Mentoring: What H.R can learn from Epic Adventures. 

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
Benjamin Franklin

It’s generally agreed [in so far as social scientists can agree on phenomena] that the first five years of a childhood are fundamental for development; be it physical, mental, or emotional. Interestingly, UNICEF reports that only 6% of children in Zambia under 5 are enrolled in a preschool. This entails that the aforementioned development takes place in the home and community; with peers, siblings and parents. Through observing, imitating and questioning.

This then begs the question; if less than 90% of Zambians during their most formative years do not learn through formal conventional methods, why are most H.R interventions instructive and classroom based?

In simple terms, mentoring can be thought of as a relationship in which a less skilled or knowledgeable individual is guided by a more experienced and perceptive person. Although, mentoring is not necessarily the same as the relationships that served to develop children and individuals in different stages of their lives it is akin to these relationships  in  comparison with  classroom based  learning. Thus, it is prudent that H.R practitioners at least consider  it as a method of staff development and performance enhancement in the organisation.

The Origins 

Mentoring originated in Greek mythology. “Mentor” was a friend of King Odysseus, entrusted to watch over the latter’s son Telemachus (find out more). Other classical mythology also portrays an archetype “wise older confidant” who advises and supports the young protagonist in their epic adventure. To this day, the role of the mentor is still apparent in the arts, think about Luke Skywalker and Master Yoda in Star Wars or Haymitch Abernathy and Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games. Both of these relationships highlight the importance of a mentor in an individuals journey.


Mentoring can also be observed in the craft and guilds systems that were present in medieval times.  Guilds were organisations of crafts people, in order to facilitate continuity, pass on knowledge and, I can only assume, as a source of cheap labor, masters in particular crafts took upon apprentices. However passing on of knowledge was not limited to that of the occupation, this extended to inculcating life lessons and values to live by.

With the advent of mass education the ‘master-apprentice’ relationships and the guild system significantly dwindled. Nevertheless, the mentor- mentee relationships persists, with some of the worlds most influential people attributing their career trajectories to these relationships. Oprah Winfrey was mentored by the late Maya Angelou who was a renowned author and poet. The CEO to one of your favorite social media sites FACEBOOK, Mark Zuckerberg, was mentored by the late Steve Jobs who was the former CEO of Apple Inc.

The Benefits

The Employee

Employees benefit from mentoring relationship in several ways;

  1. Employees’ have a person within the organization who gives them support, knowledge and encouragement to achieve their career goals.
  2. Mentors act as ‘protectors’ for employees in the organization as they are better-equipped than their mentees to deal with the various office politics and eccentricities. Henceforth, they shield employees against individuals and situations that may serve to limit their career progression and teach them how to navigate the organizational environment without getting too scathed.
  3. In certain instances, mentors may act as sponsors for the employee, through connecting them with influential individuals and recommending them for projects or tasks that would allow them to showcase their capabilities.

The Mentor

Mentors also gain from the relationship in several ways;

  1. Social responsibility is something that rings true to most individuals. By being a mentor, the individual has a chance to give back to society by helping another individual achieve their various goals.
  2. Being a mentor helps one grow their leadership capabilities. Leadership is influence, mentoring [if properly executed] may serve shape not only the course of an individuals career but their life as well.
  3. Mentoring allows employees to reflect on the various decisions they have made as well as on their own career progression. This allows employees to plan for their future and may serve to increase job satisfaction.

The Organisation

Having a mentoring program functional in the organisation has several strategic advantages;

  1. Creating relationships between employees aids in the natural transference of organizational culture to newer employees who may not be explicitly aware of how things ought to be done. However, if an organisations culture is less than desirable and ‘new blood’ is being brought in to challenge it, a mentorship program might not be ideal.
  2. Mentoring programs serve to reduce retention and turn over costs for organisations. Mentors usually serve to ease new recruits anxieties and stress over joining a new firm through valuing, coaching and feedback, hence reducing the number of employees that leave. Checkout The role of the ‘Employee Champion’ in Stress Management  to find out how a stress free work place influences an organizations bottom line.
  3. Mentorship programs aid in creating unity of purpose across an organization especially for programs were mentors and mentees are of varying ages, departments, and cultural backgrounds. It helps people appreciate different points of views as well as a realization that divergence in perspective does not necessarily entail divergence in purpose and end result.


In order to have a holistic and effective human resource development program, you will definitely need more than a mentoring program. Furthermore, before any type of mentoring relationship is entered into, be it professional or otherwise, a dual commitment, to both to the individual’s growth and to learning is required. However, to dismiss the opportunities and benefits it offers would be awry. If an in-house program is not practical, resources such as time could be allotted to employees to meet with potential mentors.


Thank you Dr Jaqueline Jere-Folotiya for agreeing to be a part of my epic adventure.





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