How to upskill using peer mentoring

The benefits of peer mentoring are many says by Amrit Sandhar, and upskilling is one we can’t afford to ignore right now

The modern workplace is under huge pressure to change, firstly with the demand for skilled and experienced employees which many organisations are struggling to meet, and then with the changes to the way we work through remote and hybrid working. Recent research by Gartner revealed that for 55% of senior leaders, concerns about the impact remote and hybrid working will have on organisational cultures and productivity remain high. How do organisations upskill employees when so many are remote or hybrid working, and what impact might this have on organisational cultures?

According to a 2020 McKinsey report, 94% of the UK’s workforce lack the skills they will need by 2030 to ‘perform their jobs well’. The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2025, 1 in 2 workers will need reskilling, and for those that remain in their roles, up to 40% of their skills will need updating. Organisations will therefore need to find ways of developing their employees whilst not negatively impacting on productivity.

There are many roles across organisations where it is difficult to take time away to undertake development. Imagine an already strained workforce having to accommodate the absence of some employees for upskilling, and you realise the challenges organisations face. Add to this the impact of upskilling through third parties, who while competent, are likely to lack the cultural context to bring any learning to life and to make it relevant to that workplace. So, how can organisations overcome the challenge of upskilling, whilst accommodating those remote and hybrid workers, and at the same time, somehow find a way of reinforcing the company culture to maintain a strong identity, able to attract and retain talent?

Imagine an already strained workforce having to accommodate the absence of some employees for upskilling, and you realise the challenges organisations face

Peer mentoring is not a new concept, but in the current climate, it is worth reviewing how people can tap into the tacit knowledge that exists across so many organisations. When an individual leaves an organisation, their years of experience – their tacit knowledge will be hard to replace. This is why peer mentoring is so beneficial, as it allows individuals to tap into that tacit knowledge from peers who work in the same organisation, at the same level, have more experience, and are aware of the challenges within the role. These individuals can provide guidance on how to overcome some of the challenges their colleague may be facing. The point of peer mentoring is not to feel threatened or intimidated, rather it is to feel supported and empowered. So, what are some of the benefits of peer mentoring?

Shared understanding
Working with someone who has more experience, who understands the challenges faced within a role, and with whom the mentee can open up to, helps create a psychologically safe space, where individuals can explore the underlying issues getting in their way. This can help the mentor to provide a different perspective which the mentee is likely to be more receptive to, than if the advice was from anyone else. Knowing the mentor understands the situation should allow for a more meaningful exploration of possibilities to support the mentee.

Shared identity
There’s a concept in psychology called social identity theory. Throughout our lives, we are constantly reviewing which social groups people around us belong to – do they belong to our group (the in-group), or other groups (the out-groups)? We want the groups to which we belong, to reflect positively on us, they are a source of pride, and membership to these groups can impact on our self-esteem. Working with mentors who are more experienced, can help support feeling a shared identity and a sense of pride in being part of the organisation, thereby impacting positively on how we feel about work.

Reinforcing the culture 
Across organisations, there are so many unwritten rules, unwritten ways of working and doing work, despite what organisations may state. This can be the hardest part for new joins to navigate around when they start a new role, as much of what they will need in role, will require learning on the job, thereby impacting on their productivity and performance until they get up to speed. Those experienced colleagues who can act as mentors within the peer mentoring relationship, also bring with them the understanding of the culture of the organisation, providing advice on how to go about getting things done. This tacit knowledge of the culture is only ever learned through experience but is crucial to the success of any new join, to make sure they don’t make any faux pas, which could go on to knock their confidence.

Supporting wellbeing
When we have frustrating days at work, our partners and loved ones do their best to understand and offer advice, but it’s never quite the same as someone offering advice from the position of knowing exactly what work is like and having experienced what you have experienced. This shared understanding can also go a long way to supporting wellbeing, having the ability to talk about work-related issues with someone who can empathise. The ability to talk and be heard by someone who can then offer advice to overcome the challenge, can have a significant impact on reducing stress levels and improving resilience.

Learning in the flow
By agreeing regular catch-up meetings, it allows for the mentee to seek guidance and advice within the flow of work, thereby minimising disruption. Much of the support required may be specific to a situation or an individual and attending any generic training may be of little value in this situation. So many of us are used to Teams or Zoom calls, including for coaching sessions, therefore seeking advice from a mentor via a video call wouldn’t seem unusual. This allows individuals to seek advice while remote or hybrid working, or from a colleague who is, allowing for learning to take place at a time convenient to the individual.

Peer mentoring is a critical format that every organisation should be looking to implement, whether it’s to support an existing development programme, or to provide learning to help individuals improve their performance and productivity at work. The tacit knowledge gained through experiences cannot be replaced through generic training programmes, and when upskilling and reskilling can be expensive, this may be a good starting point in developing the skills needed across our organisations, especially with the positive impact peer mentoring can have on wellbeing and organisational cultures.

Amrit Sandhar is founder of The Engagement Coach

Amrit Sandhar

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