I happened across a brief article this week in Inc. magazine, penned by the CEO of a successful small business, which I’d like to share with you. The crux of it is mentoring, and how profoundly influential executives and managers can be in the lives of the employees they lead. More specifics on the Inc. piece follow, but let’s indulge the subject a bit first.
The concept of mentoring particularly resonates in the wake of the recent SSI Hall of Fame ceremony, held on the eve of ISC West. Without fail each inductee shared a personal moment to acknowledge the people in their lives who positively influenced them, both personally and professionally. If you’ve ever attended the annual induction ceremony, then you understand how moving these acknowledgments can be each year. You begin to comprehend and appreciate the degree to which a mentor can have in the singular success of a person’s life, and how that impact can then affect the success of an entire company.
I’ll give you just two examples from the 2012 induction: Pam Petrow, president and CEO, Vector Security; and Joe Nuccio, president and CEO, ASG Security. Petrow and Nuccio both spoke deeply about the significance and meaning of the particular individuals who guided them professionally. For Petrow it was John Murphy, who demonstrated the importance of communication and being a strategic thinker. For Nuccio, among his mentors was Jim Covert. The mentoring he received would help him launch a security company in Australia, then return to the states four years later and begin from square one again, eventually leading to ASG.
To hear SSI Hall of Fame inductees explain it, it’s about fostering a workplace environment where employees are guided and supported toward individual and collective achievement. Does your company actively mentor? How committed are you to your employees’ growth and development and cultural integration? Mentoring is an ongoing process that ultimately can maximize the well-being of your company. Succession plans can hinge on whether or not your hand-selected successor(s) can become the leader(s) you want and need them to be.
Steering back to the Inc. article … it’s titled “5 Things Great Mentors Do” by Jay Steinfeld, the founder of Blinds.com. No, that’s not an installing security contractor, but Steinfeld has built an online window-covering sales operation worth more than $80 million in annual sales. The subtext of his five bullet points is that “Your employees can achieve greater things with your help than they can alone — if you give them a chance.”
Steinfeld confesses he doesn’t “have a polished and refined mentorship program” at his company, but he does make a point of partaking in mentoring to a degree. Still, he emphasizes its worth: “You may not find it in the required curriculum of a fancy MBA program, but mentoring is crucial to business success.”
To help you get started at your company, the abridged version of Steinfeld’s “5 Things ... ” are as follows:
1. Mentor the entire company.
Steinfeld hosts 15-minute sessions called “SayJay” where he will address his team of more than 130 employees. He’ll update staff on company business, call out top performers, ask for feedback on recent projects, and share ways in which he, personally, works to help achieve company values. These sessions are intended to be fast, kept fun and informal, and meant to keep the entire team informed about where the company is headed — and fully invested in that direction.
2. Open door, open mind.
Steinfeld asks, “How many bosses claim to have an open-door policy? I have one, but I find it works best if I keep an ‘open-mind’ policy, too.” He says it took some time for him to realize that his employees often have better ideas than he does. “But now that I do, I’m passionately committed to growing my team as leaders and idea generators. My open door is one of my favorite impromptu mentorship tools.”
3. Set the tone for your managers.
Steinfeld meets each month with his direct reports to discuss their “needs, concerns, and big projects in the queue.” In advance of the meeting, they send him an individual agenda so he can prepare how he can best help them. “We then can dive into a one-on-one session about leadership, priorities and anything in the big picture that one of us might be overlooking.” Even better, he says, the direct reports apply this process to their own teams. “This creates layers of mentors throughout the company that empower everyone to grow and share with one another in ways I could never anticipate.”
4. Ask questions. Don’t give answers.
“When you’re a mentor, it’s tempting to wax philosophical and share old war stories of business days gone by.” Fine, but Steinfeld emphasizes to remain focused on your ultimate goal: to prepare the one who is being mentored to tackle future challenges with his or her own brain. “When discussing past challenges or trip-ups, ask open-ended questions, helping your mentee make the connections that will solve future problems. Mentor yourself out of a mentorship, so your colleagues will grow and stand on their own.”
5. Make mentorship part of your company’s DNA.
A core value at Steinfeld’s company is to improve continuously. That’s not exactly a new concept but it can have huge consequences for better or worse. “When you make personal growth everyone’s job, leaders will emerge, connect with their teammates, assist new recruits and help your business grow.”
If you are serious about mentoring at your company, then good on you. If you are compelled to begin mentoring efforts at your company, good luck! Please share your experiences — what works, what doesn’t. I would like to share them all with our readers.
Rodney Bosch | Managing Editor