“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”
~ Robert Frost ~
Dana’s staff is constantly asking her what they need to do to get promoted. Her four direct reports are especially anxious to move ahead in the company. Neither the company nor Dana herself has a definitive mentoring program. She realizes that she needs to make some drastic changes in mentoring her staff in order to help them grow and be offered the opportunities they deserve.
In the absence of a formal corporate mentoring program, Dana takes steps to develop a mentoring program of her own. She meets with her direct reports and together they develop a simple two-part strategy. First, Dana will make new, high profile projects available to all who want them and encourage them to volunteer. Second, she will raise awareness of staff members’ accomplishments by proactively messaging not only her boss and peers but those C-level employees above them.
The four staff members left the meeting with their own personal action steps, and they also knew exactly what Dana planned to do to help them. She coached them on self-promotion techniques, such as copying the boss’s boss on project-related emails and planning appropriate times to speak up in meetings when projects they worked on were being discussed.
The group agreed on a one-month, three-month, and six-month review of the program. By the end of the first month, new projects were put on the table and Dana’s direct reports enthusiastically volunteered for their own projects. In addition, they took on some related lower level projects so they could begin to coach and mentor their own subordinates.
Dana scheduled regular one-on-ones with each of her direct reports and also put together a schedule of informal communications with her boss and other C-level managers to keep them informed about what her staff was doing.
At the three-month milestone, Dana noticed that a high level of enthusiasm had developed among her entire staff. Not only was the day-to-day work being accomplished more efficiently, they were excited about the opportunity to work on new initiatives, and some had even volunteered for cross-training in other departments.
After six months, Dana made a list of the tangible benefits that had resulted from the mentoring program, not only for her staff, but also for herself and the company as a whole. This is what she told her boss:
Benefits to the mentees:
- Opportunity to take control of their own learning and career advancement.
- A chance to develop valuable contacts in other parts of the company.
- Significant improvement in their productivity and enthusiasm.
Benefits to herself as the mentor:
- She had greatly enhanced her coaching and listening skills by working more closely with her direct reports.
- She had gained notice and respect of higher-ups in the organization.
- She felt validated and rewarded by passing on the value of her experience to those coming along behind her.
Benefits to the company:
- Productivity had greatly improved across the entire work group.
- Employees who were previously perceived as being “stuck” at their current level were re-energized.
- Cross-functional teams were developed as Dana’s people spent time in other departments.
Many companies have formal mentoring programs that are of great benefit to their employees. In the absence of such a program, a single individual such as Dana can develop their own, providing significant benefits to the employees involved, the manager, and the company.
Do your people need a mentor? This week list five different ways you could start a mentoring program in your own department.
Talkback: Have you been a successful mentor? Or have you been mentored by someone who made a difference in your career? Share your story here.
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“The idea of a work/life balance is much more important to younger workers than it ever was with baby boomers. Companies are looking at retention issues.”
~ Jen Jorgensen, Marketing Strategist ~
Client Sandy asks: Our company culture is big on a lot of the rah-rah stuff. We have a softball team, monthly pizza feeds, suggestion boxes in every department, and a costume contest on Halloween. It all looks like fun, but lately we’ve lost some of our best people and I’m feeling the need to create some more substantial employee retention programs. As HR manager, I’m committed to hiring and keeping good employees. But there are so many kinds of retention programs out there that I don’t know where to start.
Coach Joel Answers: When you create a workplace culture that fully engages and rewards employees at all levels, you win in three important ways: you build a loyal, committed workforce; you develop a great reputation among clients, customers and the public; and you avoid the financial losses that high employee turnover creates. Here are three hallmarks of a good retention program.
1. Avoid gimmicks. You mention your pizza feeds and suggestions boxes, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with those. Who doesn’t love a good pizza? But these are short-term, cosmetic kinds of programs and they don’t build employee loyalty that lasts. When you’re designing a program, you need to include several important factors. First, you need to align with your company’s strategic objectives. You need to consider what your competitors are doing and look at best practices in your industry. And most important, you need to include your employees in planning and implementing any new initiatives. People support what they help create.
