Peer Mentor Network

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ten Ways to Get the Most Pay Out of Your Job

A friend sent me this article. Take it for what it's worth...I think there's only one or two of these that I would be able to apply at my company. #8 is particularly dangerous if you can't make a strong case for yourself. In fact, I would stay away from this completely unless you're already thinking about leaving your company.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

B-School Lessons: Episode 2

Working in teams is a reality. In the interview process, many companies pre-select candidates based on things like experience or your GPA. Once you get to the interview, they ask questions to determine your fit within the organization, and most importantly, your ability to work effectively in teams. We've all experienced dysfunctional teams whether it be your friends deciding which bar to visit on a Saturday night, or a group project for your class, or the team you work with professionally. Here are some tips on how to manage a team.

Team meetings are often a source of dysfunction. There are five steps to making teams work. 1) Plan - is a meeting really necessary? Can you accomplish the task by sending email or making phone calls? If you really need to meet, decide who really needs to be at the meeting and who doesn't. 2) Inform - let everyone know in advance that you're calling a meeting, and what the purpose is. Let contributors know what they need to do to prepare for the meeting. 3) Prepare - set an agenda of things to cover and how much time you plan to spend on each topic. Limit the discussion to those items and don't waste everyone's time by allowing one team member go on at length about her weekend plans. 4) Structure - discuss the roles each contributor is expected to play and outline the plan of what needs to be accomplished when in order for the team to accomplish its goal. 5) Summarize and record - assign someone to take notes at meetings and distribute these to the team. This can serve as a reminder of the progress you've made and the actions required to finish the tasks.

Along the way, watch out for some of the major pitfalls of teams. 1) Groupthink - with highly cohesive teams, there can be pressure to go along with the group and causes people to be reluctant to question the team's decisions. Conflict can be a positive thing - encourage team members to consider all options to arrive at the best decision. 2) Social inhibition - particularly when teams are larger than they need to be, a few people end up doing all the work and others fade into the background. Those people contribute less and are typically quiet, or overtly polite, and assume that other team members will do the work, causing them to fade into the background even more.

Successful teams do a good job of setting objectives, establishing rules and norms, and differentiating roles to be played by each member. The size of a team can often lead to problems and the rule of thumb is that teams of more than seven members experience these problems more frequently than smaller ones.

Next time you join a team, make sure you understand the role you play. If it isn't clear, ask the team leader to assign you a role so that you become a valued member.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Value of Rotations

If you haven't figured this one out yet, I'm in a rotational program at work. That means that I get to do a new job every year for three years. It's a beautiful thing because it gives me a chance to do some trial and error with my career to figure out which part of the business I love the most. It's trial and error, basically. Even if your company doesn't sponsor a defined program like this, do it on your own. Here's how:

Expand your network every day. Make friends with people who work outside your immediate group and get them to like you. Take them to lunch and have them tell you about what they do. People love to talk about themselves. Once you identify a different role within the organization that interests you, start planting the seed with your current manager. Tell them about your long-term goals and how a lateral move into another group would help you build a new and exciting skill set.

If you don't have a mentor, GET ONE! Your mentor can help you through the process in many ways. They have an extensive network and can put in a good word for you with another manager who is looking for someone to fill a spot you want.

I'm on the hunt for my next rotation now and my network is proving to be very useful. I told one of my informal mentors which positions I'm looking for and he's making phone calls on my behalf to help me find the right position. Once you meet with your potential new manager and they decide they want you, let your current manager know that you will be accepting the new role and negotiate the transition. This process can take a long time in some cases so if you're getting bored with your current job, start the process today.

The only down side is that your current manager will have to replace you. Believe me, you have to be selfish and get over that. The up side is tremendous in the long-run. You will become more well rounded, leading to increased job satisfaction, leading to incresed performance which serves your company well.

If your company doesn't offer the position you want then you need to find a new company that does. For example, I'm interested in getting exposure to Investor Relations in the long-run, but those jobs are at our corporate headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland. When I'm ready to do that rotation, I'll either have to be willing to relocate, or I'll have to be willing to find another company to work for in Silicon Valley that offers what I'm looking for.

All the upper level management I've met with talks about the value of new and challenging assignments in their career development. That means that the "rotation process" should never end. View every job as a stepping stone to the next job. Continually update your development plan with skills you've learned in past jobs and skills you hope to obtain in future jobs in order to meet your long-term objectives.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Coca Cola?

No Hops.

I thought of Mountain Dew. Geeze, I thought we were friends. Dude, what if I sit in an office, and no one ever sees me. Crap, at least I'm still getting a check. It's only a matter of time.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

B-School Lessons: Episode 1

I took a long break from blogging but I'm going to get back on the horse here. I recently started my MBA at Santa Clara University and I wanted to share some key learning points as I go through this three year part-time program.

