By Alan Middleton
Inside marketing divisions and agencies across Canada the impact of the pandemic, aided by improvements in communications and technology, is rapidly accelerating change. Work habits and schedules, as well as organizational hierarchies and procedures are transforming.
For anyone in interactive or direct marketing and sales, what’s critical in this new ‘world’ are management practices that emphasize constant upgrading of skills — and the development of better mentorship practices at all levels of an organization.
Mentorship practices, as I have described in my book Mentorship Matters: Now More than Ever!, that engage people directly and encourage and ‘nudge’ their thought processes rather than dictate them are much more effective. While some formal processes and practices are needed, there needs to be a shift in how organizations are managed.
A similar transformation can be seen in marketing practice as mass communications — only slightly segmented messages, sent through broad media channels — started changing into more directly understood, targeted, and delivered communications. The same trend can be seen in the delivery logistics of goods and services. Has it gone far enough in management practice? Not yet.
Many organizations and their interactive/direct marketing and sales departments, as well as marketing companies, retain structures where senior management sets rules and processes for the levels below them, and effectively discourage initiative and innovation from the very levels that deal most directly with the customer.
The Harvard Business Review defines mentorship as “the offering of advice, information or guidance by a person with useful experience, skills or expertise for another individual’s personal and professional development.”
This often happens informally but in our new world it needs to be available more formally as well. Mentorship practices have evolved: they are no longer just senior positions mentoring more junior or only within organizations.
In our industry, one of the most recognized and best developed mentorship programs is AMA Toronto’s Mentor Exchange. Established in 2009, the program has made significant contributions to advancing the value of mentorship while benefiting mentors and mentees. Progressive mentorship programs like this one, whether internal or external, show that mentorship is now a key management capability for both mentor and mentee, and any organization, large, medium, or small, that encourages its practice.
Mentors benefit from improving their management skills: listening and asking, facilitating change management, influencing, and overcoming obstacles. They prove themselves as valuable transformative leaders by learning what it takes to develop others. Mentors gain fresh perspectives and stay updated with new thinking and knowledge. They learn more about themselves and share their expertise with others in the organization. They also expand their professional network and reinforce their role as subject matter experts.
Mentees benefit by gaining valuable perspectives and ideas from someone with relevant experience. When in an internal program they learn about the organization and its culture and enable contacts and networking for greater job satisfaction and promotional opportunities. If in an external program, such as the Mentor Exchange, they add to their knowledge and perspective on the discipline and industry sector. Mentees gain perspective on their career and themselves, future challenges and opportunities, and they can learn about gender and ethnicity issues. And importantly, they gain perspective on managing others based on their mentorship experience.
Organizations that encourage informal and formal internal and external mentorship programs also benefit in numerous ways. These types of mentorship programs foster a corporate culture that encourages personal and professional growth through the sharing of information, competencies, values, and behaviours. Establishing an environment where leaders are building leaders helps the process of identification, development, and retention of talent for key managerial and professional roles.
We also know that good mentorship programs have the ability to accelerate staff diversity and inclusion, which are critical for business success. In recognition of International Mentoring Day on January 17, mentorship advocates Eli Wolff and Mary Hums wrote: “Mentoring relationships help us to broaden our lens for diversity and inclusion, allowing us to see others as people first while moving beyond labels and stereotypes. Mentors and mentees can help each other to redefine normal and move to typical, creating visibility for individuals and communities. Through mentorship we can expand our minds, hearts, and vision toward race, sexual orientation, disability, religion, and culture. This is the power of mentoring.”
Mentorship is therefore an essential management capability because it engages people directly not just through processes and procedures. Along with formal training and prior experience, mentorship helps blend the learning from the mix of art and science so important in all forms of sales and direct and interactive marketing. Mentoring and coaching, especially in the emerging post-pandemic world, provide a critical management skill, one that matters more than ever.
Alan Middleton is an independent consultant, writer and speaker on marketing and mentorship. A former professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University, he is a long-time mentor and the author of “Mentorship Matter: Now More Than Ever!” available on Amazon.ca.
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