Peer Mentor Network

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!