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Mentor Momentum

Wednesday, November 1, 2006 - 15:23

A trusted confidant who can act as a guide and a mentor, and who is a source of inspiration and ideas, can be a boon to any executive seeking professional and personal success. By Bina Brown

Unhappy with his current employer and unable to think clearly about where he'd rather be in life, Peter Trump* sought professional help. The General Manager of Business Development at a financial services company, Trump used his own networks to find a mentor in Paul Smith, the founder of Carnegie Management Group, a consultancy specialising in transition management.

Not even some of Trump's closest friends know of his "sounding board" with whom he speaks regularly and shares many a secret about his professional and personal life.

"I started working with Paul to find some focus and direction. We talked about my current job, my skill sets and what I like doing and what I might do about it rather than leave everything to chance," says Trump.

"I wanted to take control of my destiny. I found that when you are in the thick of it you just don't think clearly sometimes."

The inability to see yourself doing what you want in five years time is one of the primary reasons for seeking help from someone like a mentor.

To Smith, a former senior executive and general manager in the petroleum and logistics industries, mentoring is unlocking a person's potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.

An alternative might be to seek a "coach", but the approach to reaching your goal is likely to be less about self discovery and more of a "how to" - but no less important - lesson on career development.

Alan Simpson, National Manager, Career Management and Outplacement for global human resources consultancy Hudson , says mentoring is about imparting knowledge and experience, whereas coaching is more issues and objectives oriented.

As well as being involved in a successful internal mentoring program within Hudson , he once found a mentor for a woman in senior management who moved from interstate.

In both cases some objectives are set and a number of meetings arranged between those needing assistance and those with the necessary skills and empathy to help them progress.

"What the senior woman needed was a network of contacts at a senior level in a new state. We found a retired chief executive who was well connected. They had lunch and decided it was worthwhile progressing," recalls Simpson.

Hudson 's own mentoring program involves volunteer mentors working with mentees who may be looking for a career change or seeking to learn from more experienced colleagues.

Where some employees may worry about expressing their dissatisfaction with their current boss or company to a fellow employee, working within can also have many advantages.

"Some people choose to be mentored by a senior manager of the company that brought them to their attention. Like all these things there are risks, but there are benefits also," he says.

In the case of Smith and Trump an agreed year of scheduled meetings has turned into a solid two-year relationship with regular telephone conversations. The two men discuss the highs and lows of life and business as they continue to navigate Trump through a set career enhancement processes.

"Paul developed a process for me that we go through, which has been very confronting at times. It is like standing in front of a mirror and assessing your own capabilities and strengths and weaknesses.

"For me it was a commercial transaction, and I wanted to maximise my return on my investment. I drew on it as much as possible. We set a target number of hours, and I've more than done that in working with Paul. The end objective was to fill a space in my career, and I've certainly achieved that," says Trump.

Trump puts his success down to the rapport he was able to build with Smith and the effort he put into following Smith's suggestions - many of which were based on Smith's own experience as a manager as well as his experience in life generally.

"It is an ongoing process and you need to really engage with the person who is mentoring. It is not a magic bullet and it is not a quick fix. The mentor is just there to guide you. You have to be prepared to fix yourself."

Trump now uses some of the techniques he has picked up from his own experience to mentoring some young people in his office.

"I'm more than happy to guide people to a solution. I don't believe people at the executive management level have or take the time to talk to people and mentor them," he says.

Paul Smith also has a mentor he credits with helping establish Carnegie Management Group in 1999. He has maintained contact with this person over 17 years and still values his opinion.

What attracted him as a mentor - similar business experiences, strong interpersonal skills and qualities, shared values, understanding, empathy, integrity, respect and wisdom - are all things he offers his mentees. A key aspect to any program working well - whether it be within an organisation or using an outside consultant - is the mentee getting on with a totally trusting mentor.

Evaluating outcomes

While measuring the success of his mentoring process can be difficult, Smith says, "you just know you are making progress because the person says they are feeling good and getting somewhere".

For some people success will be financial results, for others it will be about getting a sales team on track or kicking the ball right out of the park.

Opinion differs as to whether mentoring can help a manager climb the corporate ladder.

Megan Tough, a Director of leadership and business coaching company Complete Potential, says that promotion is not usually the primary intent of a mentoring program.

"It is more about making a certain group feel valued, and offering them a unique means of personal support. If it helps a manager get to the next level, I would say it is because they are demonstrating new and improved levels of skill and capability, which may be partly due to mentoring as well as other factors," she says.

However, a report published by Hudson, Breaking the Cultural Mould: The Key to Women's Career Success, found that mentoring within an organisation was directly related to career success.

