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Why we pay for employee mentors

Founders should make sure every single one of their employees has a mentor — even if it means paying.

Credit: Credit: Unsplash
Ivan Maryasin

By Ivan Maryasin

One factor is more important than any other in the success or failure of an early-stage startup: the skills of the team. But it’s impossible to expect your employees will join with all the skills they will need along their journey. 

That’s why we make sure that every one of our 11 employees has a mentor — not only that, we are willing to pay for mentors if need be. The insights, advice and support these mentors give our employees helps us make better decisions as a business and helps our employees grow as the demands of their roles develop. Surveys have shown that businesses with mentorship increased revenue by 83% compared to 16% growth for non-mentored businesses. 

It sets us back about 5% of our total budget but every penny is worth it. ​​

Great companies are where people develop

Though there are great examples in Europe of people proactively finding mentorship on their own, it’s still very rare for startup employees to have direct support from their employers in finding mentors, even at later-stage companies. Our belief is that every employee at a startup should expect the founders or their managers to provide them access to mentorship.

Being a great manager is understanding where they’re headed in life — and how you can play a role in getting them there.

Any founder must understand that employees are not cofounders in the business. They come to the team with their own mission and their own professional and personal development goals that reflect their individual interests. Being a great manager is understanding where they’re headed in life — they won’t be working for you forever — and how you can play a role in getting them there. Providing them mentors is one key part of that. 

Everyone at Monite is encouraged to have two to three mentors outside of the company to supplement internal mentorship. Employees can have short-term mentors they meet for one to two meetings on a specific issue or others who they meet with regularly over a longer period of time. 

Some of the mentors come from our network and some from mentorship platforms like MentorPass, GrowthMentor or The Mentoring Club

Some mentors are happy to provide their time and guidance for free and some — especially those on the platforms — ask for compensation. We’re always happy to cover all expenses so our employees get timely help and advice. Continuous engagement usually works a lot better when there’s compensation, simply because it creates a framework for engagement and shows the mentor that their time is valuable and appreciated. Mentors can also often provide time more frequently if they are paid. 

Our main goal is to help our employees address knowledge gaps that naturally occur in their day-to-day work.

Our main goal is to help our employees address knowledge gaps that naturally occur in their day-to-day work. It’s impossible to expect every employee to know how to do everything. 

A great example: one time, we were late with hiring and were three or four people short on the development team. Our head of product Stephan Weber, fresh on board, had to decide whether to hire third-party software development agencies or not — and had no prior experience with the topic. We found him three senior mentors within a few days who helped him decide to speed up the hiring process and shorten onboarding time instead of paying €50k for an agency. 

Mentorship is for executives too 

But mentorship shouldn’t just be for your rank-and-file employee. No founder or manager is perfect. There’s always something to improve, therefore it’s extremely important to invest enough into leadership coaching from day zero. Yes, day zero, not day one. 

We invested tens of thousands of dollars on an executive coach, Sue from Silicon Valley who advises leadership at Twitter, Facebook and other companies. It took us three months to find her and it was the best investment we made since the inception of Monite. She helped us improve our management, founder alignment and communication which had a positive impact on the entire company. 

When the team was struggling with giving direct feedback and frustrations were building up internally, Sue suggested we organise a feedback workshop, set up more one-on-one meetings and encourage people to give direct feedback when they came to us with pent up frustration about things big and small. This cleared the air and incentivised team members to give feedback instead of bottling things up inside. 

Mentors help build a healthy culture

Having mentors also helps create a healthier work environment in general. An environment where people can make mistakes, raise concerns or say honestly, ‘Hey, I have no idea how to handle this.’

Having a mentor gives employees an outlet to ask those (sometimes) embarrassing questions. 

Employees can spar on touchy topics and get advice before taking action or bringing their idea to the broader team. It helps steer the company culture towards one that embraces admitting what you don’t know, instead of pretending you do and struggling. 

We’re planning to extend the mentorship programme and get more general coaches for employees to help them on development outside of their day to day responsibilities. Yes, it will be pricey but it will be key to our success. 

No founder should ever think twice about spending money on employee development, especially mentors. 

Ivan Maryasin is CEO and cofounder of finance management platform Monite

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