At the end of 2019, a service for the selection of mentors in the field of IT, design and GameDev was created. The idea behind the startup was to provide development opportunities for both beginners and juniors, as well as specialists at the middle and senior levels. An IT mentoring system is not new, but Solvery has become one of the few projects globally that has done it in a marketplace format with the ability to choose a mentor of any level and for any task.
To provide more detail about the topic of mentoring in IT companies, our mentor Vitaly Sharovatov outlines:
· What is mentoring?
· What it’s for and what it solves
· How to organize mentoring
· How to “sell” mentoring
What is mentoring?
Mentoring is the process of retraining employees in the workplace, helping them acquire the knowledge and skills they will need.
What it’s for
Just like when introducing anything else, the introduction of the mentoring process should be economically justified.
Mentoring allows you to:
● reduce the cost of hiring;
● reduce the cost of adapting new employees;
● reduce staff turnover.
Reducing the cost of hiring
Usually, companies try to hire an employee who perfectly matches the job requirements.
This approach has several disadvantages, as the higher the required qualification:
● the more difficult, longer, and therefore more expensive the selection process itself is;
● the higher the salary of a suitable employee;
● the shorter the time the employee will work in the company (they can’t grow).
With a developed mentoring culture, you can hire lower-skilled employees, quickly fill the vacancy, and retrain them.
Reducing the cost of adaptation
Adaptation, by definition, is the process of adapting to something.
In English, the word onboarding is used , that is, “getting on board.”
In fact, both words denote the process of employee adaption, induction, getting acquainted with production, regulations and ways of interacting with departments, mastering the subject area of the project or product being developed — in general, obtaining all the knowledge and skills necessary for effective work.
The goal of the adaptation is to bring the employee to a solid level of labor productivity.
The process of adaptation is a part of all companies, and it differs in the degree of meaningfulness and, accordingly, efficiency.
Most often, you can observe an unorganized adaptation process in which an employee is simply thrown into the project — “go ahead, do the tasks.” After some time, the employee’s work will be “monitored”: evaluated and given feedback.
It turns out that the employee has been asked to go south-west, but they don’t know how to determine the direction, and after a while, the employee hears: “Look, you went the wrong way, go back, do it yourself again.”
In a particularly bad scenario, feedback or reorientation occurs on review of the first completed task.
In this case, the time between “completed ” and “ received feedback” is long, equal to the task execution time.
It seems clear that the effectiveness of the first attempt to solve the problem will be extremely low.
The shorter the time before receiving feedback, the faster the employee will reach their goal, as the employee’s direction will be regularly adjusted.
In a mentoring culture, the adaptation period is obviously reduced due to shorter feedback cycles. Also, first, before starting work, the mentor agrees with the employee about how the task will be solved (the mentor will finish training the employee, if necessary). As a result, even during the very first tasks, new employees cope much more effectively.
I suggest you conduct an experiment: look at the speed and quality of the first tasks performed by a novice who adapts without a mentor and a similar employee who adapts with a mentor.
In my practice, the simplest option was the allocation of two hours a day to the mentor for a new employee, which led to a huge reduction in adaptation time.
You can try to use a similar thought process (substituting, of course, their values) in the experiment.
An employee who adapts without a mentor worked with efficiency:
● 40% — 1 week (3 md lost):
● 60% — 1 week (2 md lost);
● 70% — 1 week (1.5 md lost);
● 90% — 1 week (0.5 md lost).
Total losses: 7 md.
The employee adapting with the mentor worked with efficiency:
● 70% — 1 week (1.5 md lost);
● 90% — 2 weeks (0.5 md lost).
Mentor spending every day:
● 2 hours — 1 week (1.25 md spent);
● 1 hour — 2 weeks (0.6 md spent).
Total losses and expenses: ~ 4 md.
It’s also worth considering an important factor: hiring is carried out when a new employee is needed. “Is needed” — so their salary is justified, as otherwise, why would a commercial enterprise hire an employee? Once the salary is whollyjustified, it is advantageous for the company to bring the employee to a high level of efficiency as soon as possible.
Employees whose companies engage in their growth and development work longer. How much longer ? See for yourself.
There are plenty of studies on this topic.
How to organize
A mentoring culture includes several basic elements:
● selection and training of mentors;
● changing teamwork processes and culture;
● the very process of training in the company.
Selection and training of mentors
Mentors with a humanistic personality center work more effectively — people who like to teach and who enjoy their students’ results.
I think that this factor should be considered when selecting potential mentors among your employees.
