Success hinges on whether mentoring relationships are meaningful and bolster employee ambitions, skills and the company’s bottom line.
By Eve Tahmincioglu
There’s an ongoing debate on whether mentoring programs should be formal or informal, but in the end there’s only one thing that matters – whether or not they are meaningful.
“It’s less about the formality of the membership,” said Marlon Sullivan, divisional vice president, talent & development for Abbott, No. 14 on the 2016 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list. “It’s about the meaningfulness.”
To achieve that goal, he added, you need to do some preliminary legwork.
Before Abbott sets up mentoring relationships, the company looks at how the employees involved are performing. “We measure both business performance and their individual aspirational performance,” Sullivan explained, “their ability to improve a technical skillset or expertise.”
Figuring out whether a mentoring pairing is relevant for all participants and the company requires some structure, he stressed. (Abbott is also among the Top 15 Companies for Mentoring.)
According to Sullivan, there are key elements every great program requires:
- Goals. What do the mentor and the mentee hope to achieve, and how will it enhance performance, both for the individual and the business?
- Timeliness. A timely structure that provides a cadence; whether it’s once a week, once a month, or once a quarter.
- Metrics. They need to be measurable, providing a window into how the mentoring is working as well as the impact it’s having on the individuals, the business unit and the company.
“All of our employees have goals they define,” he noted. This is done before mentoring starts so they are able to measure how they perform going forward.
While mentoring pairs can come about informally, there are three typical structures at Abbott:
- Company-initiated. This is done using a talent management review process. “You have senior leaders around the table talking about business performance,” he said, and those leaders look at critical roles and gaps that exist. And then teams decide what type of mentor may be helpful for an individual and for the organization.
- Senior leader-initiated. This is when a senior manager takes it upon him or herself and says to an employee, “I want to mentor you.” A leader, Sullivan explained, has oversight for his or her team and may see something about an employee that shows a certain passion, for example. “We see those relationships flourish,” he added.
- Employee-initiated. Abbott recently launched an enhanced mentoring platform that allows employees to identify the type of mentor they want based on their background and technical expertise. “Then you can send a request to that mentor, who can accept or politely decline,” he said. “This allows for a seamless connection globally for all of our employees.”
To see the full discussion with Abbott’s Sullivan check out the video below, part of DiversityInc Best Practices’ video series, where top executives at the most diverse companies in the country share their insights and advice on how to make your organizations the best they can be.