AI and Mentoring - A New Paradigm in Business Guidance

24 January 2024

In an age where artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly transforming industries, its integration into the domain of mentoring, especially in the context of business support, is an innovative stride.

Article by Kari I. Mattila and Dana T. Redford, PhD

The Early Warning Europe Mentor Academy (EWEMA), known for its forward-thinking approach to online learning programs and masterclasses, is now exploring this intersection.

In a 2016 article entitled “Mentoring and Organizational Performance: A Review of Effects of Mentoring on Small and Medium Enterprises,” Shah and co-authors explore the crucial role of mentoring in enhancing the performance of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), particularly those facing potential failure. The article underscores how strategic mentoring relationships, both structured and casual, are pivotal in turning around struggling businesses. For example, the study points out how mentorship can guide SMEs in financial management and market positioning, critical areas where inexperienced entrepreneurs often falter. It also discusses the benefits of mentoring in fostering innovation and resilience, which are essential for companies in competitive markets or undergoing restructuring. Additionally, the research highlights successful case studies, such as a tech startup that rebounded from near bankruptcy through mentor-guided shifts in business models and market strategies. This work emphasizes that effective mentoring can be a key factor in not only sustaining but also revitalizing SMEs at risk of failure. The question of what role AI can play in this process needs to be considered.

The Polanyi Paradigm and AI in Mentoring
Michael Polanyi's principle, "you can know more than you can tell" holds significant relevance in the context of mentoring. This concept, emphasizing tacit knowledge acquired through personal experience and often difficult to articulate, is crucial in business decision-making and crisis management. AI functions as a 'supportive intelligence' in this scenario. It serves as a reflective tool, aiding mentors and mentees in unlocking and expressing this tacit knowledge. Engaging with AI allows mentors to acquire new perspectives and insights, invaluable in steering businesses through critical phases like financial crises or ownership transitions.

The Role of AI in Enhancing Mentor Capabilities
AI's role in mentoring is not to replace human interaction but to augment it. Though AI may lack an in-depth understanding of human emotions and contexts, it excels in processing and generating insights from the information it receives. This capability is especially beneficial in mentor training programs, where developing competencies in using AI can assist mentors in honing critical thinking and problem-solving skills, crucial for guiding businesses in challenging times. However, the contribution of AI should be seen as complementary. The human elements of empathy, contextual understanding, and emotional intelligence remain vital and irreplaceable in mentor-mentee dynamics. Importantly, EWEMA mentors work pro bono, and leveraging AI could help them save time on session preparation and data analysis, allowing them to focus more on creative and strategic work with mentees.

The Irreplaceable Human-to-Human Element in Early Warning Mentoring
The human aspect of mentoring is fundamental and irreplaceable. As mentors often discover, the most insightful moments arise from questions and discussions that diverge from the original topic, tapping into subconscious information conveyed by the mentee. This human intuition and the ability to connect seemingly unrelated aspects can be pivotal in elevating a business or rescuing it from distress. The Early Warning Europe Mentor Academy equips mentors with a comprehensive set of tools for addressing both the tangible and intangible aspects of business. These tools enable mentors to structure their approach effectively while remaining attuned to the unexpressed needs and challenges of the mentee. Since each mentee is unique, the mentoring process must be flexible and adaptive. AI, while beneficial, cannot perceive the emotional nuances or the unspoken pain of a mentee. Therefore, the human element, with its capacity to maximize the benefits of technology, remains indispensable in the mentoring process.

The Early Warning Europe Mentor Academy (EWEMA) Initiative
Early warning mentoring aims to reduce the stigma of bankruptcy, encourage timely restructuring, and enhance the viability of businesses across the EU, thereby supporting a more resilient and innovative economic landscape. The EU has been changing through legislation a shift from an insolvency-focused approach to an early warning approach to promote preventative restructuring frameworks and the promotion of a second chance for entrepreneurs. But this area will only advance if there is a base of mentors, policymakers, and entrepreneurs that can support initiatives for entrepreneurs at the local level.

Sign up now for the next course runs offered by EWEMA. The online learning programme and interactive masterclasses is designed with both new and experienced business mentors in mind. 

The EWEMA, an initiative of the European Union, is at the forefront of this innovative approach. The project, “Improving the Availability and the Scope of Services for Companies in Financial Difficulties”, is a testament to the EU's commitment to supporting Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in distress. Implemented by AARC Consultancy (Ireland), Erhvervshus Midtjylland (Denmark), and Fundacja Firmy Rodzinne (Poland), the project focuses on training business mentors and supporting a pan-European community of practice.

The authors of this piece include Kari I. Mattila, who has participated as a masterclass expert, and Prof. Dana T. Redford, who serves as the lead educator of EWEMA.

More on the authors:

Further reading on financial mentoring in Finland can be found here.  

Shah, M. H., Othman, A. R., & Mansor, M. N. (2016). Mentoring and Organizational Performance: A Review of Effects of Mentoring on Small and Medium Enterprises. Journal of Business and Social Review in Emerging Economies, 2(2), 143-158.

« Back