I think everyone has a couple of examples of bad teachers who killed a student’s love for a subject and the desire to master it. This kind of bad teacher might be forced to mentor an employee against their will.
If you carefully observe the team, you will see one or more people who can and love to explain things. Most likely, they will be good candidates for mentors.
It’s important to understand that a mentor must also be able to teach. After all, they can’t just hand out material, they have to check if it has been learned. If you explain something to a person and then ask: “Understood?” — it’s likely you’ll get the socially expected answer “yes,” which doesn’t show how much information is learned.
The simplest and most effective way to verify that a person has understood is to first reexplain the material and then use the knowledge gained in practical work. Thus, it will be more effective to explain something, then ask: “Tell me what you just learned,” and then , “Tell me how you’ll do it now.”
Also, an interesting option is a written record of the information just issued by the mentor, followed by verification from the mentor. Such a written record allows you to naturally collect training materials that will help in the adaptation of the next newcomers.
In general, it is worth thinking about the basic pedagogical training of mentors.
Changing team processes and culture
To implement a mentoring culture, you need to meet certain conditions.
First, the team must learn that mentoring is just as important as writing code, as a culture of mentoring increases the power of the team. There should be no mockery of the mentor or disparagement of their role.
Secondly, effective mentoring is possible only in a process where employees aren’t overburdened. A tired teacher is no teacher at all.
Third, it’s better not to offer material incentives for mentors for the simple reason that if there is additional financial motivation, people with a more pronounced egoistic personality center will take mentor positions for the wrong reasons.
Learning process in the company
The learning process as a whole consists of simple phases:
● creating the to-be model;
● creating the as-is model;
● analysis of the difference, formation of a development plan;
● following the plan.
Creating the to-be model
The to-be model should describe the target state of the employee — knowledge, skills and competencies.
You should start by drawing up this particular model.
You need to understand what kind of work function is expected of an employee.
Then you need to describe as clearly as possible what an employee who performs this labor function should know and how to behave.
It’s also worth describing the employee’s expected level of proactivity/responsibility at each step of the production process in which they participate.
It’s useful if you have a RACI matrix (or a similar one) in advance — a system for allocating responsibilities and duties across processes.
The resulting list of knowledge, skills and competencies can be divided into modules/sections.
Creating the as-is model
The as-is model is built by checking the employee for compliance with the to-be model.
The following verification format is most optimal:
● Select the task or set of tasks that best covers the necessary knowledge, skills, and competencies from the to-be model.
● The mentor is paired with the employee to perform this task or set of tasks.
● The employee, having discovered their knowledge/skill gaps or received an indication of them from the mentor, requests help from the mentor; both make a map of the current state, that is, the as-is model.
This method allows you to:
● minimize losses — even the first task can be used commercially, the code isn’t thrown out;
● check the employee’s level of learning — in the process of working on the first tasks, the mentor notices how quickly the employee learns and begins to use the information received;
● independently determine the real gaps in knowledge — the employee has no ground for negative thoughts, no one cross-examines them or “calls them a fool.”
Analysis of the difference, formation of a development plan
The more experience the mentor has accumulated, the better they understand how to train a person from the as-is model to the to-be model.
It’s important not to stop analyzing the effectiveness of the educational process and methodological materials and reflect on this topic, as mentoring is a system of individual training, where the effectiveness of each hour of the mentor’s work is primarily determined by how suitable the chosen methodology is for a particular employee being trained.
If the mentor has little or no experience at all, it’s worth building a very rough development plan and starting with a pilot process — checking how the trainees learn knowledge and acquire skills. It is advisable to guide a person through training in small chunks, to record the entire process in as much detail as possible for the purpose of subsequent analysis.
Following the formed plan
● You need to choose the optimal iterations “from small to large.”
● Training should be psychologically comfortable. If the employee didn’t understand or didn’t learn something, you need to understand what’s wrong with the explanation. It’s extremely rare to come across unteachable people, but then the question arises about the selection of an employee (how did you hire someone who can’t learn?).
How to “sell”
Obviously, start small.
The easiest way to implement a mentoring culture is at the stage of adapting a new employee — there are no risks for the manager (well, only a hypothetical “loss” of time if “mentoring fails,” as they sometimes say), but there is an expected benefit.
The culture of mentoring aimed at the growth and development of employees is more difficult to “sell” — the manager will immediately ask the question: “Why should we invest money in people who might just leave?” This type ofmanager doesn’t realize that by investing in people, they get more right now and make the person’s leaving even less likely.
Having shown the economic feasibility of a mentoring culture in terms of adaptation, you can already start to engage in the growth/development of personnel.