The value of mentorship in a remote world

The CEO of video creation platform provider Vidyard discusses his personal experiences and the program he formed at the company.

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Image: Shutterstock/fizkes

Mentorship in an increasingly remote world has become more of a challenge, but it is something companies need to continue incorporating if they want to help advance employees' careers. Michael Litt, CEO of Vidyard, strongly believes that mentoring people helps them "become the best versions of themselves, improve skill sets, learn and move into managerial positions."

But the reality is a lot of people don't make the time for mentoring and coaching, especially when many are working longer hours remotely, he said.

"Jobs are more demanding, and hybrid work has meant different expectations and stress and strain,'' Litt said. However, formal mentorship programs are especially important in startup organizations "to give people the time and space to learn."

Litt believes this is most important when people are moving into managerial positions.

Meanwhile, The State of Coaching 2021 report, which surveyed sales reps and managers, found that 43% of managers said the biggest coaching challenge they face today is not having enough time to coach. Further, 40% of "coachees" said that coaching rarely (if ever) happens, according to the report.

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Vidyard's mentorship program

Vidyard practices what it preaches. While the company was still in-person, Litt started a learning circles program and brought in an external executive coach to moderate topics. Litt said he personally did not have any CEO or executive experience and he went out and found his own mentors. It was then he realized "we needed to establish a way for our people to do that and give them time."

Managers are divided into five groups with a maximum of 10 people per group and each one meets on a biweekly basis for an hour or an hour and a half at the end of the workday. People are able to ask anonymous questions they have about being a manager, such as how do you have a compensation discussion or performance-based discussion with an employee? Or how do you reward someone who is exceeding expectations?

Two people are then randomly assigned to prepare materials to drive a discussion around a topic, Litt said. The content is delivered in an asynchronous video format and people watch it ahead of the group discussion, which the executive coach moderates and then provides feedback. About 75 Vidyard employees participate.

"It's a very peer-driven, cross-functional program designed to upskill managers as quickly as possible,'' Litt said.

The program actually works better remotely than in-person because Vidyard is increasingly global, he said. Previously, "it was very difficult to bring people together in person, so we had a weird mishmash with people in a room together and one or two on Zoom, and unfortunately, they get treated as second-class citizens,'' he said. "Being remote, everyone can be present and your voice is heard at the same level and you can bring in expertise anywhere in the world."

Watching videos ahead of the group meetings "gives introverts and individuals who may not have the confidence to think on their feet an opportunity to digest the content and prepare questions" so there is an active discussion when they get together, Litt said.

The adoption of collaborative technologies and asynchronous video means people can be mentored from anywhere in the world, he said.

SEE: If you're asking for more from your teams, you should ask the same of yourself (TechRepublic)

Litt encouraged people to do cold outreaches to people they would like to mentor them. Often, the mentees get something out of the experience as well. "The big secret of mentoring is you learn just as much as a mentor as the mentee because it forces you to organize your thoughts and compartmentalize actionable things as part of the teaching process,'' he said. "My executive coach feels he became a much better executive once he started teaching his craft."

Although he realizes everyone is tired of meetings, Litt said there is a big difference between standard meetings "and [having] a real conversation with a true mentor. I have mentors in my life and look forward to getting on Zoom calls with them, while there are other meetings in my day that I really dread."

If the mentor/mentee relationship is truly strong, he added, "it's not exhausting, it's time to enrich yourself and invest in your future."

How to build a mentoring relationship

There has to be intent when working with a mentor, Litt said. The best way to start is to reflect on yourself—where you are strong and where you need to improve. This is something Litt said he does regularly.

"That reflection has to be holistic and you evaluate it and other people evaluate it and then you focus on those areas where you need improvement.'' Once you have that framed, you can define your core needs and then identify who can help you fill in those gaps.

"Monitorship comes in all unique flavors," he said, so build a shortlist of individuals and reach out to them. "It's a sales process—what will you get out of it and what will the [mentor] get out of it?"

Then set expectations of what you're both looking to get out of the relationship and hold each other accountable, he advised.

It's also important to reflect on whether you are using the skill sets your mentor taught you. This helps create a better future for yourself, he said.

"I wouldn't be where I am if [my mentors] hadn't taken me under their wing when I asked them to," Litt said. "I believe in the art, and format, and intention is absolutely required. There is no easy path to building a mentor/mentee relationship."

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By Esther Shein

Esther Shein is a longtime freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in several online and print publications. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief of Datamation, a managing editor at BYTE, and a senior writer at eWeek (formerly PC Week)...