The value of mentoring

// Julie Freeman & Johanna Müdicken

How can both young and old benefit from mentoring? Dana Jiménez Herrera, a lecturer at Hotel School The Hague, spells it out: a good connection is key.

Diana Jiménez Herrera teaches mentoring and leadership at Hotelschool The Hague. She is also the founder of Rock your Life! Mentoring in the Netherlands, an international non-profit organisation fighting for educational justice. Photo: Hotelschool The Hague.

CIM: The hotel industry is struggling to attract young people and retain established professionals: how serious is the situation really?
Dana Jiménez Herrera: On the basis of conversations I’ve had with colleagues in the industry and my own work, I can only confirm that. A study of our graduates in 2016 shows that over half (62 per cent) start their careers in the hotel industry, but only a third (34 per cent) stay there for the long run. In addition to an excellent academic education, our hotel school also offers sound training in leadership skills. That makes our graduates very attractive to other industries as well, industries that may offer better terms of employment.

Talented young people today are looking for dynamic, meaningful careers. But they come up against conservative structures. How can a bridge be built between young and old?
By talking face to face as equals. Employers must put in place a framework that encourages and requires this. Young employees want to be taken seriously and listened to. Well-structured mentoring schemes can help with this. They encourage a professional exchange between experienced employees and young professionals.

What motivated you to become a mentor and lecturer?
As a typical millennial, I was looking for a dynamic, meaningful career. I wasn’t sure that my job as an account manager could give me that, so I looked for a project I could volunteer in. That’s how I became a mentor with Rock your Life! in Germany, where I was still living at the time. The interpersonal skills that are key to mentoring had already interested me a lot when I was a student. As a mentor, I was able to use these intensively and help others to find their way and move forward. I found it incredibly fascinating and inspiring to be able to support young people during this process. So I became a trainer at Rock your Life! and ultimately a full-time lecturer in mentoring and leadership.

A mentor and a mentee must have a trusting relationship. How can this trust be built?
A good connection is key. A structured mentoring scheme should therefore include a matching process in which both mentor and mentee have a say. It is particularly important to support people professionally during the initial phase of their work to help them define their role. Mentors are sometimes overzealous and can demand too much of the mentee. The mentor should also have good communication skills (active listening skills, for example) or be trained in them.

What are the challenges involved in mentoring?
Every relationship is different. There is no precise timetable for a mentoring relationship. That makes it incredibly exciting, but it can also cause uncertainty in the participants if it is not done well and clear boundaries are not set. The employer’s expectations of the mentoring scheme must be clearly formulated and communicated. This is the only way to ensure that the individual goals of the mentoring pair can be reconciled with them. Clear agreements, in order to make both mentors and mentees accountable, are essential. They are particularly important because mentoring only works well over a longer period of at least a year; trust needs to be built. I don’t think much of shorter schemes.

How can an experienced professionals learn from younger colleagues in reverse mentoring?
We are living through exciting times defined by rapid change and technical innovations. Employees are required to be flexible and creative. An actively encouraged exchange with a younger colleague gives an experienced professional a fresh view of existing processes and possibly ideas for new projects. Countries that are used to flat hierarchies have understood this well. In the Netherlands, for example, it is normal to take interns or junior staff into management meetings and ask them their opinions. This gives young employees the message that they are taken seriously and can learn a lot in meetings like these. That, in turn, increases their self-confidence and motivation.

How can organisations in the MICE industry find, develop and retain talented people at all levels?
The MICE business is extraordinarily varied; that’s what makes it so interesting. Talented young people often have a specific idea of the work that awaits them in the industry, and this doesn’t always correspond to reality. There is a lot of travel involved, which is exciting, but the long working hours and the pressure make it difficult for young people, in particular, to cope.
A scheme in which they receive structured support is thus essential. That gives employees the (self-)confidence and security they need in order to meet new challenges quickly and independently. And it also has advantages for the company. You learn about individuals’ needs and thus get to know how to tie a person in over the long term. It is incredibly important to clarify expectations on both sides, particularly in an industry like this. Transpa‧rency and flexibility should be central.

Many thanks for the interview, Ms. Jiménez Herrera.