The two classes I'm taking this quarter are Management Competencies & Team Effectiveness (Organizational Behavior, essentially), and Accounting for Business Decisions. I anticipate that the management class will have a great deal of applicability to this blog. In this post, I'll discuss time management and the importance of visibility.

Time Management: I'm guessing that school will consume between 12 and 20 hours per week. That's for two courses which meet Tuesday and Thursday evenings for the next three years of my life. Nope, we don't get summers off. Certain aspects of my life will undoubtedly suffer. My social life and exercise routine will have to take the back seat. It seems that the best strategy is to try to accomplish the entire week's worth of homework and reading over the weekend to relieve some of the Monday and Wednesday night stress. Heaven help my classmates who have families to take care of on top of class and full-time jobs.

Visibility: Think about this next time you move to a new desk. Visibility in an organization has a great impact on perceptions. Imagine you're a manager and it is time to give performance reviews for all your employees. Let's say one of your employees sits close to your office and you frequently walk by his/her desk to go to the water cooler, the bathroom, and the copy machine. When you walk by you see this person working and you hear this person on the phone conducting business every day. Let's say another one of your employees sits in a quiet corner. You don't hear this person on the phone and don't see this person working as frequently as the employee who sits in a more visible location. Now let's say that your company has a "forced distribution" (you can't give all your employees a high performance rating). Who would you give the higher rating to?

"But hops, I sit in a quiet corner and I know I work harder than others in my group. Won't my manager know that?" Don't make an assumption that could cost you come review time. Be proactive and make yourself visible to your manager. Rather than sending an email, go talk to him/her face-to-face. In marketing classes, they tell you that top of mind awareness is critical in competitive markets.

Allow me to illustrate. Quickly think of a soda that tastes it?

I'd bet a buck that Coca Cola or Pepsi came to mind first. Did you think of RC Cola? Probably not. Is it possible that RC Cola is a better product? Absolutely, but you didn't think of it because you're more frequently exposed to other brands. Similarly, when your manager is more frequently exposed to an employee who works no harder than you, top of mind awareness isn't in your favor.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Proactive Career Development

We've had significant discussion here before about how much of your development you own. I've mentioned things like "you own your development" and "be your own advocate". While it is important that your company supports employee development and provides you with useful tools, don't expect them to do all the work for you. I recently found a presentation from my company that quantifies this concept. Keep in mind, these are just guidelines for development opportunities:

  • 75% Learning On The Job (performing your day-to-day tasks and building job-specific skills)
  • 20% Learning From Others (peer groups, role models, mentoring, career planning)
  • 5% Learning From Education (formal training, books, conferences/seminars, tuition reimbursed degree programs)
According to this presentation, research shows that people learn more through experience than classroom education. Personally, I think learning styles vary between individuals, but that's not important. What's important here is that my company is telling me what their priorities are. Formal education doesn't appear to be high on that list, so if I am serious about wanting to go to the XYZ seminar, the onus is on me to seek out those opportunities - I can't expect my manager to take the initiative to send me there. Obviously, my company places a much higher value on learning on the job. To support this position, they offer cross-functional assignments, job rotations, and special projects.

Think about what signals your organization is sending you. Do they actively promote certain methods of development over others? Find out what their priorities are and how well they align with yours. Only then will you have a better understanding of how proactive you need to be. Most importantly, take full advantage of the tools that your company offers! Enjoy your weekend everyone.

Walk This Way

Two weeks ago my company hosted a "mentor walk" - pairs of mentors and mentees gathered just before lunch time on a Friday and walked a mile loop around the campus. I've been working here for over two years now and this is the first company sponsored event to support mentoring that I've heard of since I came on board.

The opportunity to get more informal time with my mentor was incredibly valuable. We were able to discuss things that we wouldn't normally talk about during a one-on-one session in his office. After the walk we all had lunch together. There was a lot of "meet and greet" going on. Everyone introduced their friends to their mentors or mentees so it quickly became a casual networking event.

If your company doesn't do anything like this, I would encourage you to talk to someone from HR about the possibility of setting it up. The only cost to the company is water for the walk and box lunches. The result is an energized team with renewed confidence that the company is taking an active role in employee development.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Try A Book Club!

I had a conversation with one of our vice presidents in Denver recently about a book club she is involved in. Her ideas were inspiring so I wanted to share them with everyone. Once a month, a group of about six mentor/mentee pairs meet to discuss a section of a book they are all reading. Teams take turns leading the meetings which would involve some sort of ice breaker and discussion on the assigned section of the book.

