Hello All In community! Today’s wisdom comes to you from Kerri Swope, Vice President Care.com HomePay (and one of my proteges). Kerri provides long-term proof of the value and smart business produced when a company invests in mentorship as a best practice. Not many companies have 15+ years to provide proof of the ROI. Care.com HomePay does, and Kerri will empower you to begin investing in mentorship today. Thank you Kerri!
“Stephanie Breedlove is the type of mentor most people spend their entire career hoping to find. She is the type of mentor who believes in you and takes the time to build your skills and knowledge, the type of mentor who guides you by providing the positive along with the not so easy to hear feedback, the type of mentor who is instrumental to your success. Stephanie believes in real investment in people as a secret to success.”
Early in my professional career, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a company that believed in the power and value of mentorship. I say “lucky” because at the time I was a young, fresh undergraduate seeking employment in the advertising world. What I found instead was a small and established financial services organization focused on helping to educate and professionalize the household employment industry. Talk about a 180. And I’ve continued to work at this same organization for over decade, making a career there, never once working a day at an ad agency. Why? I had a leader who spent time training me, continually focused on growing my skills and helping me find my true talents (turns out I was not meant for advertising after all and would have hated a career in it), shepherding me for months upon each promotion to maximize my growth and success.
A favorite leadership quote that I reference++ often is from William J. H. Boetcker: “You can employ men and hire hands to work for you, but you will have to win their hearts to have them work with you.” There is only one way to “win their hearts” and that is through mentorship. It requires investment, real investment in time, not just a monetary investment, in an individual’s growth and development. It is hard work and requires intense level of investment, but the tangible value it brings to the company is worth the investment in spades.
A Real-Life Example
Stephanie once told me that she has never seen a management team more dedicated, more committed to the mission of an organization than the HomePay team of intrapreneurs. Were we founders of the business? No. Was it our brainchild for which we risked our personal finances? No. Did we feel the same pull and drive to making it a success as if we had? Hell yes. Did we bend over backwards each and every day for it? Yes. And do you want to know why? Mentorship. The founders dedicated the time necessary to being transparent, to ensuring understanding behind every decision that was made, to making us feel just as part of the mission as they did. They spent time individually with each and every team member training, growing our skills, helping us find and discover our talents (another reason our management team has an average tenure of 10 years – we were allowed to try on different hats, experience different roles and responsibilities, all within the same company rather than having to learn what we liked, what we were good at by jumping from job to job across a variety of companies), monthly in-person meetings, all-hands meetings and the list goes on. This is what investing in your people really means. And it led to me, and the rest of the team, drinking the proverbial Kool-aide. It breathes passion into the culture. It is why the founders of the business, after more than 20 successful years, could retire knowing their baby would be in good hands.
The Power of Mentorship
If built properly into the culture of an organization, mentorship can:
Breathe passion and support of the organization’s mission, vision, values, and goals to the point where it is just built into the culture of the organization. Companies often find themselves constantly having to remind their teams of their values or priorities or goals to secure buy-in and/or remind them of why they are showing up for work. If done through mentorship, a company doesn’t have to have this incessant need to remind. Your employees just get it and go the extra mile without even being asked to do so.
Provide motivation for job performance, creativity, and innovation. The new trend is to have defined jobs or departments within an organization whose sole purpose is to come up with new ideas for the business. Mentorship can create an entire culture of innovation across everyone in the organization. Hence, there is no need to have a specific FTE or role for this job.
Ensure cultural fit
Increase professional performance
Why Leaders Don’t Invest and Should
In today’s fast-paced business environment, leaders are often results-driven and tactical in the way they lead and work. Granted, this is necessary in many organizations, especially in a start-up climate. However, incorporating mentorship into the way a leader works is beneficial for growth of their team. This in turn will allow the leader to work more effectively and at a higher level (i.e. training the troops allows you to step out of the day-to-day weeds and spend time working at a more strategic level). A strong commitment and culture to ensuring ongoing and tangible individual growth and success in each team member takes time and prioritization. Don’t think this can be achieved by simply “checking in” occasionally. A leader must leverage an ongoing combination of team meetings, daily huddles, review of work and 1:1s as a regular part of the way he or she works to coach and develop team members effectively. Regular feedback, including positive and improvement areas, is also a part of this mentorship culture. Yes, that means having to have those not so easy, not so comfortable conversations from time to time.
Our greatest strengths can also be our biggest weakness as a leader. When you know how to do every job within your organization, too often you jump in and do the job rather than delegating or figuring out another way to solve the issue. Your time and talents as a leader could be put to better use on other activities such as business development, growth strategies, more frequent grooming of senior members of the team to grow your leadership bench, etc. I encourage leaders to delegate responsibilities where possible, cross-train employees so that you aren’t having to do your staff’s work on a day-to-day basis, and empower your team to take on the additional roles/hats.
Work days fill up quickly with emails, the regular onslaught of meetings, various to-dos and we all know how easy it is to let the intangible things like mentorship slip from priority list. A proactive approach to mentoring requires commitment and an investment of time and effort. Yes, it is hard. Yes, it takes time. But it is so worth it in the value it brings to the organization, to the mentor and to the mentee.
By Kerri Swope
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