Putting a Formal Stamp on Mentoring

LEAD STORY-DATELINE: New York Times, Jan 18, 2004.

In a news piece, Perry Garfinkel notes that Dell is among a growing number of companies that have formalized the mentoring process, offering employees a chance to build relationships with executive colleagues who can assist and advise their careers. Some 60% of Fortune 1,000 companies now have some sort of formal mentoring, said Beverly Kaye, a career consultant and co-author of Love ’Em or Lose ’Em: Getting Good People to Stay. Such programs grew in popularity in the late 1970s and the 1980s in response to employee complaints about a lack of female and minority executives. But few of those programs succeeded, said Kathy E. Kram, professor of organizational behavior at the Boston University School of Management, who studies mentoring in the workplace.

In the last few years, however, companies have revamped or created mentoring programs, driven by employee demands for a diverse work force, as well as downsizing pressures that put a premium on retaining the best employees. In addition, the coming retirement of baby boomers may leave many companies short of qualified workers. “With much less hierarchical stability in companies, mentoring programs have been transformed into a developmental network where a sponsor can open doors for you,” Dr. Kram said.

Experts say that having a mentor clearly benefits many executives-to-be, especially those who were previously excluded from senior-level career opportunities in all professions. “The lack of adequate mentoring has held women and minority lawyers back from achieving professional success and has led to high rates of career dissatisfaction and attrition,” wrote Ida Abbott, a lawyer in Oakland, Calif., who is a consultant on workplace relations. According to a study by Ellen A. Fagenson-Eland, a professor of management in the School of Management at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., for all employees, the promotion rate is twice as high for those who have had mentors as for those who have not.





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Putting a Formal Stamp on Mentoring
Perry Garfinkel; New York Times; New York, N.Y.; Jan 18, 2004

In 20 years in corporate America, Lynn Tyson says, she has had very few role models with whom she could identify.

''I never had a formal mentor in my entire career,'' said Ms. Tyson, 41, a vice president for investor relations at Dell whose ancestry is part Puerto Rican and part African-American. ''Most of the time I was shaking in my shoes.''

So, after joining Dell three years ago, she helped start a formal mentoring program for the company's 42,000 employees worldwide. Now, 18 months into the program, she herself mentors some 40 people. ''I'm not trying to make this sound sappy, but I have the ability to make a difference in somebody's career, and that excites me every day,'' she said.

Dell is among a growing number of companies that have formalized the mentoring process, offering employees a chance to build relationships with executive colleagues who can assist and advise their careers.

Some 60 percent of Fortune 1,000 companies now have some sort of formal mentoring, said Beverly Kaye, a career consultant and co-author of ''Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay'' who surveyed those companies for her book.

Such programs grew in popularity in the late 1970's and the 1980's in response to employee complaints about a lack of female and minority executives. But few of those programs succeeded, said Kathy E. Kram, professor of organizational behavior at the Boston University School of Management, who studies mentoring in the workplace.

''A lot of one-on-one matchups did not produce the outcomes intended because executives didn't have the skills to mentor, and mentors didn't have all the wisdom and knowledge'' needed by those receiving their advice, she said.

But in the last few years, she said, companies have revamped or created mentoring programs, driven by employee demands for a diverse work force, as well as downsizing pressures that put a premium on retaining the best employees. In addition, the coming retirement of baby boomers may leave many companies short of qualified workers.

''With much less hierarchical stability in companies, mentoring programs have been transformed into a developmental network where a sponsor can open doors for you,'' Dr. Kram said.

A mentoring program can last from three months to a year or more. There are orientation meetings before the match-up, as well as training sessions, homework, feedback forms and follow-up evaluations.

Some companies require participation; others make it voluntary. In some programs, candidates apply for a mentor and are selected based on leadership potential. At some companies, human resources departments develop the programs themselves; at others, like Ikea, consultants are brought in.

Experts say that having a mentor clearly benefits many executives-to-be, especially those who were previously excluded from senior-level career opportunities in all professions.

''The lack of adequate mentoring has held women and minority lawyers back from achieving professional success and has led to high rates of career dissatisfaction and attrition,'' wrote Ida Abbott, a lawyer in Oakland, Calif., who is a consultant on workplace relations, in a paper she delivered last fall in Manhattan to the Minority Corporate Counsel Association meeting.

A study of members of racial minorities at three large corporations, by David A. Thomas, a Harvard Business School professor, found that the most successful had a strong network of mentors.

For all employees, the promotion rate is twice as high for those who have had mentors as for those who have not, according to a study by Ellen A. Fagenson-Eland, a professor of management in the School of Management at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

But in the rush to offer mentoring programs, some companies may be substituting quantity for quality, said Marc Effron, who heads the leadership consulting practice at the Hewitt Associates consulting firm. ''There are a few great ones and a lot of not-so-great ones,'' he said.

In a study of 300 companies that was released in September, Hewitt found that while a mentoring program was an important component in producing leaders, it should not be the only one. ''Some programs put too much pressure on a forced process,'' Mr. Effron said. ''They make unnatural and awkward a very natural relationship.'' 

Mentoring is most important in times of transition: when an employee starts a new job, or during organizational turmoil. ''You need someone you can confide in, given what happens in the work environment these days,'' Dr. Fagenson-Eland said. ''In the end, it all comes back to a simple one-on-one relationship, one person looking out for another.''

John Washko learned that lesson as a manager of the Four Seasons San Francisco hotel. His mentor, Stan Bromley, whom protégés have affectionately nicknamed Professor Stan, is general manager of the hotel, which opened a week after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

''It was a tumultuous time but he was smart enough to turn it around and make it a nice place to work,'' said Mr. Washko, 47, who was promoted in the summer to the corporate headquarters in Toronto.

Though Mr. Bromley is legendary within the hotel chain for his demanding style, his interest in developing the personal as well as the professional side of employees is also celebrated. ''One day he'd tell me I'm too emotional,'' Mr. Washko said, but added that Mr. Bromley would be concerned to find that Mr. Washko had worked on his day off. He added: ''I saw him as a real human being and that's how I am now with my mentees.''

At 58, and after 20 years as a Four Seasons executive, Mr. Bromley said his management style had evolved as a result of his mentoring relationships. ''Our corporate mentoring program has taught me to soften up,'' he said. ''My new mantra is, 'Shut up. Let it go. Back off.' For better morale, sometimes you have to give up on product excellence in favor of people excellence. That's the ultimate lesson for executive mentors.''

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Copyright New York Times Company Jan 18, 2004


SOURCE:

Perry Garfinkel. “Putting a Formal Stamp on Mentoring.” New York Times, Jan 18, 2004; pg. B.10.