Mentoring accelerates leadership development

Programs help organizations keep high potentials and prepare them for key roles

Growing the next generation of leaders: In February, the Strategic Capability Network hosted a special roundtable featuring Catherine Mossop, a partner at The Strategic Planning Group, that focused on how the “new” mentoring is growing the next generation of leaders. For more information about SCNetwork, visit

Mentoring accelerates leadership development

Don’t cut mentoring in tough times

SCNetwork’s panel of thought leaders brings decades of experience from the senior ranks of Canada’s business community. Their commentary puts HR management issues into context and looks at the practical implications of proposals and policies.

Mentoring accelerates leadership development

With the global recession deepening, many organizations are looking for ways to cut costs and survive the tough times. In such an environment, mentoring programs are likely to take a back seat, but that would be a mistake, said Catherine Mossop, a partner at the Toronto-based management consulting firm The Strategic Planning Group, speaking at a Strategic Capability Network event last month.

In the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, leadership development was among the first programs gutted to save money, said Mossop. This left a lot of people in the wings ready to take the leadership centre stage without the right skills and training.

With 40 to 75 per cent of eligible retirees in senior leadership positions, organizations need to figure out how to accelerate leadership development so the leaders-in-waiting will be ready to take the place of those who are heading out the door, said Mossop.

A mentoring program is one way to do just that, she said.

“Presidents have said to me, ‘I can’t grow the business because I don’t have the talent,’” said Mossop.

The right talent often exists in the organization, it just hasn’t been developed the right way.

“Mentoring is all about closing that gap,” said Mossop. “It’s a relationship focused on the process of learning what cannot be learned any other way.”

Mentors help protegés explore complex problem analysis, develop political awareness and improve decision-making. Mentoring programs also improve an organization’s attraction, retention, succession planning and, once talent is developed properly, ability to capitalize on business opportunities.

In her return on investment analyses of various mentoring programs implemented with help from her consulting firm, Mossop has found overwhelming success. One company saw a 280-per-cent return on team effectiveness and one engineering company had a 1,200-per-cent return based on reduced overtime, quality improvement and conflict resolution.

The right mentor for the job

Finding the right mentors is essential, said Mossop.

“You don’t have a mentoring program unless you have absolutely stunning and brilliant mentors,” she said.

And while mentoring benefits the protegés, the mentors also reap many rewards, said Mossop, such as becoming “substantially better leaders.”

Unfortunately, often the very same qualities that make a great leader actually impede an individual’s ability to be a great mentor, said Mossop. To be a good mentor, a leader has to learn how to back off, reflect and share his stories, she said.

Realizing the benefits

For the protegé and the organization to fully realize the benefits of the mentoring program, the protegé’s manager needs to be supportive of the mentoring relationship or risk undoing all the work the mentor and protegé have done, said Mossop.

One way to bring the manager on board is to communicate the benefits he will gain from the program, including more effective teamwork and improved business performance.

For an organization to truly benefit from a mentoring relationship, the goals of the mentoring program must support the organizational strategy, said Mossop. A formal mentoring program usually lasts about one year, but often the relationship lasts longer, she said.

For the past nine months, Gabriella O’Rourke has been meeting with a mentor for about 90 minutes once a month. Her mentor, Katherine Rethy, president of KAR Development, has taught her how to step back and see how she can add value outside of her role as the national director of functions and industry marketing at professional services firm KPMG in Toronto.

O’Rourke has brought this learning back to her team so they can do the same thing.

“Right now, in today’s environment, I’m finding it’s really critical because I’ve got a lot of anxious people. So I’m helping them to see where they can contribute value, where they can deliver their worth to the business, separate from their current position,” said O’Rourke.

While some organizations worry that an external mentor might try to steal away top performers, an external mentor can actually help organizations retain their rising stars, said Glain Roberts-McCabe, president of the Executive Roundtable, an organization that arranges inter-company mentorships.

“You should look outside when you want to increase the engagement of your high potentials,” she said.

After a few years in the same role, high-potential employees start to look elsewhere for new challenges, said Roberts-McCabe.

