Suzi (not her real name) was a highly motivated and capable professional and somewhat a quiet achiever. That said, Suzi had strong career aspirations. She knew it was tough to get ahead and what’s more she didn’t ‘fit the norm’. Suzi had worked with a Mentor for over 12 months however promotion continued to elude her. Sound familiar? There are many like Suzi who become disillusioned, resign and start all over in a new company – hoping it will be different. Frustrated with her lack of progress Suzi and my paths eventually crossed. It was a conversation that totally changed her approach – and it was the beginning of another chapter. Within six months Suzi had earned a promotion. Suzi’s new ‘Sponsor’ played a pivotal role in her success by applying three (3) important strategies that significantly boosted her prospects.
Sponsors and particularly formal Sponsorship programs are still quite rare in organisations. High potential talent can benefit from both Mentors and Sponsors, but real traction comes from securing a Sponsor, just like Suzi did. A skilled Sponsor operates with a deliberate mandate and a more strategic intent.
These differences to the role of a Mentor are well described in Sylvia Hewett’s book Forget a Mentor: Get a Sponsor (2013). In short, the three areas Sponsors actively work with protégé’s to support career success are by:
- expanding their protégé’s experience base by including or nominating them on strategic projects and teams, key committees, and short term 'fill-in' opportunities in key areas of business – and backing this up with coaching,
- making a case for their protégé’s advancement and quests for resources within the Sponsor's professional networks and connections
- having ‘skin in the game’ – the Sponsor's reputation is also riding on their protégés success. This is a big one!
In summary a Sponsor seeks out opportunities to expand their protégé’s experience, visibility and make a case for their advancement. Of course Suzi's Sponsor got to know her well enough over time to feel confident in taking a risk and investing personally in turbo-charging her career.
Don’t get me wrong: Mentoring is terrific in many ways. Having a Mentor meant Suzi had a regular opportunity to connect with someone who she respected, trusted and someone who she could share some of the trials and tribulations of life and work, use as a sounding board for ideas and seek opinions on career based options and other topics. This was valuable in it's own right.
Mentoring programs have been a part of effective talent management initiatives for more than a decade. Indeed much has been accomplished in differentiating Mentoring and Coaching. Now include Sponsoring into this mix and the need to clarify purpose and approach becomes critical.
Personal Commitment: Being a Sponsor is one of the most fulfilling roles of all. Assisting someone who might otherwise have resigned, or stayed and stagnated, remaining under the radar because they did not ‘fit a stereotype of success’ is even more satisfying.
Company Programs: Are you considering augmenting your existing Mentoring Program? Or wanting to create a diverse talent pool? There are many ways a Sponsorship Program can deliver results for the business and Hi-Po individuals as well as deliver a diversity dividend. It's a win-win for all parties.
Wendy works as a freelance consultant in the area of HR, OD, Inclusive Leadership and Diversity & Inclusion. She designs standalone programs or integrated strategies which include building capability and complimenting Diversity initiative's to deliver diversity targets and outcomes.