Mentoring has never been so important for SMEs

By Chelsey Baker, above, Founder and CEO,  National Mentoring Day

It’s a challenging time for UK businesses right now. With fierce instability in the economy fuelled by inflation, record job vacancies and skills shortages, companies need to do all they can to retain and upskill staff. This is particularly crucial in the SME sector, where recruitment issues have taken a heavy toll, with 28% of SMEs struggling to replace staff they have lost.

It’s clear that SMEs need to implement new tactics to remedy the challenges they are facing, and top of this list should be mentoring. A recent government report launched on National Mentoring Day in conjunction with Enterprise Nation, Newable and the Association of Business Mentors found that 66% of businesses that had received mentoring said it had helped them survive, and three quarters (76%) said it had been key to business growth. Yet, many of the UK’s 5.5 million SMEs are yet to engage with mentoring schemes.

So, let’s look at the benefits of mentoring for businesses and why it’s so critical that SMEs get behind it during these difficult economic times.

Why mentoring?

Mentoring is transformational, and not just for the mentee but also for the mentor and the wider organisation. Without mentoring, some of the greatest entrepreneurs and business empires wouldn’t be here today. Take TV shows The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den for example, both recognise the benefits of business mentoring for start-ups and how crucial this can be in the early stages of a company. From my own experience, I’ve seen first-hand how investing in mentoring programmes in the short-term leads to major gains in the long-run, which is why I established National Mentoring Day, to bring greater recognition to the benefits of mentoring and help inspire more businesses and individuals to make a difference.

Inspires and motivates employees

All employees want to feel recognised at work and that their managers believe they are worth investing in. In a survey by MentorCloud, National Mentoring Day’s official global partner, half (48%) of mentees said that being mentored enabled them to learn new skills they have been able to apply not just to work, but also in their day-to-day lives, and 56% said they had developed a deeper appreciation for the power of mentoring. Investing in employees through mentoring has broader benefits than simply upskilling them, it also sends a message that they are important to the business, which in turn helps inspire and motivate them and improve staff retention.

We’ve seen a trend recently for ‘reverse mentoring’ where more junior members of staff mentor senior executives, who could learn a lot from younger employees with regards to youth culture, technology and social media. This type of mentoring can really help to spark innovation among junior colleagues, and it lets them know that their specific skills and experience are just as significant to a business as those of senior team members.

Encourages greater internal leadership skills

It’s not just the mentees that benefit from mentoring, there’s also huge advantages for mentors. According to MentorCloud, over two thirds (69%) of mentors found that mentoring gave them a strong sense of purpose for helping others grow, while 67% say it helped them gain a new perspective both as a leader and as a human being. Mentoring is therefore a great way of building leadership qualities among employees, including better interpersonal, self-efficacy and communication skills. Practising mentoring in a one-on-one setting, will develop mentors’ leadership abilities more widely and give organisations greater confidence in staff’s managerial skills.

To further emphasise this, one third (33%) of mentors in the MentorCloud survey, said mentoring strengthened their skills to be recognised as an expert in their organisation, and 29% recognised certain areas of expertise and leadership traits they didn’t realise they had.

Fosters a supportive team culture

One thing that mentoring is great for, is helping to break down barriers between staff, particularly among senior and junior team members, where division can most keenly be felt. More than one in four (44%) of mentees said they felt more connected to their senior leaders and experts as a result of mentoring. Working directly with a colleague in a different role or position helps build understanding and empathy for the individual and any challenges they might be facing at work, which the mentor may not have been aware of. Encouraging all employees, whatever their level, to work with others and help them grow, cultivates a far more supportive team culture, where staff champion the success of others.

Helps develop and define business goals

The process of establishing a mentoring programme gives organisations the opportunity to think about the areas of the business that could most benefit from greater internal investment, and the skillsets they specifically require in employees. It’s crucial that before rolling out mentoring, senior leaders speak to everyone in the team to find out directly what they feel they need upskilling in and what experience they believe they could offer others. This will not only highlight areas of weakness but also spot strengths in individual employees’ skills and experience, which can be utilised to the benefit of the business.

To get the most out of mentoring, it is often worth investing in an external mentoring solution that can create an effective and bespoke programme to truly meet a company’s needs, and ensure they get the very best business results out of mentoring.

Facilitates company growth

Investment in staff facilitates business growth by upskilling employees, so they are able to perform their role more efficiently and consequently drive greater results for the company. But there is also a huge benefit to engaging with external mentors who can really help drive an organisations’ success. Seeking the expertise and advice of a mentor is crucial from the first conceptions of a company and throughout every stage of its growth. For business leaders, it’s advisable to find mentors in a similar field who’ve successfully scaled their company. This can be particularly helpful if a business doesn’t have a clear strategy for growth or has come up against obstacles it is unsure how to overcome. An experienced, independent mentor can provide a much needed external perspective of what steps and decisions a company needs to take to grow, which can be hard for senior executives to see when they’re fully immersed in the day-to-day running of a business.

Some of the most successful business men and women owe their success to mentors. Leading figures such as Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Jo Malone have all talked publicly about the support they’ve received from mentors and how this has helped them to succeed.

The extreme economic situation SMEs are now dealing with means investing in mentoring has never been so important. With many companies struggling to stay afloat due to increasing business costs and hiring and retention challenges, mentoring provides a way for businesses not just to survive, but to thrive. From motivating and upskilling employees to improving staff retention and promoting a more supportive internal culture, mentoring can help businesses in all areas and ensure they enjoy the greatest level of success going forwards.    

As part of National mentoring Day 2023, Chelsey is calling on all UK businesses to commit to providing at least one hour of mentoring for all staff next year. For more information or to download a valuable library of resources, visit