Ice breakers could include talking about the first job you had and what you learned from it.

Some of the books they are choosing from include Political Savvy, Making Network Connections Count, Crucial Conversations and The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader. To make it easier for people to get involved, human resources is trying to get funding to start a mentoring library.

I immediately thought this was a great idea for a number of reasons:

  • It is a great networking opportunity - meet managers and peers with common interests
  • Proteges can learn from mentors
  • Mentors can learn from proteges
  • You will learn something just by reading

Thanks for sharing this unique form of mentoring Linda!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Building Blocks of Career Success

Jim Citrin wrote a fabulous article I found on Yahoo. Absorb it people. Seriously, it's good stuff - I particularly enjoyed the discussion on the career conundrum. If you've ever said to yourself "I can't get that job I want because it requires experience I don't have and I can't get that experience without getting that job first" then read this. He also touches on the idea of skill breadth and depth which we're discussed in part on the Of Proteges and Pitfalls post.

Here's your teaser...
Despite advice from career experts to set specific long-term career goals with interim milestones to measure your success, this is not how extraordinary careers really unfold.

Monday, May 15, 2006

To Find a Mentor – Be a Student

I was lucky. In my first job after college, I had a marvelous mentor who took an active role in my career development.

He pushed. I listened.

Actually, make that hung on every word. Because the fact that someone at the top of their profession would take time out to coach a newbie like me was a gift…and I knew it.

Example: When I asked for a raise, he made me “demonstrate I was worth it” by:

First, reading a series of books (How to Win Friends and Influence People, etc.)

Then, writing a paper about what I learned from each one and

Finally, by finding an operational problem in the office and solving it using TQM processes. (The result was a binder of information and charts.)

Along the way, there were a lot of naysayers who thought my boss was just stalling because he didn’t want to pay me more. In fact, many people I spoke to were borderline appalled that someone would have to jump through so many hoops to earn a raise that they were entitled to anyway.

But I knew better.

In the five years since, my mentor has had many new professionals work under him and yet he’s had no official “mentee” since me. Last week, I asked him why.

His response? “No students.”

The point is that finding a mentor is only half the battle. After that, you must be a good student. Listen gratefully. Apply what you’ve learned to your work. Demonstrate enthusiasm so he/she feels their investment in you is meaningful.

It’s not the quickest route to success by any stretch, but I promise you the journey is its own reward.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Of Proteges and Pitfalls

Check out this Fast Company Article on mentoring.

Ah, mentoring. No one disputes its value, but its pitfalls are legion. Since the 1970s, studies have repeatedly demonstrated that mentoring is the single most valuable ingredient in a successful career for both men and women. So now everybody wants a mentor. But mentors aren't fairy godmothers; they can't and shouldn't be expected to make all your dreams come true.

Also, if your company makes it particularly difficult to find mentors in-house, be sure to check out the sidebar on open-source mentoring. Thanks for the link Brooke!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Professional Boot Camp - Career Development Plans

You have a Career Development Plan, don't you? No...having vague ideas swirling around in your head doesn't cut the mustard. Shame on you! Career Development Plans are intended to help you accomplish your goals and give your career a more defined sense of direction; a road map, if you will.

An example of the process I follow is depicted and described below:

Start by identifying the job you want to have in 20+ years. This should be a far reaching goal. Dream a little bit. You certainly don’t want to under estimate your potential.

Next, think about the jobs that are typically required to get from where you’re at today to your long-term goal. If you come up with a long list, create separate categories for mid-term goals (10-20 years) and short-term goals (0-10 years). This will give you a clear outline of your career path.

Next, you’ll need to generate a list of skill sets that are required to reach each of those positions. If you’re not sure what those are, interview the person who is currently holding that job and ask him or her which skills are critical. Don’t limit yourself to skills you need to gain. Give yourself credit for the skills you already have that are necessary for your next promotion.

Lastly, identify the specific actions you must take to obtain each of the skill sets you’ve listed. These should be attainable, realistic performance objectives that you can accomplish in a relatively short time period. You’ll feel a greater sense of achievement if you can “check the box” more frequently.

I would also recommend creating a schedule that you intend on following. If your goal is to make Manager in 3 years and Director in 10 years, write that down. Set up quarterly meetings with your manager and/or mentors on Outlook to review your entire Career Development Plan. It will be a dynamic document so expect to make adjustments often. Don’t assume that everyone knows what your plans are. Talking to your manager about your Career Development Plan will communicate that you take your job seriously. Exemplify motivation and passion in what you do and the impression that you are a high potential employee adding value to the company will be constantly reinforced.