For example, one of the best ways to retain good employees is to design a personal growth program that’s customized for each individual. Work with your managers to develop a checklist they can use that includes things like in-house and external training programs, executive coaching, job-sharing, and cross-training.
2. Bridge the gap. The generation gap, that is. Employee retention is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. There’s a big difference between the needs and wants of baby boomers and Gen-Xers, and chances are you have some of each.
Because baby boomers are thought to be the healthiest generation out there, they have plenty left to offer and many still want to make their mark in the business world. Provide them with opportunities to be creative, express initiative and pass on their knowledge to the generations coming up behind them.
Gen-Xers, on the other hand, place a high value on quality of life issues such as work/life balance and public service. At the same time, they are known to have much less commitment to the corporation and are much less reluctant to switch jobs, companies, and even careers. Set up a two-way mentoring program where the generations can interact with and learn from each other. You’ll solidify your relationship with both of them.
3. Count the cost. You already know that employee turnover is costing you money. But there are costs you can see and costs you probably don’t notice. According to the Bureau of National Affairs, employee turnover averages around 14% in most companies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the average cost to replace an employee in private industry is about $14,000. These are hard costs that drop straight to your bottom line. But what about the hidden costs? Consider these questions:
- How much stress and poor performance are created when employees have to pick up the workload of someone who leaves?
- How many customers do you lose when stressed-out employees give poor service?
- How many other employees might be lured away by an employee who leaves?
- How many employees start to think about other options when a valued friend or trusted colleague changes jobs?
When you implement the strategies we’ve suggested, you will have taken a big step toward building a satisfied, committed workforce. And you’ll see the results in higher productivity, better customer service, and bigger profits.
Joel would love to discuss specific employee retention programs that can work for you and your employees. Contact him today.
Talkback: Is turnover causing you problems? Or have you tried some strategies that really work? Share your story here.
“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”
~ Helen Keller ~
Client Stephanie asks: I’m really disappointed! I paid a lot of money for a business career development program. It promised to give me all the knowledge I needed to really move my career forward. Then I invested all this time and effort. And I really haven’t seen any results at all. I feel cheated.
What should I look for in career development programs, so I can really see my business career take off?
Coach Joel Answers: First, you need to set realistic expectations for all business career development programs. They are not the be all and end all of career advancement. They can play a key role in growing your skills and knowledge, but they have limits.
Typically they give you knowledge and skill sets, but they don’t always tailor the class to your needs. Nor do they analyze your progress in a real-job way or give you opportunities to implement what you’ve learned.
Even after the course you need to practice implementation, gain visibility and influence, and work with your boss to find places to put your new skills into practice.
Assuming you are doing everything right, here are some valuable keys to uncover strong business development programs—programs which might help with your career growth.
1. Not all programs address the same thing. Some focus on new graduates and helping them find jobs or learn about career opportunities in different businesses. So if you’re just out of college, these may be great programs for you.
If you are further down the experience path, these programs will not move your career along. So as you investigate a program, ask who its intended participants are. What are the specific skills, knowledge, abilities they will teach?
2. Evaluate your own career goals. Stephanie, look at the current skills you have and the areas you need to improve. Will this particular career development program address the weak areas you want to strengthen?
Don’t hesitate to call the school or company offering it and ask in depth questions. This is your time and money. You need to see that it profits you.
3. Will you get knowledge or application? Simple book learning or even audio or video learning can only take you so far. Do you have a chance to apply what you learn? Do you have interaction with other employees, role playing, modeling and other ways to practice your new found skills?
4. How much feedback will you get? Sometimes we cannot see our weaknesses. We might think we are being direct. Others may see it as an attack. Will your business career development program give you the kind of feedback that will be meaningful to you?
