We often romanticise successful people as lone visionaries who, through sheer determination, hard work and a spark of genius, navigated the cut-throat world of business to come out on top.

The truth is that few people have achieved success in a vacuum; at some point, professors, colleagues, advisers and managers make a sizeable impact on a person’s psyche and shape the way we see the world and carry out our work. These diverse outside influences are extremely valuable in helping steer your employees’ career trajectories to greater heights, all while giving your organisation a branding boost to attract future talent.

Similarly, mentorship and sponsorship are two proven ways of helping your hires achieve the breakthroughs they need to further their skills and career within your organisation.

Related: How the best companies are attracting the talent they want

Sponsorship: what’s it all about?

Sponsors are active advocates who create opportunities for employees that they would otherwise be inaccessible. These people will help them navigate their career advancement differently. Instead of simply advising and supporting them, they will prime them for promotion within their organisation, make key introductions and delegate “stretch assignments” — challenging tests designed to expand their skill sets — to help them grow strategically. They might also nominate them for important projects and contracts.

A sponsor’s ability to provide visibility and nurture talent alongside them means they are valuable allies in an employee’s quest for career advancement. Those who have a sponsor are paid 11.6% more than those who do not, according to findings from PayScale Inc. And since remuneration is one of the biggest drivers for retention, sponsors can help you keep your best staff.

Related: Why should the candidate experience matter to you?

However, an organisation can benefit immensely from a successful sponsorship program as well. Identifying all high-potential staff who are suited to be leaders can help improve retention and organisational productivity, which in turn boosts profits — not to mention a company’s employer branding and attractiveness to prospective hires.

Sponsorships are also key to alleviating the gender-equality crisis faced by many professions today, where women are more likely to be overlooked for career advancement than men. The financial consequence of this bias — whether conscious or not — can be significant. According to a report entitled The Pipeline’s Women Count 2020, companies with no women on their executive committees have a net profit margin of 1.5%, whereas those with more than 33% of women at this level reached an impressive 15.2% net profit margin.2

Companies that use sponsorships to propel women into leadership positions has also resulted in even greater gender diversity at senior levels. In the FTSE 350, companies led by women have on average male/female ratio of 2:1 on their executive committees, as opposed to an average of 4:1 for companies led by men.

A more diversified and gender-equal workplace has been proven to be a major part of employer branding and is an attractive quality that today’s in-demand talent will take into consideration.

How does mentorship differ from sponsorship?

A mentor is a more experienced or knowledgeable person in a profession or specific area who provides guidance and lends support to a less experienced person. Mentorships are useful for those who want to advance their career goals by tapping into someone who has more lived perspective in a particular field and can help them focus on the changes that they need to make to progress.

The benefits of mentoring are vast — so much so that according to the Association for Talent Management, 71% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs. The advantages for both parties are clear. Mentors in the workplace can shorten the learning curve of new employees and make the onboarding process a much more positive one, while also saving time on formal training and supervision. In addition, these experienced mentors often gain a fresh perspective on their work, reinforce their knowledge and find greater satisfaction in their job.

Related: 5 interview questions to ask to tell a great candidate from a good one

The impact of mentorship on an organisation’s workplace culture

So why is mentorship important, and what’s in it for the companies that invest in such programs?

An effective mentoring program has far-reaching benefits; the positive ripple effects include a more efficient and motivated workforce, increased job satisfaction and retention, and ultimately, a better workplace culture and employer branding. These four benefits help to position your company competitively among the market’s top talent looking for their next move.

1. Talent attraction

Learning opportunities are attractive incentives for these talents. Research has shown that opportunities for development have become the second most important factor in workplace happiness, after the nature of the work itself. Prioritising employees to help them meet their career goals sends a clear message that you value the importance of a learning culture, and genuinely want to assist in giving them the edge in their career advancement, making it much more appealing for potential candidates to want to work for your company.

2. Retention

The returns of investing in mentorship also include employee retention. Aside from the cost of filling a vacant role, the cost that attrition has on morale, team dynamics and corporate culture can be substantial – and can influence how both current staff and potential future employees perceive the organisation. According to a study by Californian tech company Sun Microsystems, retention rates were significantly higher for mentees (72%) as well as for mentors (69%) than for employees who did not participate (49%).

3. Engagement

Harvard Business Review has found that as many as 71% of millennials are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work. Mentorship programs are especially useful for helping your employees feel passionate about their jobs and want to put discretionary effort into their work. In fact, 78.8% of these professionals said that they felt more engaged with their organisation after taking part in a mentorship program. With higher engagement comes a greater sense of fulfilment, and this eventually maps back to retention. Moreover, engaged workers are more productive and can be 21% more profitable.

4. Workplace culture

A good mentor can be the bridge between an individual and organisation, while also being a platform for a firm to demonstrate its commitment to helping employees develop skills to advance their careers.

Research from our Talent Trends 2021 report shows a business’s supportive culture, focused on learning and professional development, is one of the key considerations that prospective staff take into account when choosing their next endeavour. It is also an important aspect of the overall employee experience.

A positive workplace culture boosts motivation and morale for the company, and drives productivity and efficiency even further. It can also help with both staff retention and recruitment efforts, as it proves that your business has something more to offer workers than just a paycheck.

One of the most impressive things about effective mentoring and sponsorship programs is how far the positive ripple effects reach. By effectively engaging, developing, and retaining employees, they help position your company competitively in the industry. That boost in a firm’s image can make all the difference between attracting mere candidates and stellar talent who will contribute significantly to business success, as well as pushing your organisation further up the profitability ladder.

Visit our management advice centre for more insights today.

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