Please share your own approaches to Career Development Plans!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Management Incentives for Employee Development

Most of our discussion thus far has been about applying upward pressure on management to achieve mentoring and development needs within an organization. This time I’d like to talk about potential top-down initiatives.

Today I learned that the banking industry rewards managers (monetarily, in the form of a bonus) for promoting and developing their employees. At my company, managers would have incentive develop and promote their employees for two reasons only: investing time to develop employees either makes their job easier in some way, or it makes them feel good because they believe it is the right thing to do.

Giving managers some incentive certainly makes sense right? If the manager is rewarded, and the employee gets a promotion or gains some new knowledge, then it’s a win-win situation. Fortunately, my current manager spends time developing me because he believes it is the right thing to do for me and for the corporation. However, I can’t expect to work for people like him for my entire career.

So is money the only way to give managers that incentive? Certainly not. If your manager has performance incentives that are worth more than promotion/development incentives, then he/she may choose to neglect your development needs. An alternative would be to force managers to set objectives related to the development of their employees. Those managers would then have to review these objectives with their bosses on an ongoing basis. Failure to meet these objectives should obviously carry some consequence. Another solution might involve giving a monthly award to the manager who does an exceptional job of giving their employees training and development opportunities. Managers are competitive and recognizing the great ones publicly in a newsletter could put pressure on others to follow suit.

If you have unique experiences on this subject or can think of more ideas, please post a comment and share!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Do Mentorship Styles have to be Industry Specific?

I was inspired by a comment leah made to our most recent post. Here's an excerpt:

This article is interesting. It's also an article that I would love to pass on to my own mentor. A lot of the time new employees (or mentees), such as myself, are not challenged enough. I don't know if it is because we haven't had time to prove ourselves or because our mentors are not willing to take the time to prepare us and challenge us.

Leah, your point is well taken, but I think it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that we should look at this topic in an industry specific way. The challenges young people face and the corresponding mentorship, growth opportunities, and the methods for achieving these things vary from industry to industry as they might from culture to culture.

Aerospace Engineering firms on government contract, schools funded by local tax dollars, hospitals attached to prestigious research universities (or destitute slums), silicon valley IT companies - you'll see all sorts of different standards and measures of growth and success.

But as I said earlier, I def. agree with you point and believe that it'll be important to transfer the best practices for challenge / innovation / company culture from one industry to another.

Age gaps and attrition are also important factors.

So two questions beckon:

  1. How best to disseminate 'radical mentorship' through organizations that are anything but start-ups / high tech?
  2. How do you go about life cultivating relationships that will have serendipitous consequences down the road, i.e. when you make that big move from one discipline to another, or when you leave for an industry that tangential to your own?
I have some ideas on this:
  • Have 3 completely different internships during your college summers.
  • Stay fresh with alumni organizations / activities.
  • Always have a healthy list of informational interviews you'd like to initiate on deck (a good way to see what you might be interested in, too).

In any case I've gone off on quite a tangent here - I'm interested in your thoughts, and perhaps I'll try to compose my points a bit more concisley and will revisit this soon.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Radical Mentoring

A friend sent me this interesting article from Fast Company about a very aggressive form of mentoring by Katherine Mieszkowski that may generate some interesting discussion. This article reminds me how important it is to have a mentor who does more than just stoke your ego. There is always room for development and if your mentor isn't helping you identify those areas for you, then find another mentor. If any of you know of a situation in which "radical mentoring" has failed, please share. Enjoy!

The cofounder and CEO of iVillage on tough mentoring:

Candice Carpenter, Cofounder and CEO of iVillage, wears her tenacity on her sleeve. Success, she believes, comes from commitment, discipline, and sacrifice. "You don't bail out at the first sign of trouble," she says. "You stick with a situation."
One source of Carpenter's beliefs are "radical mentors" - senior executives who've cared enough to push her, even when it hurt. Radical mentors "move people along faster than they want to go," she says. "It's not natural for people to grow as fast as you need them to. People don't grow if you're soft with them. You catapult people forward by being extremely blunt."

Sound tough? It is. Carpenter suggests that senior leaders ask themselves this question: Who are 10 young leaders that I can grow quickly, and what's a crash course that's right for them? "Then you form a contract with those people: 'I would like to help you move along faster. Are you willing to buckle your seat belt and go?' " Mentors have to manage their commitments as well. "I can do this with only a few people at a time," says Carpenter. "It takes a lot of energy."

