The Power of HR Mentorship: A Two-Way Street

Professional mentorship for a new generation

By Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP February 13, 2020
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two businessmen confer at a table

​Professional mentorship can take many forms and can have long-lasting impacts on our career successes, trials and tribulations. Regardless of the role we play in an organization, we can and should play a role in mentoring. Each of us should have a mentor and serve as a mentor to others. It's a powerful relationship.

In my journey as an HR consultant over the past four and a half years, I have had the unique opportunity to develop, rebuild or totally change HR departments for various clients, and mentoring has been involved in these transformations. From mentoring other HR professionals and seeking guidance from my own mentors, here are some of the lessons I have learned.Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP

  • The big picture (and other metaphors). Experience—our own and how we can benefit from other people's—is valuable throughout our careers and lives. Understanding the big picture will ensure that we are setting up an organization and HR department for success. To drive a successful mentorship program, knock down silos and utilize talent from other departments. Envision a chess match: What moves and strategies do you need to put in place for both organization and individual to succeed? Do not fear receiving or providing feedback. To truly know the needs of the organization, think outside the HR box. Utilize the SHRM competencies of Communication, Relationship Management, Critical Evaluation and HR Expertise to recognize and maneuver within the ever-evolving big picture.
  • Recipes for success. An organization rarely asks for an HR consultant if things are running smoothly; normally we get a call if there is a problem. My consulting assignments usually involve change management and culture change. To ensure that the process is successful, the right people need to be in the right seats. I'm very selective when I recruit, hire and build an HR team. For these professionals to succeed, they need to be provided with training, support and mentorship. This includes continuous feedback on performance; ongoing (weekly, if not daily) communication; training, education and certification; accepting mistakes; and learning from one another. As a result of the change I implemented for one client organization, its HR professionals became certified and some are pursuing master's degrees. The SHRM competencies of Business Acumen, Relationship Management, HR Expertise and Communication are ingredients in the secret sauce in the recipe for success.
  • Relationship transformation. As professionals grow, so must their mentoring relationships, so learn to recognize when the relationship needs to evolve. Over time it can become more of a friendship or a partnership, or even a reverse mentorship. Emotional intelligence and mutual respect for one another will guide you through this transformation. In my experience, taking a less hands-on approach provides flexibility and empowerment. Create metrics that will summarize how mentoring relationships have contributed to the evolutions in your workplace. Use all of the SHRM competencies to ensure mentorship success.

Mentorship is a two-way street; it requires buy-in and communication from both parties. These relationships can and do have tremendous impacts throughout someone's life, both in and outside the workplace. I rely on a network of mentors for advice on many things and have seen mentorships turn into lifelong friendships. Recognize mentorship opportunities and continue to build on them.

Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP, is an HR consultant in New York state. 

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