Mentoring can drive business goals

Programs part of organizational strategy to replace retiring managers, develop new leaders, support knowledge management and cut turnover

Many mentoring programs are introduced into organizations with great fanfare, energy and enthusiasm. Since mentoring can be one of the most rewarding ways of human development, the excitement can be contagious and far reaching.

However, programs not linked to the organization’s strategic direction soon lose momentum and die.

The most important step in designing and implementing a high-impact learning initiative is to take the time to think through how a mentoring program is linked to business strategies.

According to a recent survey of almost 100 Canadian organizations conducted by Toronto-based Sage Mentors, only a handful of participants linked program goals to business strategy — thereby effectively undermining the program from the start.

As is often the case, programs without clear objectives and outcomes end up dismissed as yet another flavour-of-the-month program from the HR department. The absence of alignment makes no sense.

The value of mentoring

Like all career development activities, mentoring must address both intrinsic and extrinsic employee needs to provide motivation. Extrinsic motivators include pay, benefits, titles, physical location, but their overall value as effective motivators is limited.

Intrinsic motivations are the psychological rewards people derive directly from their work. These have the greatest influence on employee attitudes, commitment and value contribution to the organization.

By implementing a program linked to business strategy, organizations provide employees with opportunities to develop, thereby significantly addressing intrinsic needs.

Employees become intimately aware of organizational goals, plans and strategies, and how they, individually, contribute to the attainment of those goals. Career development then takes a different mantle — one of individual learning and growth providing for flexibility and adaptability to change. The goal is to increase individual’s employability — to broaden their abilities to contribute in different roles. This is in full alignment with today’s employment contract of shared responsibilities.

Mentoring is an excellent mechanism for addressing the unique career development needs of individual employees and the productivity needs of the organization. Mentoring programs that are linked with talent pool development strategies and the business strategy demonstrate outstanding returns on investment — returns which are easily quantified. The following two case studies demonstrate just how this can be achieved.

Mentoring to the rescue

A provincial governmental organization in the business of direct service delivery underwent a major head count reduction some time ago. It cut 30 per cent of its staff using a “last-in-first-out” policy; as result, the average ages of those remained were 47 for all staff and 59 for management.

This staffing situation was further compounded by several factors:

•the nature of the services required front-line staff to handle fairly complex customer inquiries and problems — a competency taking approximately five years to develop;

•due to newer technology, a broader span of skills was needed;

•human resource planning found that the entire management team was likely to retire within four years. The organization didn’t have the talent to replace them; and

•a significant group of technical experts was retiring within three years.

With an objective of reducing service turn-around time from six weeks to two weeks, the organization needed innovative HR strategies. As an integral part to the overall solution, the organization created a knowledge management inventory and a knowledge transfer process. In other words: a mentoring program.

Senior employees with specialized skills and knowledge were matched with junior employees to transfer knowledge and help develop their capabilities. Metrics for success included how well people implemented their learning, and to what extent they contributed to the organization’s strategic objectives.

The program engaged employees in identifying learning needs and alternative means of development. Participants formed learning teams with mentors or coaches and worked with them over six months. Group members set the agendas for ongoing meetings according to guidelines around what topics to be discussed. The topics included managing change, practising skills, and working in a team. Getting people involved in the change process early paid dividends.

Bringing 37-per-cent turnover down to 1

A manufacturer of highly technical equipment set its sight on becoming a world-class leader of its products and meeting worldwide demand through acquisitions and internal development. However, there were impediments to the realization of these goals.

For one thing, turnover was 37-per-cent among the highly valuable engineers. Several factors drove this retention crisis:

•over-promotion — individuals were promoted too early, before they were ready for increased responsibility;

•lack of support resources to ensure employee success;

•lack of cross-development opportunities due in part to talent losses and in part to a perceived need to leave specialists in their current positions; and

•a highly competitive talent market leading to significant time lags in the hiring process.

As part of the solution, the manufacturer created a one-year high-potential development program with mentoring for each individual involved.

The program had two objectives: reduce annual turnover of high-potential talent and cut the time to prepare someone for management from five to two years.

In this program, the direct manager’s role was to support the development process and ensure the learning plan was linked to business objectives.

Managers attended an executive forum to clarify roles and expectations. Participants also attended an introductory workshop focused on assessing their leadership potential, clarifying roles and responsibilities, and drafting a learning plan with measurable outcomes.

Participants also identified a learning project as well as an internal executive “sponsor” to help with internal credibility-building and to ensure links to the strategy. Participants met with an external executive mentor once a month for one year.

The keys to success were:

•the clear links between program goals and individual learning plan goals and organizational strategy;

•leadership and career assessment as a prerequisite to creating a learning plan;

•internal preparation of the line managers for their role in developing their high performing staff; and

•the external executive mentors who contributed tremendous perspective, context and insight to the personal and professional development of a talented group of people.

The results: 18 months later, turnover was down from 37 per cent to one per cent.

The organization gained a high level of productivity from the individuals it promoted and succeeded to retain.

Measurement for this mentoring program was based on observations by superiors of successful on-the-job performance; measures of costs and productivity — costs decreased dramatically while productivity improved as participants applied learning and new capabilities and promotions were linked to competencies. Overall ROI was calculated at 190 per cent.

Catherine Mossop is president of Sage Mentors Inc. and a principal of Mossop Cornelissen & Associates. She is co-researcher and co-author of Mentoring and the World of Work in Canada 2003. She can be contacted at [email protected].

Linking program to strategy

The following steps can be taken to link the mentoring program to business strategy.

1. Climate review: Assess the economic, social, political, and environmental forces affecting the organization today or may in the near future. Synthesize the risk factors to the organization.

2. Strategy review: Based on the organization’s strategy identify the two or three most significant goals to be addressed.

3. Human resources strategy review: Identify the factors or forces having an impact on staff today and in the near future. Consider demographics, reward systems, current capabilities, career development and mobility systems, and business cycle changes that may have an impact on competencies and capabilities.

4. Development plan: Establish how the development plan will address or meet the needs and goals of the organization, then design the program and operations to meet the various needs of individuals and organization. Finally, establish performance measures for assessing whether business goals are met through the development process.

5: Evaluation: Analyse the performance data and determine who needs to receive reports of the results. Then document possible program changes and feed these back to program designers.

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