The key to radical mentoring, Carpenter says, is real-time feedback - direct, honest, public. For example, when she was training to be an Outward Bound instructor, she violated one of the basic rules of crossing a river safely - she buckled the belt on her backpack - and nearly drowned as a result. "My instructor pulled me out of the river," she says. "And then humbled me in front of every student in that course. I have never forgotten that. It shed me of my pride, and I'm grateful for that lesson. Pride is a heavy burden."

Most business decisions don't involve such life-and-death consequences. But the principles of radical mentoring are the same: Personal growth hurts; people won't benefit unless they consciously sign up for it; the process requires as much commitment from the mentor as from the mentee.

Carpenter is convinced that this kind of intellectual honesty is what young people need - especially in fast-moving industries. "People have much greater capacity for growth than they get credit for," she says. "Once you get your first taste of being really challenged, you want to be challenged more."

Friday, April 14, 2006

Professional Boot Camp - Identifying Mentors

No matter what profession you are in, you can benefit from having a mentor. Aristotle mentores Alexander the Great. Mel Gibson mentored Heath Ledger. Eddy Merckx mentored Lance Armstrong. Having the right mentors can make a huge difference in your career and in your life, so I wanted one of the first posts to be about finding one. We'll cover different types of mentors, and the purpose each serves.

There are three main types of mentors one may have:

  • Career mentors
  • Company mentors
  • Skill mentors
Each mentor plays a unique role in your development. Although you may have one mentor who fits the bill for more than one of these categories, you definitely want to have multiple mentors in order to get a broad perspective. Before you find a mentor, it helps to have a rough sketch of your career development plan. More on this to come, but briefly, development plans involve identifying where you want to be many years down the road and what you need to do to get there. Don't worry about having all the details figured out yet, but you can't walk into your mentor's office with no vision.

Career mentors hold the job that you want to have eventually. Know the path this mentor followed - how they got to where they are now and where they are going. Ideally, you will follow a similar path, and learn from their experience. Career mentors should exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Willing to help you define and continually revise your development plan
  • Gives you advice to help you execute your development plan
  • Helps you identify essential skill sets required to be effective at that job
  • Trustworthy, reliable
  • Pushes you to go outside your comfort zone
  • Be willing to spend the time with you
Company mentors are typically high up in the organization. However, don't choose someone who isn't able to devote a reasonable amount of time with you. This person should help you get assignments of greater responsibility faster than you would be able to get on your own. Company mentors show the following characteristics.:

  • Highly respected
  • Well connected
  • Charisma
  • Successful track record
  • Extensive organizational knowledge
  • Dependable
  • Has a genuine interest in your personal development
  • Helps you find progressively more challenging assignments in which you can learn, contribute, and expand your professional network
Skill mentors don't need to be within your company. They will help you learn specific skills that you need to reach your development goals and should show the following characteristics:

  • Considered experts of a certain skill set you are trying to learn
  • Competent teachers - no matter how brilliant they are, you can't learn if they can't teach
  • Be willing to invest time in you - some skills take years to master
  • Enthusiasm for helping you develop specific skills
  • Understand how much you need to know - are you looking to become a subject matter expert or do you just need the basics?
  • Understand your goals - tell them why you are trying to learn the skills and how that fits into you development plan, you may be able to pull more pertinent information from them if they know what your purposes are
Unlike your company mentor, it is not important that your skill mentor be high up in the management chain. Typically, they won't be, unless the skill you are developing is management or leadership. Survey some of your co-workers. Ask them to give you five names of people who are great at the skill you're trying to learn.

I would suggest making an inventory of all the candidates that come to mind under each of the three mentor categories. Update the list frequently. We can do a piece later on how to approach these people about establishing a mentoring relationship, how often to meet, and some of the things to talk about during a mentoring session. In the meantime, check your company's HR sources for materials on the subject and let us know if you find anything interesting.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Upcoming Topics!

Today I made a short list of topics that I'll be posting articles on. It is by no means an exhaustive list and I'm relying on others to help out by commenting with their own opinions or becoming contributors and posting about new topics. This shouldn't be a blog that you simply read from time to time - everyone should be actively participating to make this a truly collaborative environment. Here is a list to get us started, in no particular order:

  • Creating a Career Development Plan
  • Finding a mentor
  • Effective mentoring relationships
  • Dress for success - managing your appearance in the office
  • The importance of expectations in the workplace
  • When is the grass greener?
  • How to motivate yourself - being positive about negative situations

Comments with more article suggestions will be greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


I had a conversation with a friend recently about how beneficial it would be to have a mentor network outside of work where friends can exchange advice and ideas. I've created this blog to accomplish that goal. By being peer mentors, we can all grow through knowledge sharing. I've got a few topics in mind that I'll start working on shortly. If anyone wants to contribute, let me know so I can add you.

Thanks for stopping by!