Stephanie, you may find your career needs more individual attention than a career development program can give you. At times you’ll get more rapid advancement through a mentoring program or a coaching program.
Your business may also have a strong career development program you are not familiar with. It may let you try out different areas in the company. It may help you work on new skills, find new opportunities to grow, and give you frequent feedback. Check with your boss or HR department.
5. Look at the credentials of the business offering the career development program. Do they have a history of success? Can you talk to other graduates and learn the strengths and shortcomings they found in the program? Are they well known?
Do they have books, articles, or other resources you can review for free? Then you can see their philosophy, teaching style, and content. You can see if it will be a comfortable fit for you.
Stephanie, I know it hurts to feel you’ve wasted your money. However, every experience can be a learning experience. Now you know what to look for in strong business career development programs.
When you search again, you will have the fundamentals necessary to make a good investment choice.
If you are uncertain whether a career development program would help you advance at this stage in your career, contact Joel. He will help you see the best path for you to use to advance your career.
Talkback: How have you invested in business career development? Have you used a program you thought was effective… or not very effective?
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“Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.”
~ Japanese Proverb ~
Martin, a senior manager with a major financial services company, is facing a challenge. He knows he’s surrounded by talent. His younger, mid-level managers are performing well, and he knows some of them have the potential to be superstars. But lately they’ve been acting restless and he’s afraid some of them may be about to jump ship.
He’s tried talking to them one-on-one. He’s given them new, challenging assignments. But nothing seems to change the atmosphere. He knows they are focused on their own responsibilities and aren’t seeing the big company picture. An article about mentoring in one of his current business journals starts him thinking. He decides that corporate mentoring and training programs may give his managers a new perspective.
A conversation with his HR director gives Martin some helpful guidelines. She advises him that first of all mentoring programs need to be aligned with corporate goals and objectives. He needs to have a timeline and method for measuring results. And he needs to be sure he can get support and commitment from both potential mentors and mentees.
Martin comes up with three initial steps to take:
- Discover the talent pool
- Be a matchmaker
- Train for success
- Discover the talent pool. Good mentoring programs need to find talent among both mentors and mentees. Martin’s main goal is employee development and retention. He decides to test the mentoring waters with a pilot program. He puts out an email “Call to Mentors” to all the company’s C-level managers and gets a great response. However, he knows it’s not safe to assume that all executives have the skills or desire to be a good mentor. He must go in-depth with each executive to ensure that the pilot program recruits the best of the best. His interview process determines skills and competency along with the commitment level of potential mentors.
- Be a matchmaker. As mentees, Martin initially chooses five of his mid-level managers based on three main criteria: (1) their experience with the company; (2) their current workload and availability; (3) their initial willingness to participate. During the recruiting process Martin asks the potential mentees to identify their goals and areas of interest. Then he has them outline a three-month personal learning plan that both they and their mentors will use during the initial phase of the project. Finally, he matches each mentee with a mentor who he feels is most compatible.
- Train for success. Martin designed a one-day workshop to kick off the program. He coached his mentors in how to understand, communicate with and motivate mentees. And he made sure his mentees would take full advantage of the mentoring partnership in advancing their skills and careers. He asked several key questions during the workshop:
- Does everyone understand exactly what we mean by “mentoring” within the context of our organization?
- What expectations does each stakeholder (mentors, mentees, managers, and HR) have of the program?
- Do all stakeholders fully understand their roles?
- What program and partnership objectives will we follow going forward?
Martin kept in close touch with both mentors and mentees and at the end of the three-month pilot he held a debriefing that summarized the program’s results. Mentees felt excited and motivated by the “big picture” training and coaching provided by their mentors. They all agreed they had gained valuable business intelligence and had become more strategic thinkers. The mentors felt rewarded, both by the acknowledgment they received from their mentees and by the long-term positive benefits the company would enjoy. The corporate mentoring program was soon rolled out company-wide.
Talkback: Have you been a mentor? Have you had a mentor? Share your experience here.
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