There is a lot of buzz about the need for advocacy or sponsorship relationships as opposed to mentor relationships.  What is the difference?

The most significant difference between mentors and advocates is the level of active involvement in the career of the protoge. Sponsors and advocates are in a position of influence in the organziation.  Sponsor/advocates are also close enough to the protoges career trajectory AND personal goals to clearly see in detail where the protoge should be focusing their efforts in the near future to accomplish THEIR professional (and sometimes life) goals.   In addition the sponsor/advocate is  in position to be able to influence the opportunities the protoge has access to and is willing to actively "advocate" or "sponsor" this individual by placing personal reputation and political capital on the line in support of the protoge.  Lets face it, if we recommend someone for an assigment, promotion, raise, committee, opportunity of any kind- we put a portion of our reputation on the line. This is the primary difference between mentors and sponsor/advocates.  Many people have mentors who in fact have been playing the sponsor/advocate role -many times without the knowledge of the protoge.  Until we are insiders of the leadership team we often are unaware of how prevalent the sponsor/advocacy system is.

The sponsor/advocate also plays the role of education, awareness raising and skill building which may be common to mentor relationships.  One of the most challenging things about career progression is understanding exactly what you should be doing when , how to procure these assignments for yourself and how to ensure the right people know you are doing the right things.  These steps cannot be accomplished independently in most organizations.  Hence the need for sponsor/advocates. 
If we manufacture widgets we use materials, work in process and machines that combine with people power to create a product.  If we are in the knowledge business we harness and combine the talents of our people to create the services we sell.  We use equipment such as computers to support the service development and delivery and we may have a quasi tangible product such as financial statements or tax returns. 

It is difficult to deny, however, that the primary input to the delivery of the services we offer is our people.  The raw knowledge of our teams combined with their capability to create value with that knowledge is our "product".  Why is it then that in so many Firms we still see more time and effort spent on the upkeep of our IT equipment then we do on the upkeep of our people and their talents. This is not in any way to suggest that we should not invest in our IT equipment but that we consider the technological contributions along side the human contributions. 

Our people are our business. If we understand that our people are THE essential asset of our organization we also understand that we must invest in them to maintain and increase the contribution they make.  If you are not getting the contribution you need from your people you might ask yourself if you treat them as important organizational assets.  Consider some basic tips below:

-We certainly should invest in a regular review of the performance and development of our people- just as we engage in regular review and update of our software and hardware.
-We track our physical business assets but at any given point do we know where are people assets are? Might a competitor be working on pulling these assets out the door ?  What does it cost us to replace that talent in time and dollars? How do our clients feel about a revolving service team?
-Unlike machines our people have needs, desires and dreams. Do we know what these are? Do we attempt to provide what they need?
-We continually scan trends in the marketplace to ensure that we are investing in updated and/or new equipment to take our firms into the future.  Do we actively evaluate the competencies we will need for the future and follow through in recruiting and development of these new competencies? Do we prepare our culture for these new competencies?  Where would we be if we attempted to run our 2012 computers in the technological environment we used in 2000 or earlier? Are we not in some cases attempting to meet the needs of 2012 with the competencies of the past? Or we recognize the need for new competencies but ask them to thrive in the traditional environment of our past?

Our people are our business, does our investment in them reflect this fact?