Trying to scale the corporate ladder by yourself is a challenge. Without guidance, you are likely to fall off. Probably more than once.
The old proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” also applies to developing employees — It takes an organizational community to foster talent.
In this sometimes virtual corporate world, this would seem like obvious advice for management desperate to build competency, collaboration, and community among their employees.
Mentorship and sponsorship are particularly effective ways for the organizational community to cultivate and encourage employees’ potential.
However, according to Gallup, only 40% of employees report having a mentor in the workplace. Rates are even lower for sponsorship at 23%.
Why are these rates so low, especially for sponsorship? Employee sponsorship for career advancement has not been universally embraced at the corporate level due to several factors, including lack of awareness, cultural resistance, limited sponsor availability, and bias and favoritism concerns.
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Difference Between Mentorship and Sponsorship
Mentors and sponsors serve the same function: to propel talent. But they do so in different ways. A mentor shares their knowledge and provides guidance to a less-experienced individual. Anyone who has support and advice to share can provide effective mentorship, regardless of their role or tenure.
On the other hand, sponsors are in a position of power and actively promote growth, provide access to opportunities at work and advocate for the career advancement of a less-experienced individual, especially in contexts where the protégé is not present.
In general, sponsorship is more suited for high-potential employees and happens more organically, compared to formal mentorship programs.
In a nutshell, a sponsor opens the door to opportunities for another employee, while a mentor supports and guides an employee so that they can open the door for themselves.
Mentorship is Great. Sponsorship is Critical.
Speaking at a recent Tech in Motion webinar, Christine Pucco, Founder at merKata.io said: “Mentorship and sponsorship are critical, but often, we focus on mentorship. A sponsor will actively advocate for you, put your name forward for critical assignments that win notice and promotion, and spend their political capital at work in your name. A mentor listens and advises you—a sponsor talks about and acts for you.”
While Corporate sponsorship and mentorship are both valuable tools in the development of an employee's career, the impact of corporate sponsorship can be particularly profound. Here’s how:
Active Advocacy: One of the key differences between mentorship and sponsorship is the level of active involvement. A mentor provides advice and guidance, often in a reactive manner. On the other hand, a sponsor actively advocates for the employee's advancement and opportunities within the organization. This proactive approach can open doors and provide opportunities that might not otherwise be available to the employee.
Visibility and Recognition: Sponsors usually hold influential positions within an organization and can provide significant visibility for their protégés. They can introduce employees to key stakeholders, involve them in high-profile projects, and mention their achievements in important meetings. This increased visibility is crucial for career advancement, especially in larger organizations where getting noticed by the right people can be a challenge.
Access to Opportunities: Corporate sponsors often have the power and resources to create opportunities for their protégés. This might include recommending them for challenging projects, positioning them for promotions, or including them in exclusive training programs. These opportunities are not just for development but are often critical stepping stones for career progression.
Networking: Sponsors can help employees build a robust professional network by introducing them to influential figures within and outside the organization. These connections can be invaluable for future career moves, mentorship opportunities, and industry insights.
Confidence Building: Being chosen for sponsorship can significantly boost an employee's confidence. It validates their skills and potential, often encouraging them to take on more challenges and responsibilities. This confidence, combined with the experiences and skills gained through sponsored opportunities, enhances their overall capability as a professional.
Career Impact: The effects of sponsorship are often long-term. The exposure, experience, and connections gained through a sponsor’s support can influence an employee's career trajectory significantly. In contrast, while mentorship provides valuable insights and advice, it may not always result in immediate, tangible career advancements.
Organizational Support: Corporate sponsorship usually comes with organizational support and resources, which can be a game-changer for career development. Access to these resources allows employees to undertake significant projects, attend prestigious conferences, or receive advanced training, all of which can be critical for career growth.
Sponsorship is a win-win-win for the sponsor, the protégé and the company at large. It is a valuable tool for employee loyalty and retention, while also laying a path for the employee to be successful both professionally and personally. It also feels good to the sponsor to know they have been influential in the success of a deserving colleague.