Abbott talent vice president offers best practices including involvement from the top, formal tracking and an egalitarian approach.
By Eve Tahmincioglu
A strong mentoring program requires buy in from senior leadership, formal monitoring and opportunities for all employees at every level to participate.
That’s Abbott’s recipe for success when it comes to fostering successful mentor-mentee relationships, according to Vildan Kehr, the company’s division vice president of global talent acquisition.
Abbott, among the DiversityInc Top 15 Companies for Mentoring list, sees mentoring programs as a key tool for all employees in order “to build a long, productive career,” Kehr said. (Abbott is No. 14 on the 2016 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list.)
“That’s why regardless of career stage, from entry level through senior executives, thousands of our employees globally take advantage of mentoring to achieve their development and career goals,” Kehr explained.
Whether it’s formal and informal training, she continued, "initiated by the employee to mentoring for members of our professional development programs and our employee resource groups, to executive mentoring for employees identified as high potential, we offer a variety of programs to meet the needs of our diverse workforce.”
The following is a question and answer with Kehr offering best practices on mentoring at Abbott:
Q. Do you use software to set up matches, monitor engagement, etc.?
A. Yes, we have an online tool that was developed by Abbott to match mentees and mentors. The matching criteria include language preference, development need, location, time zone and experience. The tool also gives us the ability to facilitate mentoring circles with mentees from different regions, and we can monitor utilization by country and division.
Q. How is senior leadership involved?
A. Mentoring is part of our culture and it’s embedded in our leadership behaviors. Furthermore, it makes good business sense and we’ve seen positive results from it. Our leaders have benefitted from it and know that mentoring future leaders is critical to the growth of the company. Our senior leaders all have assigned mentees as well as opportunities to select additional mentees through our formal mentoring tool.
How do you deal with pushback from employees who don’t want to participate, or keep folks engaged that drop the ball on mentoring, whether it’s the mentor or the mentee?
At Abbott, although mentoring is a part of our culture, it is not necessarily a mandate. However, we encourage employees to foster positive and relevant networks and relationships to be successful. Employees have the option to participate in mentoring as one of the channels to achieve this. We have found that employees that have engaged in mentoring tend to be more successful in their career growth. Our management is expected to support and participate in continuous mentoring for their employees, as well as others outside of their organization. Mentors and mentees that utilize our current mentoring tool receive reminders and have access to resources that help them develop a stronger mentoring partnership.
Q. How do you monitor success?
A. We monitor the effectiveness of our mentoring programs in multiple ways. Our global matching tool helps us determine the number of mentors and mentees that have signed up, the number of active partnerships and the number of global mentoring circles active at any given point, as well as collect participant feedback via a survey.
Also, we have seen that mentoring is invaluable for the success of new and future leaders. Take me for example. I’ve had the privilege of having multiple mentors at different stages of my tenure, and each brought a different perspective that helped me navigate my career. In return, I have been able to pay it forward with my mentees. To me, seeing my mentees progress through their professional and personal tracks and reach their desired goals is the real success story.
Q. Why is it so important for women to have mentors? Is a mentor more important than a sponsor?
A. Mentoring is important for everyone. For women, it can be very beneficial to gain additional exposure and knowledge on business practices. Through our Women Leaders in Abbott, numerous women leaders globally work together to offer mentoring, career development and sponsorship for future women leaders. By sharing their experiences from a cultural and business perspective, they help blaze the trail for future women leaders in our organization. It is a venue to learn and be inspired.
Mentoring is definitely a significant component of anyone’s career growth, because it offers the opportunity to gain valuable feedback and advice to learn how to navigate the organization and continually improve in their career. It also provides a relevant network that can be tapped into when help is needed.
Sponsorship is the next level of career engagement, and it provides employees with an advocate that can make sure they are recognized and given opportunities when appropriate. For example, depending on a specific employee’s career stage and goals, mentoring may be all that’s needed at that time. However, a sponsor can give added visibility for employees who need to gain critical career experiences or make critical moves in their career path. Both mentoring and sponsorship are important and go hand in hand.
Q. Can you share best practices when it comes to running a successful mentoring program?
• Make mentoring accessible to everyone at every level globally.
• Executive and manager support and engagement are critical for success.
• Embed mentoring in the company culture to make it the norm and not the exception.
• Promote the program as a development tool for career growth by sharing employee success stories.
• Be a role model by fostering the mentor-mentee relationship every single day as part of who you are and what you do.