"Exclusion experienced by women managers could be improved through greater accessibility to mentors willing to initiate women into influential social networks in the workplace," the report said.

The report recommends men who are high-ranking influential members of an organisation, who have advanced experience and knowledge, and who are committed to providing support to someone's career, could help those people move to the next level.

"There is strong evidence to suggest that mentoring is related to career success: individuals with mentors receive more promotions, advance at a faster rate, and report more career satisfaction," according to the Hudson report.

Citigroup Director Yek-Ling Chong participated in the Women in Finance (WIF) 2005 Mentoring Program, which was managed by the leadership development consultancy Vivente Australia.

Through Vivente, Chong was "matched" with a senior principal at a leading recruitment firm who reassured her that she had done well to get as far as she had in the industry, and advised her on how she might progress further.

"My mentor has helped me to leverage off my achievements to date and learn specific strategies to be more successful in my work and personal life. In particular, I wanted to know about networking, how to gain confidence and basically have someone to bounce ideas off about where I am in my career," she says.

Chong says a crucial part of the success of the program was finding someone who'd had similar experience and someone she "clicked" with.

"You spend a lot of time with them and share a lot of things you wouldn't share with people at work. It was great to have a chance to meet someone at that level that I might not have otherwise got to meet," she explains.

Anne Paterson, General Manager of the Northern Sydney Business Advisory Service, runs the Women in Business Mentor Program - an initiative of the New South Wales Department of State and Regional Development.

Paterson says there is a skill in finding the right mentor or mentoring program and that it is important to look at the overall experience of the mentor as well as the strength of their networks.

"Your mentor must have the right skills base, as well as know where and how to get other relevant information and know how, so that you can tap into a range of resources," she says.

She says that the success of a mentor is measured in a number of ways including the expansion process of a business, the revenue, the staffing levels and its ability and mechanisms to solve problems.

According to the consultants and organisations interviewed for this article, mentoring programs are designed to meet specific needs, making all programs unique and different. And this is exactly how it should be, because no two executives have the same goals and issues.

But the common thread seems to be a genuine desire to facilitate learning and provide a way for sharing ideas, wisdom and experiences.

Complete Potential's Tough says some of the tangible ways they benefit mentees include providing a forum for discussing challenging issues with someone who has more experience and political wisdom.

"The mentee can also benefit from talking about their past experiences, goals, plans and skills and the mentor's own career path. They can discuss useful problem-solving strategies and work together on activities. The mentee can observe the mentor handling challenging situations and they can exchange and discuss written materials," she says.

Tough says some of the key decisions to be made when establishing a mentoring program include: who the mentees will be and why (they are often managers or high potentials); who the mentors will be (usually senior internal managers, sometimes external); setting expectations between the parties; clarification of responsibilities (including who initiates the meetings, whether follow-up is required...); promotion and launch; monitoring of outcomes and governance or monitoring of the program," says Tough.

"How much and how well an organisation tends to these elements usually depends on the complexity and sophistication of the company and the resources they have. As to whether the programs actually benefit managers depends on the program and the individuals involved."
Benefits of mentoring

Benefits to the organisation

  • Increase in morale and motivation
  • Greater productivity
  • Development of talent and leadership for future survival and prosperity
  • Communication of values, goals and plans
  • Demonstration of personal and professional standards
  • Achievement of excellent service
  • Implementation of equity initiatives
  • Enhancement of leadership and people management skills of managers
  • Increase in staff satisfaction
  • Building a learning organisation
  • Development of cross-organisational networks

Benefits to the mentee

  • Development of potential and knowledge about the organisation
  • Flexibility: mentees negotiate with their mentors to work within available time and other commitments
  • Self directed learning: mentees choose specific learning objectives
  • Complements ongoing formal study and/or training and development activities
  • Leads to career mobility and more opportunities as a result of the mentor relationship
  • Give and receive feedback
  • Receive encouragement and support to achieve goals
  • Develop new networks
  • Develop new and/or different perspectives
  • Get assistance with ideas
  • Demonstrate strengths and explore potential
  • Develop visibility within or outside an organisation
  • Be challenged to use talents and share expertise
  • Enhance skills identified for development in Personal Development Plan

Benefits to the mentor

  • Obtain a greater understanding of the barriers experienced at lower levels of the organisation
  • Enhance their own skills in coaching, counselling, listening and modelling
  • The sense of being needed and recognised professionally
  • Develop and practise a more personal style of leadership
  • Gain additional recognition and respect
  • Learn new perspectives and approaches
  • To contribute something to others in the organisation
  • Extend professional networks
  • Demonstrate expertise and share knowledge

Source: The Growth Connection 

* Name has been changed to protect the person's privacy.