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Len Rosen
Consultant for new business startups
Toronto, Ontario Canada

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Mentorship in a Social Business Network

Investing in private business social networks provides a signifcant ROI. Properly designed a social business network can use the social aspect to create knowledge continuity. Even unstructured data can be harvested for use in an online mentorship program.
Written Dec 01, 2011, read 1341 times since then.
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Organizations invest in infrastructure and people. Most organizations recognize the need to repeatedly refresh infrastructure. Refreshing the people is a bit more complicated. Employees who have been in an organization for a long time represent assets of enormous value. When they leave the assets vanish.

How do you harvest that knowledge before it gets lost forever? Business social networks provide one way of developing shared knowledge. Implementing mentorship within the social network formalizes the knowledge sharing process and serves the additional purpose of bringing new employees up to speed faster. New employees once mentored prove to be durable, long-term assets, unlikely to leave.

Social networks represent a new type of data record. The communication applications are inherently unstructured consisting of casual chats, email exchanges, blogs, message placements, photographs and video clips. Harnessing the content of this material is one of the challenges that often makes companies not comfortable with implementing a behind-the-firewall business social environment.

But the digital natives of today's workforce are social networking literate. That's why there is no better time than now to implement mentorship programs. To make the argument more compelling one only needs to look at the people like me who are still working. I am 62, a Baby Boomer reaching retirement age. When the companies that rely on me no longer have me to work with them they lose the knowledge and experience that I represent. Harvesting that knowledge is what Lockheed-Martin calls “knowledge continuity.”

There are two types of "knowledge continuity" programs: informal and formal.

Informal Mentorship and Knowledge Continuity Programs

What constitutes an informal program? A good example is Horsesmouth (www.horsesmouth.co.uk), a public social network that states “Someone knows what you need. Someone needs what you know.” Horsesmouth covers a wide range of life, work and learning topics and involves individuals and business. Horsesmouth calls itself a “wisdomocracy” and states it has over 25,000 mentors in its network. All mentors fill in an application and require approval before posting. The onus to connect is by the mentee.

I like the term “wisdomocracy” because it reflects how mentorship differs from training programs. In a “wisdomocracy” the onus on learning is driven by the knowledge seeker. A “wisdomocracy” rewards learner initiative, and recognizes the value provided by mentor knowledge sharing. But using a Facebook, LinkedIn or a Ning to create “wisdomocracy” within a company is fraught with many challenges. These include the potential for a company to reveal valuable proprietary information through a public site that could compromise intellectual property, trade secrets and other business pursuits.

Formal Mentorship and Knowledge Continuity Programs

Formal mentorship programs are the kind in which companies and organizations with a specific cause invest. Some are deployed as enterprise network solutions. Many are web accessible. Some connect to public social networks but more and more reside behind-the-firewall in private social communities.

One such is the CanWIT eMentorship, a social network (http://canwit.workingrooms.com) connecting women in technology. CanWIT stands for Canadian Women in Technology. The eMentorship initiative focuses on providing senior management IT women coaches for young women working in the industry.

CanWIT’s origins date back to 2003 when an initiative between the CATA Alliance, supporting IT innovation in Canada, and Springboard, providing venture capital for women-led businesses, led to its inception. Today CanWIT is a national IT community network with chapters located from British Columbia to Atlantic Canada.

One of CanWIT’s initiatives is BringitOn, (www.bringiton.ca) a website aimed at attracting young women to follow career paths in technology. Another initiative addresses the need for women already in the industry to find other women in IT leadership positions to whom they can relate. Both groups can now find mentorship in a business social network at the following site: http://canwit.workingrooms.com/. The site went live on December 1, 2011. Workingrooms is a product of Enable Inc., a Toronto social media consulting firm headed up by a woman.

Through the CanWIT eMentorship Workingrooms network women login and get matched to other women based on common characteristics found within their profiles. The characteristics can be mined by both field and key word search. Once matched the women begin their mentor-mentee interaction using the many communication and online resource tools. The program also allows one-to-many mentor-mentee relationships. It features private email, chat, document posting and sharing, video and multimedia support, calendars, and meeting rooms for group interaction.

Enable is one of a number of application developers deploying mentor-mentee private social networks. Here are some others: Triple Creek (www.3creek.com) offering Open Mentoring, a tool that matches mentors to mentees both one-to-one and one-to-many and provides career development, topical, and situational rapid learning engagements; Chronus Mentor (http://chronus.com/mentoring-software) delivering a web-based one-to-one and group mentoring and coaching solution; and Mentoring Complete (www.mentoring.complete.com), one of a suite of applications that focuses on sourcing mentors, coaching and mentorship program delivery.

Learn more about the author, Len Rosen.

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