If an external mentor is brought in for high-potential employees before they start to look outside the organization, the mentor can share his experiences and help protegés find new things in the organization to become passionate about, she said.

External mentors can also let protegés know the grass isn’t always greener at another organization and bring a wealth of experience to the relationship that a protegé might not have access to within the organization, said Rethy.

With all mentoring relationships, internal or external, it’s important to have a third party who can help push the relationship beyond just “coffee talk,” said Roberts-McCabe.

“I call it coaching the match,” she said. “It’s actually about coaching the relationship.”

Coming soon

Would you like to attend one of the upcoming Breakfast Series in Toronto?

April: The intersection of social network and talent management, with Rob Cross on April 14.

May: Highlights of the HRPS annual global conference with a panel of members.

June: Divide and conquer — how great teams turn conflict into strength, with author Diana Smith.

Visit for more information.

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Don’t cut mentoring in tough times

SCNetwork’s panel of thought leaders brings decades of experience from the senior ranks of Canada’s business community. Their commentary puts HR management issues into context and looks at the practical implications of proposals and policies.

Modern twist on old model

By Trish Maguire

If Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Alexander the Great found wisdom in mentoring, why would we not wish to learn from these timeless examples about the value of effective mentor relationships?

With the unrelenting recession, globalization, technological abundance and a skill deficiency in building authentic relationships, the degree of complexity and ambiguity within organizations is only intensifying. A significant leadership gap created by workforce retirement eligibility over the next 10 years, cultural diversities, talent scarcity, succession planning and retention are common challenges in all workplaces. I cannot imagine a better time for HR practitioners to revisit every possible initiative that can advance transformation of the workplace and build effective, sustainable organizations.

Insights shared by the breakfast session panel illustrated a “new” mentoring framework for HR practitioners to explore and customize according to their organizations’ needs and culture. It was evident from the life experiences of the panel that a mentoring model can serve as an integral initiative within HR’s talent management strategy. Examples demonstrated effective mentoring initiatives foster the enrichment of people’s objectives, roles, competencies and decision-making capabilities and improve individual and organizational performance.

Gaining management’s total commitment and engagement were stated as key factors behind a successful mentoring practice. It was evident from the discussion that, with a compelling commitment from management, mentoring can be a win-win proposition. The approach is designed to facilitate the rich sharing of acquired skills, knowledge and experiences between a trusted mentor and protegé. This is not a new concept and it has been acknowledged that the individualized passing on of wisdom cannot be taught or acquired through traditional learning methods.

For many organizations the approach was predominantly informal until Elliott Jaques, an organizational psychologist, introduced organizations to a formal approach with the “manager once-removed” model. Unfortunately, these initiatives tend to collapse when competing against the availability of resources, demanding schedules and a focus on short-term results.

The new mentoring model is not about command and control, pointing out people’s weaknesses or creating an “elitist” culture for the chosen few. It is about developing better leaders, improving teamwork, improving business performance and decision-making and leveraging intellectual capital. In reality this is not a new model but, like many timeless initiatives, it has a modern twist that is well-suited to the current knowledge-management economy.

The model advocates the value of addressing the whole person by focusing on meaningful mid- to long-term outcomes that enable protegés to determine their needs, leverage their strengths and explore their potential. Revisiting and introducing a customized mentoring practice gives HR practitioners a heightened capacity to fully operationalize a talent management strategy designed to support the future growth of the organization and its intellectual capital.

Trish Maguire is a commentator for SCNetwork on strategic capability and founding principal of Synergyx Solutions, focused on developing customized talent management strategies for small entrepreneurial businesses. She specializes in HR strategies that align people’s strengths and potential for high performance.

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Quality interaction should be ingrained in organizations

By Tom Tavares

Catherine Mossop led off the session by asking how many members of the audience thought the world of leaders was growing more complex and ambiguous. Her question was greeted with laughter and nodding heads.

Mentoring facilitates learning through face-to-face interaction and reflection. The need for accelerated learning in leadership is the result of three decades of cutting development programs to save money. As a result, companies don’t have the talent to support growth and change initiatives.

