What is horizontal mentorship?
March 2, 2021
Horizontal mentorship is the premier way to implement an employee mentor program. It’s a mentoring relationship between employees across or within departments free from the influence of the workplace hierarchy.
In theory, the idea of vertical mentorship makes sense. A more experienced/knowledgeable person providing wisdom to a less experienced/knowledgeable person.
But, what vertical mentorship alone doesn’t account for is the personal drivers of each person in the relationship and its impact on the longevity and quality of that relationship over time.
Vertical mentorship opens the door for ego and ego is the biggest deterrent to successful mentoring relationships.
To show this point, let’s discuss the story of Shawn. Shawn is the CFO of a major company. He loves the idea of mentorship and believes that he has a lot of wisdom to share with somebody else. But, because Shawn is an executive, he doesn’t necessarily see the relationship being mutual. He’s fine with only providing his wisdom without any expectation of anything in return.
On the surface, this seems altruistic of Shawn…but in reality, Shawn is a nightmare for the other person he is in a mentoring relationship with.
The issue is that Shawn sees himself as an altruistic provider of information. What Shawn doesn’t realize is that his lack of willingness to listen and learn from the other person he is in a mentoring relationship with cripples the relationship. The person Shawn is in a relationship with cannot feel fully connected to Shawn because all Shawn does is spout advice. Shawn doesn’t come prepared with questions to meetings because Shawn perceives himself as a “reactive mentor” meaning that he can excuse himself from preparing for mentor meetings because his reactions to the other person’s questions should be enough to make the relationship valuable.
The result, the relationship fades away because the other person is frustrated with Shawn not being open to learning something from him while Shawn has no idea why the relationship ended and perceives the other person as being ungrateful for not taking full advantage of his wisdom.
The point is that vertical mentorship exaggerates workplace hierarchies and dehumanizes the mentoring relationship.
As opposed to the mentoring relationship being mutual where two people can give to and take from the relationship, it creates an awkward relationship where one person feels belittled and the other person feels disrespected. Vertical mentorship feels more like a transaction and less like a mutually beneficial relationship.
Horizontal mentorship leverages the inherent drives and values people have at work (Work Orientation) and matches them based on those drives.
No matter the matches’ age, years of experience, or area of expertise, when people are matched together in horizontal mentorship, they are on a level playing field.
This means that both participants come prepared to each mentor meeting with questions for each other and stories to share.
This means that both participants are willing to be open-minded enough to learn from somebody else regardless of their age or experience, willing to ask questions, and willing to share past mistakes.
Horizontal mentorship removes the transactional nature of vertical mentorship. It breaks through communication barriers and creates empathy between employees at work.
For building an employee mentor program, horizontal mentorship is the way to go.
Even if the goal is for a junior employee to learn a skill from a senior employee, if the perception is vertical mentorship, the senior employee is going to perceive the relationship as a hassle while the junior employee is going to feel belittled. If the perception is that this type of mentor relationship is horizontal, it empowers the junior employee and gives the senior employee motivation to engage in the relationship because he now stands to gain something from the relationship.
This article first appeared on Ambition In Motion’s blog and is authored by Garrett Mintz, founder of Ambition In Motion.