Growing Leaders: The New Age of Mentoring


New Age Leaders in the Contact Center
Illustration by Jenny Foster

Mentorship is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, thanks largely to millennials and social networking. Mentoring is actually an age-old development concept with references reaching back as far as Ancient Greece and Homer’s Odyssey. As a learning technique, it has lasted the test of time due primarily to its effectiveness.

Millennials, in particular, value having a mentor to help them expand their leadership skills. Deloitte’s 2016 survey of millennials shows that having a mentor impacts more than just employee development; it also increases loyalty and retention. The research found that employees intending to stay with their organization for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68%) than not (32%).

When you consider the traditional mentoring partnership, most people think of a long-term relationship in which a high-level manager brings along his or her protégé over the course of years. It’s a relationship that requires commitment on both sides, and one which would seem impractical to apply in a call center with dozens or hundreds of agents.

Or is it? One company that is breaking the mentoring mold is Ten Thousand Coffees. The peer-to-peer networking platform takes its name from a concept introduced by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers.

According to Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Ten Thousand Coffees has applied that premise to a modern take on the mentoring relationship. The goal, says CEO Dave Wilkin, is to help leaders to have conversations with their up-and-coming talent through coffee chats. “We have connected hundreds of thousands of people for coffee chats,” he says. “We also work with companies to run their internal mentoring programs so that every employee gets matched and connected for a coffee chat with colleagues who they can learn from.”

Dave Wilkin
Dave Wilkin, CEO, Ten Thousand Coffees

Here’s how it works: The platform leverages a company’s employee directory along with input from the employees. The AI engine can then match and introduce individuals via email to start the conversation. “We have hundreds of configurations to choose from to ensure that employees are meeting with people in an intelligent and effective way,” Wilkin says. Employees can be matched with colleagues in other functions or at different levels in the organization. Companies can create reverse mentoring opportunities, as well, to allow staff and management to build diverse relationships across levels, he says. “Junior employees get to know what senior managers are working on, but then it also helps senior managers to build relationships with emerging talent,” he explains.

The platform also provides mentors and mentees with tips, icebreakers and recommendations to help drive the conversation toward an outcome. After the coffee chat, participants are asked to give feedback on how it went and about additional development goals to ensure increasingly intelligent future matches.

Focus on the Conversation

Today’s workforce places a high priority on learning and development. Witness the popularity of professional networking platforms like Linkedin. “If organizations don’t offer mentoring and networking to their employees internally, employees are going to use external platforms to network—most likely with your competitors,” Wilkin points out. “It’s through everyday conversations that people learn and share. It’s essential to have those types of collisions internally, but it’s equally important to provide the cultural change that engages and retains people.”

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