Mentors, according to Mossop, emphasize longer-term potential and broader competencies.

A mentoring program must be grounded in a sound business case. For one thing, it has to align with the strategic objectives of the organization. Mossop cited three cases where the return on investment on programs ranged from 180 per cent to 1,200 per cent. With such dramatic gains, it would have been helpful to have a more detailed explanation of the assumptions underlying these calculations, as well as a sense of the impact of a typical program.

Everyone on the panel agreed face-to-face interaction is fundamental to mentoring. The opportunity to reflect through talking and listening is critical to managing complex issues and relationships. It is interesting how the quality of interaction impacts so many areas of organizational performance. In fact, most initiatives in innovation, employee engagement, onboarding, change management and performance feedback are grounded in improving interaction.

The widespread neglect of interaction in organizations is due in large part to the talent pool for management succession. Companies recruit university graduates in various technical disciplines to keep pace with technological change. These specialists are more comfortable with tangible problems that can be quantified. They see interaction as a “soft” issue and neglect it, which impacts their effectiveness as leaders, especially as the pace of change accelerates.

Rather than launching separate programs to address all the issues related to low-quality interaction, it would be more efficient to address this gap in the current approach to management. Quality interaction needs to be part of the day-to-day running of organizations rather than a program of limited duration. It also affects performance across the whole organization at all levels, so it should be built into the internal environment rather than targeted at relatively few high-potential individuals.

Tom Tavares is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on organizational effectiveness and a senior organizational psychologist. In addition to managing in large corporations, consulting in varied industries and coaching executives, he has written extensively about the relationship between business performance, behaviour and change. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Learning from others not a new concept

By Karen Gorsline

Dating back to the establishment of craft guilds, apprenticeship has been a long-acknowledged way for people to learn their craft — complex abilities that require technical knowledge, technique and style. Similarly, family businesses pass experience through the generations at the dining-room table and the workplace.

Person-to-person learning seems less valued in modern times. New technology changed our world, family business gave way to corporations and things became “global.” Knowledge could be packaged and distributed to a large audience through education and training. Mentoring and sharing experience became less visible. We can all remember “someone I learned a lot from,” but it was hit and miss and usually informal.

Recently, there has been growing interest in mentoring in organizations and many have introduced some type of mentoring program. As the panel noted, organizations’ development of leaders has suffered as a result of alternating cycles of rapid growth and downsized budgets that often eliminate training first. Organizations are looking for ways to transfer the leadership knowledge of a generation leaving the workforce to those who have missed out on leadership development.

The panel offered frank and practical comments on making this transfer successful:

• The arrangement has to be driven by the needs or goals of the person being mentored.

• The right match is critical.

• Those mentoring gain valuable skills and insights in the process as well.

Too often, the needs or goals are not well-defined and two people are matched because they are readily available, not because they fit. While such programs have the appearance of mentoring, they miss the point. Mentoring is a transfer of wisdom and experience that requires a trusting relationship. In addition, corporate mentoring programs, focusing only on high-potential individuals tracking to the executive offices, miss opportunities to leverage mentoring as an organizational capability.

We often gain valuable insights at work from someone unexpected: a peer (internal or external to the company), a supervisor (who went beyond coaching), an executive who took an interest or even a more junior co-worker. While mentoring of high-potential participants matched with executive mentors is helpful, what is more striking is companies are missing an opportunity to apply mentoring tools and techniques more broadly.

What if peers mentored peers? What if a mentor could be a 25-year-old with specific talents who could revitalize and stimulate a 55-year-old learner? What if a company could foster mentoring throughout the organization in an efficient and effective way and connect those who need to learn with those with wisdom to share? What if mentoring became embedded in the organization and was one of the ways “we learn around here?” Sounds like a learning organization to me.

Karen Gorsline is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on strategic capability and leads HR Initiatives, focused on facilitation and tailored human resource initiatives. She has taught HR planning, held senior roles in strategy and policy, managed a large decentralized HR function and directed a small business. She can be reached at [email protected].

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