managers themselves may not believe that they would benefit from mentoring, especially if they adopt an ethnocentric attitude.
Another challenge especially for the practice of mentoring is that European and Asian mentoring practices may vary significantly from American practices. In many Asian cultures, for example, mentoring takes place, but it is heavily influenced by Confucian values, so that the mentorship tends to be more familial but also hierarchical. Goto (1999) has found that “Culturally, Asian mentor-like relationships differ from their Western counterparts in that they are much more formally hierarchical and they blur the distinction between family and social ties.” (p. 53) In Sweden, mentoring follows a process called “Handleduing” which is very similar to coaching and self-directed learning.
A third challenge is the perception of cost-benefit ratios. Research has shown that those who have not engaged in mentoring tend to overestimate the costs of this relationship and underestimate the benefits (which can be intangible as well as tangible).
For those interested in building your network and having mentors, here are a few recommendations. (Also note that Reid Hoffman has some excellent advice in his chapter on “It Takes a Network” from the book I referenced earlier). First, take small steps and start with your current connections. For those of you who are not as extroverted as Frank and who are loathe to simply schmooze and introduce yourselves to total strangers, consider your current contacts from LinkedIn. Re-establish relationships you may have with some colleagues you have not been in touch with. Perhaps there are some colleagues who have risen to senior positions who might be good potential mentors. Send them a short message updating them on your professional doings; you will most likely hear back from only some of them, but you can then follow up with those who replied. Second, take the initiative and get out of your comfort zone. If you are a global manager, take the time to learn more about the cultures of the colleagues with whom you are interacting. This is especially the case when a mentor you might consider approaching is of a different race, gender, or nationality than you. In fact, the potential mentor himself (or herself) may feel a bit of discomfort. You may need to be sensitive to this and seek to find common ground especially with these individuals. Sarah was a Human Resources manager who worked for an organization and had met Vic, VP of Finance, casually at the cafeteria. She knew that the best time to catch Vic was after six when he was in his office wrapping up his work for the day. She decided to stop in one day to ask him a work-related question. She ended up spending a half hour with him, and this started an informal mentoring relationship which lasted for over two years, until she left the company for a promotion elsewhere. Remember that quality is better than quantity. Make sure that those who end up as your mentors are willing to take a more active role in your development.
Third, be clear on your own goals and time frame, and break these down into bite-size pieces. What do you hope to achieve with your networking? And what are some specific goals you can set for yourself at your next networking opportunity? For example, tell yourself that in your next networking meet-up, you will meet at least two individuals you have not known before and get their business cards or contact information. Fourth, remember that networking and having a mentor is a two-way street. Determine what you have to offer and consider how you can help.
Fifth, be open to chance encounters and mentoring moments and take advantage of them. A few years ago, I scheduled a meeting with a client in Boston. We were going to meet in the office of a Harvard Business School professor with whom I was partnering. The client called to say he was running late. The professor, who I will call Sam, and I had an extra hour on our hands. Since he had a fairly light day, I decided to take advantage of the time and spent the next hour engaging in an amazing conversation with Sam. Sam was in turn gracious and tremendously helpful, and to this day, consider this one-hour session one of the most memorable highlights of my professional career.
Allen, T. et al. (2004). Career Benefits Associated with Mentoring for Protégés: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89 (1): 127-236.
Carraher, S. et al. (2008). Mentoring Across Global Boundaries: An Empirical Examination of Home- and Host-Country Mentors on Expatriate Career Outcomes. Journal of International Business Studies, 39: 131-1326.
DeLong, T., Gabarro, J. and Lees, R. (2008). Why Mentoring Matters in a Hypercompetitive World. Harvard Business Review, January.
Gibson, C. et al. (2014). Understanding the Role of Networking in Organizations. Career Development International, 19 (2), 146-161.
Goto, S. (1999). Asian Americans and Developmental Relationships. In A. Murrell et al. (Eds.), Mentoring Dilemmas: Developmental Relationships Within Multicultural Organizations. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Kram, K. (1985). Mentoring at Work: Developmental Relationships in Organizational Life. Glenview: IL: Scott, Foresman and Company.
Hoffman, R. and Casnocha, B. (2012). The Start-Up of You. New York: Crown Business.
Marcus, B. (2014). Advice from Top Women Leaders about Finding a Mentor. http://www.forbes.com/sites/bonniemarcus/2014/01/06/advice-from-women-leaders-about-finding-a-mentor/#7f9d3143fc37
Meister, J. and Willyerd, K. (2010). The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today. New York: Harper Collins.
Payne, S. and Huffman, A. (2005). A Longitudinal Examination of the Influence of Mentoring on Organizational Commitment and Turnover. Academy of Management Journal, 48 (1): 158-169.