Global Mentoring Best Practices: A Fit for The Leadership Challenge

I have always wondered what makes the difference between a good mentor and an ineffective one. As a consultant and professional in the world of business and leadership for many years, I know what the traits are, at least from a U.S. perspective.  However, the question was always whether or not the same traits of "good mentorship" work across cultures.  Then I began to do quite a bit more international work a few years ago and was asked by a client to conduct a study related to global mentoring.  With offices in Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, Moscow, London, Calgary and the U.S., it made sense for these business leaders to ask some hard questions before adopting a global policy and training their leaders to become better mentors.  And as an enthusiastic member of The Leadership Challenge Community, I also wanted to look at this study to see if it fit the teachings and themes of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model.

To compile a list of current best practices in global mentoring, my iLead colleagues and I researched successful programs operating in a variety of business settings and interviewed a number of experienced veterans who had demonstrated success in leading mentoring initiatives in large international organizations.  And, no real surprise here…what we learned was that mentoring returns good value for the time and money it takes. For example:
  • According to a five-year University of Pennsylvania study, “mentees were promoted five times more frequently—and mentors, six times more often—than those who were not in the program.”

  • In a Center for Creative Leadership study, 77% of companies reported that mentoring programs dramatically reduced employee turn-over and were low-cost to operate 

  • Between 1996 and 2009, Sun Microsystems found that a ROI on their mentoring program was as much as 1,000%, gaining the highest results as the program matured

  • In a recent survey of Fortune 500 CEOs, participants listed having a mentor as the number one component of their success

Culling from all of our research and interviews, we identified the following list of Key Global Mentoring Best Practices that seem to help define those corporate programs that have truly achieved their goals of developing great mentors who can succeed—and help others succeed—in our ever expanding global world of business:

1.    Understand the desired outcomes and have an end in mind  
Whether you are setting out to develop potential leaders, fill a current gap, or develop existing talent, clearly define specific goals for your mentoring program.    

2.    Design a plan that measures outcomes  
Set realistic goals tied to performance for both the mentor and mentee.  According to Joe Jordan, director of sales training, Dell Services, “The focus needs to be on the outcome—NOT the process. It doesn’t matter how a team works together as long as their goals are successfully met.”

3.    Your program initiative must be top-down and supported enthusiastically with money AND time
An effective mentoring program cannot be driven by Human Resources alone.  Sarah Kessler, contributing author of Inc. magazine suggests, “Have leaders in your company make it clear that they think the program is important, and make sure that they participate in the program themselves as a way of encouraging other people to participate.”

4.    Timing and organizational maturity is critical
To help ensure the success of your program, it is crucial to pick the right time to launch.  Jordan of Dell Services encourages organizations to ask these important questions:
  • Does the company have the resources to fund the program appropriately?
  • Can the organization sustain the output?  
  • Will you lose talent if not engaged?
  • Will mentoring drive the outcome you want?  

5.         Make the program’s successes visible
The results should be tangible. One survey we found of special interest (conducted by i4cp, the largest network focused on the practices of high-performance organizations) found over 80% of organizations that have mentoring programs say they are moderately to highly effective. For high-performance organizations, that number climbs to 90%!   

6.    Determine who should receive mentoring
As findings from research conducted by a team of Harvard professors suggest, mentoring should not be exclusive to only employees on the fast track to senior management.  Results from their seven-year study of professional service firms suggests that it is just as important to develop the B players as the A players.  “A players constitute only 20% of the professional staff and C players another 10%,” the study authors write. “Therefore, B players make up the remaining 70%.” As a result, if B players are mediocre, the firm will be mediocre. On the other hand, if B players are high performers, the firm will be high performing, too. A players, the authors argue, will never make up for mediocre B players, regardless of how good the A players are.

7.    Start with a targeted group and set up a system that will stand the test of time
    In creating a new mentoring program, Laura DiFlorio, regional director of sales at Nobscot Corporation, suggests, “A targeted pilot program provides an excellent opportunity to get it right with a smaller group and pick up lessons learned along the way.” Rather than start with the largest group available, begin instead with a department or team large enough to generate tangible results (e.g., an increase in productivity or sales).

