Mentoring: A lesson from the Fortune 500

By Dan Carrison

Does your organization have a formal mentoring program? If you work for a Fortune 500 company, the answer is likely, "Yes."

According to the American Society for Training and Development, 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies have some type of corporate mentorship program, and 75 percent of executives polled credited their success to their respective mentors. But since formal mentoring programs – which include goal setting, monitoring, coaching, job shadowing and perhaps tuition assistance – require time and money, the leaders of a lean and hungry organization may feel that occasional friendly advice from an "old hand" to a newer employee is sufficient.

Let's examine some of the key benefits of a formal mentoring program for the mentee, the mentor and the organization to see if it might be worth the investment for the thriftiest.

The mentee. The greatest impact of a formal mentoring program is the impression of organizational stability made upon a newcomer when an experienced veteran takes an active interest in his or her success. The junior member, looking at the mentor's silver hair, realizes that a career is possible here – and that it might not be necessary or even wise to always scout for "better" opportunities elsewhere. This is especially relevant given the documented penchant of younger managers to update and submit resumes routinely. Under the tutelage of a mentor, the high-potential employee reasons, "If management is willing to invest in my development, why not reciprocate?"

The mentee also has a go-to person in case of an emergency or stressful work challenge. Sometimes, just the knowledge that the mentor is available has a "guardian angel" effect, calming the newer employee's nerves and bolstering courage.

The mentor. The benefits of a mentoring program for the mentor are less apparent, but only because the focus is usually on the progress of the mentee – just as, in a teacher-student arrangement, the success of the instructional program is evaluated in terms of the student's demonstrated comprehension. It can be argued, however, that the benefits are equally shared.

As the mentee gets a better idea of the macro – how his contributions fit into the big picture of company operations – the mentor beholds the micro: the oft-overlooked details of an individual's efforts to excel. The mentor thus gains a perspective of the challenges faced by the "pupil" that is rarely granted to management until it is too late (in the exit interview). This insight makes mentors better managers across the board, enhancing their careers. So the mentoring program can be a path to leadership for both teacher and pupil.

If the mentor is in midcareer, she can, through her work with junior managers, identify those she will want on her future staff. If the mentor is a seasoned corporate soldier close to retirement, he has an opportunity to pass on a legacy of best practices. In either case, mentors have a chance to influence positively the course of the organization they serve.

The organization. The key benefit of a formal mentoring program to the organization begins as soon as the program is implemented: Its simple visibility is enough to impart to the rank and file a feeling of job security. Even employees who are not being mentored can see that management is planning for leadership succession. That means that the company's core values and practices are being perpetuated – a good thing if you approve of those values and practices. A formal mentoring program suggests consistency to the workforce and puts to rest their fear of new leaders coming in – perhaps from outside the industry – to initiate unwelcome change.

It may be the case that Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs because that's what made them Fortune 500 companies.

Dan Carrison, a business writer and consultant, has authored or co-authored four management books. Carrison is a general partner of Semper Fi Consulting and founder of www.ghostwritersinthesky.com. He also teaches corporate communication for the University of La Verne. He can be reached at dan.carrison@gmail.com.

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