I put a mentoring relationship at the heart of A Merger of Equals in part because I’m a big believer in the power of mentoring and a big fan of mentoring relationships.
Remarkable results flow when senior people personally commit to assist junior people to develop and enhance their careers. The junior people feel invested in, cared for and supported. The senior people develop into leaders who define success organizationally as well as personally. Everyone focuses with particularity on identifying personal career objectives and organizational goals. And, as a direct result, people feel connected to the company and start operating in alignment as a team.
When I was General Counsel at Heller Financial, we developed and implemented a Sponsorship Program in my law department. The idea was to give each member of the department an individually designed career enhancement plan with two focuses: the first was the achievement of core competencies for the position the person then held; the second and by far the more important was positioning him or her for growth and development within the department. Technical knowledge is assumed in any discussion of career advancement; we recognized that what would separate the people who grew and developed from those who did not were what we called High Impact Performance Attributes and Leadership Competencies/Desired Qualities.
Senior department members committed themselves to sponsor and mentor everyone else in the department, and I made a portion of their incentive compensation dependent on how they did in that regard, as evaluated by their mentees. We defined two levels of investment: routine and extra.
Routine investment was for every member of the department and it was outlined as follows:
- Create a consistent, clearly articulated, strategic context for the department, focusing on ways in which each person can achieve and support the company’s present and future corporate goals
- Develop and prepare for each person a written individualized development plan (the “Career Enhancement Plan” or “CEP”) that highlights in detail the person’s strengths and challenges and identifies any skill gaps together with the tactics or solutions for addressing or closing those gaps
- Have an individual meeting with each member of the department to go over the “counselor” job description and the leadership characteristics and competencies that are important for our people to assure that their personal career objectives are aligned with our corporate objectives
- Have regularly scheduled periodic meetings to discuss progress and development tactics related to the individual’s personal goals, the department goals, and the strategic objectives of the company as well as how those goals fit within our department’s strategic context
- Opportunistically look for and provide situations, transactions, training, and business environments both to develop and enhance the individual’s current areas of expertise and to broaden and expand other areas, in both cases to accelerate personal and professional development
- Have focused regular interactions that provide direct, constructive, and positive feedback designed to increase motivation and commitment to the organization and the department
Another specific goal of our sponsorship program was to give Key Players the kind of extra investment that would help them grow quickly. We defined Key Player to mean a counselor capable of providing value-added legal and strategic services to the company and all its businesses and products, as well as leadership within the department, and identified the people with the best potential at that time to become Key Players. We then articulated the strengths and weaknesses of these high potential people and developed action plans to build and strengthen their Leadership Competencies by the end of that first year. The idea was to develop as many as possible of the initial group of Key Players into people who would be able to develop subsequently designated Key Players in the next year(s).
The extra level of investment consisted of honoring the following promises:
- Every lawyer will have at least one management team sponsor committed to taking personal responsibility and making a significant personal investment in the person’s success and development
- Sponsorship will include regular interactions, working situations, social events, or other opportunistic environments designed to build, communicate, and develop the Leadership Competencies
- The individual development plan may be more focused, more detailed and offer additional resources within the company to assist in closing skill gaps or building areas of strength
- Each sponsor will look for opportunities to provide the individual with greater responsibility or working settings in furtherance of the CEP that will energize the employee and give a sense of belonging, commitment, and connection to the department and the company
- Each sponsor will build a personal relationship with the individual and work to know in detail his or her personal goals as well as professional goals, as well as providing honest and open feedback
Here are the guidelines we established for ourselves as sponsors:
Set an Example
For the values that we set forth in our theme and strategic vision to be understood and adopted by the employees, we should provide appropriate role models for each of the Leadership Competencies. Failure to practice within the context of our theme will be immediately noticed and even if uncommunicated and subtle will have a disastrous effect on progress.
Building the Culture
Just as the theme and our long-term strategic focus on achieving the company’s goals are important and crucial to our success, so also is providing a challenging and positive work environment. When work is viewed as enjoyable, then challenges lead to achievements, threats and problems become opportunities, and each individual’s strengths are transformed into the collective power of the department as a team. We will create a positive and more productive work environment by providing the context of our theme through the perpetual and continuous use of its words, ideas, and thoughts in each of our interactions, and demanding the same of others.
Developing for each of us, as well as for the department, a professional passion within our work setting and providing the opportunity for everybody to engage in something he/she truly loves to do will be a rewarding and positive step. If every employee feels free to pursue his/her professional desires, interests and skills, and we look for opportunities to put enthusiasm and energies to work, we will find a more efficient and happier workforce. Productivity through personal job satisfaction and the creation of sensible reusable tools will further develop our team of dedicated professionals.
It’s impossible to legislate chemistry, so the best way to facilitate effective mentoring relationships is to let mentees and mentors choose each other. In our sponsorship program, junior people chose their mentors for routine investment sponsorship, and senior people chose additional mentees from among the Key Players. I’ve also participated in programs where junior people chose their own mentors and where mentors and mentees filled out questionnaires and were then matched up, either by program organizers or on their own.
The Sponsorship Program was an important element in the transformation of the Heller law department into a true strategic asset for the company: a revenue-enabler rather than a cost center, and an effective, aligned team of individuals who loved their jobs and felt both connected to the company and invested in one another’s success. For more information on the Sponsorship Program’s mechanics and results, read The Productive Culture Blueprint.