8.    Create a process for selecting appropriate mentors that is personal and takes into account that not all employees make good mentors
Obtain input from both potential mentors and mentees to develop a selection process that focuses on the personal. To do this there are a variety of tools that can be utilized—from low-cost (but labor intensive) to state-of-the-art technology (think of eHarmony for mentoring). For example:
  • McGraw-Hill utilizes extensive questionnaires, phone interviews, and committee recommendations for each mentor and mentee.
  • When Xerox launched its Women’s Alliance caucus in 2005, it turned to a web-based program, Mentor Scout, to great success. At the end of the pilot program, 100% of participants said they would “enthusiastically recommend” the program.
  • We also found companies that offer a mentor or mentee several options for a partner and allow the individuals to choose.  

9.    A perfect match is when both parties benefit from the relationship
Time Warner is a great example of a company that developed a program for making a great match. Its mentoring program targeted Gen Y and Boomers, matching senior executives who provided real-world lessons for the new hires while the recent college grads taught the older generation the latest trends in technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, and other web applications.

10.    Establish ground rules and stick to them
It is important to manage expectations by identifying objectives, establishing guidelines, and setting limitations.  Tim Knox, owner and CEO of Digital Graphiti, advises mentors to create and adhere to a meeting schedule, and set guidelines as to how often and when a mentee can call. “Without a set schedule, life will get in the way and you will cancel more meetings than you attend.”

11.    Set goals for mentees
Knox also recommends setting goals, “Assign mentees homework, give them a task.” The role of the mentor, he suggests, is to help the mentee grow both professionally and personally.  

12.    Focus on what is realistic, utilizing current technology
Lucy Hooberman was charged by TED (a nonprofit for ideas in Technology, Entertainment, and Design) to implement a mentoring program pairing global experts with individuals in developing countries to teach much-needed skills.  Her budget was $1,000. Utilizing primarily free Internet tools—including Skype—Hooberman was able to successfully launch the TED mentoring initiative, gaining worldwide support from the entire organization.  

13.    Recognize the differences between Eastern and Western cultures
From Joe Jordan’s perspective, with his extensive experience leading corporate mentoring initiatives at a large organization like Dell, the biggest issues in global mentoring programs center on the cultural differences between East and West.  In the West, people value ability and expertise, not authority; in the East, people in authority are to be respected regardless of competencies and knowledge.

Donna Manchester, another expert in global mentoring initiatives at Atrium Windows and Doors, suggests that mentees must be grounded in their home country’s business practices before they can successfully benefit from expanding their knowledge to that of another country. Mentors must also demonstrate patience in helping mentees adapt to a new set of ground rules tied to both the program and the new relationship.  

Both Jordan and Manchester agree that more time may be needed for programs involving cross-culture partnerships to see results.

14.    Develop training – critical for success
Effective communication starts with a comprehensive orientation—for both mentors and mentees—that provides a program overview and goals, covers guidelines, expectations and challenges, and provides extensive training on problem solving, cultural diversity, communication, and leadership skills.  Cisco Systems, for example, created the Global Sales Onboarding (GSO) program in 2005, matching new hires to experienced sales employees in order to accelerate quota goals.  The program was so successful that the company has now expanded it to include all sales geographies.

As we have seen from companies like Cisco, Sun, Dell, and others, creating and establishing a mentoring program inside an organization makes good business sense.  Like The Leadership Challenge, global mentoring also has proven to:
  • Deliver a positive ROI
  • Significantly increase employee retention
  • Increase productivity and performance
  • Accelerate learning curve with new hires
  • Improve corporate culture by supporting innovation and collaboration
As the research has shown, creating a great mentoring program does not require a lot of time, but it does require thoughtful implementation and a commitment to see the program through the predictable challenges of startup and beyond.

Tom Pearce, a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge, works with leaders and teams on his personal quest to “amplify the greatness of others.” He has been teaching and consulting with clients using The Leadership Challenge for more than 10 years, and can be reached at tompearce@ileadusa.com.

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