Mentoring magic: Showing the way helps you and your employees
There’s a story in Greek mythology where Odysseus has to leave for the Trojan War. Worried about his son’s future, he places the boy in the charge of the old and wise adviser, Mentor, until his return.
In the hospitality industry, there is a growing number of such trusted leaders who help employees adjust and learn by teaching them what they know.
“With mentoring, you’re transferring one person’s experience to another,” says Katie Bennett, an executive leadership coach and speaker with her own company, Double Black Diamond Coaching. “The employee has the questions, and the mentor has the answers.”
Where a mentor can really help
Mentoring in the hospitality industry can apply at all levels, whether assisting new recruits as they integrate into your operation or showing the way for employees switching jobs and adjusting to a new role. “Mentoring is not really age-specific,” says Bennett, “although a younger person probably doesn’t know as much. But at any age, if you’re new to a task, that’s when mentoring can be really powerful. ‘I’m new to this task, teach me how to do this.’”
In almost every facet of the hospitality industry there’s a need for mentoring. Some obvious examples include working in line positions in a restaurant kitchen, on the hotel front desk or in housekeeping, where there are clear rules and safety regulations to follow.
In less obvious examples, a mentor can become an employee’s champion, not merely showing the ropes, but actively encouraging talented workers to rise in the hospitality industry. A chef, for example, might mentor a skilled sous-chef or pastry chef to move to the next level.
Informal and formal mentoring programs
Mentoring programs often start at the university level, where hospitality companies let students job shadow and intern with an eye to future employment. Other programs, run by government tourism agencies, link prospective employees with suitable employers.
One interesting program, from Australia’s Office for Women, is called Tasting Success. Tasting Success aims specifically to encourage the development of apprentice women chefs, who are underrepresented in that country’s hospitality industry. You can encourage informal mentoring in your operation by pairing more experienced workers with new recruits. But, says Bennett, the best mentoring programs start at the top with senior leaders committed to creating an environment of growth and improvement.
Tips to set up a mentoring program
- Start at the top. Mentoring programs should be set up with the buy-in of the top brass.
- Determine where and how and how often mentoring will take place. Mentoring need not take place right under your roof. For instance, in a restaurant chain, you might choose to partner a “mentee” with a mentor at a location in another city.
- Look for “cross-pollination” opportunities. For instance, if you want your kitchen manager to upgrade his technology skills, consider pairing him with a senior IT mentor in another department.
- Be prepared to commit the time for your mentor to do a thorough job and for your employee to learn the ropes.
- Identify the best employees to act as mentors. These people must be a combination of buddy, teacher, coach and even confidant. Says Bennett, “They should be confident in what they know and not afraid to share with others. There’s a breed of people well suited to this role, who are confident and not afraid the mentee will steal their job.”
- Create performance benchmarks for the mentoring process.
- Reward and recognize both the mentor and mentee at the successful completion of the mentoring program. This encourages these types of relationships to thrive.