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LIGHTS GO OUT FOR CORPORATE MENTORING PROGRAMS AFTER JACK WELCH
RETIRES FROM GE?
Todays economy seems to be eroding what had been an
unwavering corporate commitment to strong, internal mentoring
programs. This Report to Clients examines that phenomenon and
questions who will replace Welch as the champion for mentoring
in corporate America.
"Virtually no one makes it to the top, and is successful
there, without being mentored along the way."
Although this feeling was expressed by CEOs and other key executive
officers in many recent research studies, those at the top of
major companies today are more concerned about current financial
performance than yesterdays nostalgia.
As earnings-per-share take on more significance than promoted-from-within,
the importance of mentoring programs diminishes. CEOs still support
mentoring programs, but have less time available for paying more
than lip service to that process today.
Where It All Began
In Greek Mythology, when King Odysseus went to fight the Trojan
Wars, he asked an elderly counselor to develop his son, Telemachus,
to be a king. The friend and teachers name was Mentor.
What is Mentoring?
Traditionally, mentoring involves a veteran guiding and counseling
a young comer, along with providing access and exposure to positions
and assignments which allows desired management skills to develop.
Mentoring has been called "an assisted evolution into eventual
membership in senior management."
Key factors in mentoring are that a reciprocal relationship must
exist and both parties are willing to carve out the necessary
time, said Don Allerton, a Partner in our firm. "The mentor
has to see something in the protégé that catches
his eye, something that reminds me of me," Allerton said.
"And the person who wants to be mentored has to demonstrate
potential in order to attract the mentor. So organizational visibility
Two Types of Mentoring
"Informal mentoring happens spontaneously and naturally,
a chance meeting, getting exposed to the right person at the right
time," said Don Heneghan, an AHO Partner. He went on to say
"Informal programs tend to be further down in the organization
where there is little control. As a result, too many people fall
through the cracks and dont receive the mentoring they need
at the time its needed most."
In a formal program, mentor-protégé partners are
carefully selected, individual goals are set and actions are measured.
Formal programs tend to be driven by Human Resources departments
and can often look like a forced exercise as opposed to a natural
process, Heneghan said.
How Coaching and Mentoring Differ
Coaching, explains Don Wilson, an AHO Partner, helps executives
become more effective business leaders by providing them with
the tools, knowledge and opportunities for self-development and
sustained behavioral change. Wilson points out that coaching is
more situational than mentoring, typically built around a single
issue, usually of a shorter range. The coach always comes in from
Mentoring, by comparison, is more of a long-range effort, covers
a variety of issues, and has to do with the other persons
(protégés) success. So its more of an
altruistic activity and a mentor is always an internal colleague,
Successful Mentor Profile
The best time for individuals to mentor is in their fifties when
theyre more interested in doing what Management Consultant
John Fontana calls "legacy work" as opposed to "competitive
work." At this point, an individual is more interested in
furthering the institution rather than feathering his/her own
Mentors emerge when there is generative leadership in an organization;
when theres an altruistic tinge in individuals who, knowing
theyve topped out, stay on to share their wisdom. The question
Fontana raises is, "Do todays cost conscious corporations
value legacy work and altruism?"
Taking Mentorings Pulse Today
Theres probably more interest now in mentoring than there
ever has been, and thats a function of the way our economy
has been shifting. With the shortage of talented young people,
many now demand mentoring as a perk to get a quick immersion into
the new companies they are joining.
These same young people are playing important roles in reverse
mentoring, a new concept where a person with highly developed
technical skills (usually the computer) serves as an e-mentor
for an executive."When I have a young search candidate in
the throes of indecision, " said Don Heneghan, "Ill
suggest to seek the advice of your mentor. Many of them,"
Heneghan continued, "dont have a mentor and end up
relying on the advice of their peers.
So Im not sure there is as much mentoring in existence
today as there was 10 to 15 years ago."
Increased corporate turnover has had an impact on mentoring. For
example, questions arise when a protégés mentor
leaves the company, either for a better opportunity or is shown
to the door as part of a downsizing. Do you follow the mentor
or search for a new one?
A whole new set of mentoring questions will arise at companies
that follow Bank of Americas lead in outsourcing its human
resources operations to a Web services provider in a sweeping
For mentoring programs to be effective, it would take a powerful
directive from a CEO to the companys senior executives and
department heads to use mentoring as a succession planning tool.
But when we spoke to executives from a representative group of
employers about mentoring programs, all agreed that formal programs
werent popular now and didnt seem worth the effort.
A few months ago, Karen Cates, assistant professor of organizational
behavior at Northwesterns Kellogg Graduate School of Management,
told Fortune Magazine, "Mentoring systems have mostly failed.
Organizations are so lean that they dont have time for it.
Youre paid for what you produce, not for the time you spend
The lights arent out yet, but theyre flickering.
And no one is stepping forward to carry mentorings flag.