The ugly truth about mentorship in Canada

Alan Middleton on how marketing departments overlook the importance of mentoring and why that's a mistake.


By Alan Middleton

A combination of the pandemic effects and new technologies have accelerated changes in our workplaces, which has created a stepped-up need to learn new things and to seek training and counsel on their effective application.

Sadly, Canada in general, but in particular the marketing discipline, have not demonstrated strengths in these areas.

In surveys by the World Economic Forum and leading international business schools, such as the Institute for Management Development and INSEAD, about the money and time spent on upgrading skills of managers and employees in organizations, Canada rates below our American, Asian, and European competitors, ranking between #13 and #22 in the world.

Part of this is due to poor formal in-organization training, but much of it is also due to poor management practices that overlook the importance of mentoring as a management development practice.

Except for organizations like IBM, Shopify, and some banks like CIBC and Scotiabank, the assumption in marketing is that it is enough for organizations to hire people who demonstrate marketing knowledge learned through college and university programs, as well as skills acquired through prior job experience. Well-organized training and formal mentorship programs are too rare.

So, what is mentorship and why is it important especially in marketing?

The Harvard Business Review defines mentorship as “the offering of advice, information or guidance by a person with useful experience, skills or expertise for another individual’s personal and professional development.”

This often happens informally but with the changes around us, it needs to be available more formally and more extensively as well. Old notions that mentorship was only for senior personnel to mentor junior personnel – and only within organizations – no longer apply. Additionally, the notion that there is only value for the mentee also no longer applies as mentorship is itself recognized as a key management skill for mentors as well.

Some business researchers have described the need for more “transformational leadership,” which focuses on leadership as a mindset to help others be more innovative and engaged. In my book, Mentorship Matters, I show the mentorship process as a mutually beneficial one where the mentor becomes wiser and the mentee more knowledgeable.

Good mentorship programs can work well both internally within the organization and also externally. Each have strengths, with internal programs more able to help the mentee understand and work within the organization; while external programs help mentees understand the broader contexts. The need for such programs is particularly acute in the marketing discipline.

Marketing requires a judicious blend of science and art. The requirements for data to fully analyze target groups ­– as well as the products/services, pricing, distribution channels, marketing communications and branding needed to attract them – has been increasing geometrically. This will continue with greater use of AI, robots and cobots (collaborative robots), as well ongoing changes in marketing communications.

However, equally, and arguably more important, is the problem-solving, decision-making, judgement and humanity required in ensuring the respect needed in dealing with potential customers and staff. This blend requires ongoing formal training and effective mentorship programs helping both mentors and mentees.

The AMA Toronto Mentor Exchange program, run in partnership with the Schulich Executive Education Centre, is one of the best developed in the discipline of marketing. Now in its 12th year, the program has a professional matching process for mentor and mentee, where there is constant follow-up and evaluations of the people and the process. It also offers training programs for mentors and mentees on how to maximize the value of the process and best practices, with speakers, panels, and networking events to enable continual mentorship opportunities.

External mentoring programs have huge management advantages. It enables exposure to learning, ideas, and judgement outside of the immediate needs of a person’s own specific organization. It increases exposure to different styles/types of management issues and aids in cross-silo and cross-organization knowledge and thinking. And it broadens networks and adds positive involvement in the community, while avoiding any internal “political” issues.

With marketing issues now so important for all organizations, especially small and medium enterprises, our industry’s greater commitment to better training and mentorship programs is a necessity. In a time of accelerating change, mentorship matters now more than ever.

Screen Shot 2021-11-05 at 1.07.29 PMAlan Middleton is an independent consultant, writer and speaker on marketing and mentorship. A former professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University, he is a long-time mentor and the author of Mentorship Matters: Now More Than Ever!

Featured image by Christina @ on Unsplash