Mentoring in the Digital Age

Formal training and assessments are a good first level of training, but what about learning needs that are ongoing, and more subtle? For decades, companies have looked to mentoring programs to provide a second level of training. The mentor, an accomplished, usually older, employee guides the less-experienced employee in the aspects of the profession that are impossible to master from a classroom experience or textbook—how to negotiate effectively, signs that you need to alter course in business strategy, or how to win over a hesitant sales prospect, for example.

Today’s digital and online technology can give mentoring a boost by making it easier to communicate and offer just-in-time advice. Seven Training Top 125 companies share how they are using the latest technology solutions to facilitate mentoring.

“Virtually” the Same Principles

Communication is easier than ever, but the same age-old principles of mentoring still apply. “At PPD, a global contract research organization, we are used to working in a remote, virtual world. Mentoring has evolved to reflect that, and has become much more virtual. But while there may be less face-to-face interaction, the premise of providing learning and development through a relationship of mutual trust is still critical,” says Ravenna Edgar, director of Organizational Effectiveness at PPD. She says the company uses social platforms to facilitate relationships, and uses Microsoft Lync “to enable rapid/responsive information exchange,” along with Lync/Skype video meeting facilities.

PPD has created a social network, for instance, for members of its Global Leadership Network (GLN). “The GLN is an exclusive virtual community that is open to alumni of our high-potential leadership development and executive leadership programs. As part of this network, GLN members identify specific areas of expertise or competency that they are willing to share with others who may not have had the same experience or exposure,” says Edgar. “Through the GLN virtual site, they make it known that any GLN member can reach out to them for mentoring in those identified areas.”

The great advantage of technology in mentoring is it allows you to take the old principle of providing guidance and hone it further to answer the exact question the mentee has at the exact moment the need arises. At Mariner Finance, mentors and mentees can communicate in a more targeted way, thanks to technology. “Mariner Finance uses a blend of technologies that drive education/ knowledge, skills, and socialization of interactions across the program. Creation of specific mentor/mentee sites, functions, and tools create a ‘club’ feel,” say Assistant Vice President of Instructional Design and Programs Austin Meredith and Senior Vice President of Learning and Development Jeff Casey. “Using the Web tools, supplemented by items such as chat functions, video, and face-to-face, helps drive interactions not only between specific relationships, but within the entire club. This approach creates a family of mentors/mentees that expands the boundaries of the older-style mentor relationship, allowing both parties to seek guidance and expertise in a quick and specific way.”

At Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, technology is the bridge that connects mentor and mentee to apply time-proven mentoring techniques. “We use a blend of technology to meet the various learning situations inherent in mentoring. We use videoconferencing through WebEx and Jabber,” says Senior Consultant, Learning Solutions Patricia Confar. “We have connect communities available through our learning technology. Many of our conference rooms are equipped with video technology. Teleconferencing is widely used, as well.”

But with the advantages of technology come potential challenges, too, Confar notes. “Mentoring in the digital age allows us to be more inclusive and connect with experienced associates across our entire company,” she says, “but we also need the skills and patience to use the technology to its fullest potential. We have to be more sensitive to the visual and auditory cues we depend on during face-to-face communication that can seem muff led through technology.”

Assessing Mentoring Success

At Navient, technology now allows the company to take the established mentoring values and approach, and evaluate it using modern means to gauge success, says Education Manager Carey J. Foss. Within Navient’s Customer Resolution Services (CRS) department, there is a structured mentoring program that gives employees the ability to work with new hires to help develop the skills necessary to succeed in their roles. Foss says the traditional approach of having seasoned employees help new hires in training is measured electronically. “The success of our mentors is measured by recording a number of key performance indicators (KPIs). Tracking is done through reporting software and use of Microsoft Excel,” says Foss, who points out the company also uses technology that enables mentors to get a real-time feel for how well their mentees are learning their lessons. “Our mentors also use y-cords (cords that allow mentors to listen in on their mentees’ production calls) to shadow the employees for whom they are responsible and provide feedback. Feedback is provided via performance discussions, and also is saved in the employee’s development file.”

The ability of technology to give mentors a snapshot of mentees’ progress at the moment when the mentees are working through challenges is significant, says Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of LaSalle Network, a national staffing and recruiting firm. “Now with digital, there is more access to real-time feedback, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be in the form of scheduled meetings,” says Gimbel. “With Skype and Facetime, mentoring for role-play situations can be anywhere, anytime.”

To ensure an accurate assessment of a mentoring program, Gimbel recommends a structured approach. “Creating goals prior to implementing the program and having a proper way of tracking success metrics are crucial for the program’s long-term success. Goals can range from helping employees become ingrained in the culture, to getting them up to speed faster so they can hit the ground running. There should be a point person to manage the program, and hold people accountable.”

Technology Itself as the Mentor

In some cases, technology itself—in the form of the just-in-time information available online—can be the mentor, says Loubna Noureddin, director of Learning & Development Services for Miami Children’s Health System. “Google is one example of a ‘just-in-time’ mentor. You seek a better understanding of a certain topic, and the resources it offers are used by millions,” Noureddin notes. “While my example offers a simplification of the mentoring role, in this day and age, a mentor offers just-in-time support and advice to a mentee with minimal limitations of time and space. Digital media offers thousands of open resources for mentoring, and highly effective organizations have learned to tap into social media to provide mentoring to new employees, high-potential employees, and leaders.”

Miami Children’s Health System, which uses the Taleo performance tool and Microsoft SharePoint to manage its mentoring program, takes a multifaceted approach. “We offer a fullscope career mentoring program that seeks to support employees in developing their career goals and aligning those goals to the organization’s goals and growth,” Noureddin says. “Every employee who shows interest in self-development and career growth can self-nominate or seek the support of a career coach to better create a three- to five-year career growth plan.”

NIIT is another company that is optimizing technology’s ability to provide just-in-time mentoring in new and more visual ways. “The ability to have questions answered instantaneously through texts and e-mails by your mentor or peers who specialize in a particular area gives you access to a world of knowledge,” says Regional Vice President of Human Resources Sandra Pruitt. “Using online chats, Google, and various learning tools, such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and YouTube, for research is a way of life now for all generations.”

Information sharing—the heart of mentoring— is more expansive than ever. “Teams are sharing information worldwide, from a variety of perspectives on a question or problem,” Pruitt says. “Technology has helped us become a global organization working in real time, solving real-time problems, and sharing a breadth of knowledge.”


  • Keep in mind that though there may be less face-to-face interaction in digitally facilitated mentoring, the premise of providing learning and development through a relationship of mutual trust remains the same.
  • Enable just-in-time mentoring in which mentor and mentee can connect at the moment a question arises.
  • Use videoconferencing technology on computers and mobile devices to allow for virtual “face-to-face” interaction.
  • Create internal social networks for training groups, such as for leadership development participants.
  • Set goals to track the success of mentoring programs, such as helping employees become ingrained in the culture or getting them up to speed faster so they can hit the ground running.
  • Use technology to enable employees to seek, or get matched with, internal career coaches— mentors— who can help them achieve their development goals.



Office Politics: 5 Ways to Survive the Shark-Infested Waters

Whether you’re just starting your career or have been swimming in the deep waters of office politics for many years, you’re bound to run into some dangerous “fish.”

During my 25-year corporate career I held roles on the front line, in middle management and at the executive level, including a role reporting directly to the company president.

My friends would often ask me if my work environment was political. “It’s like swimming with the sharks.” I would say.

I thought I had come up with a unique — and clever — analogy. I was wrong.

Articles about office politics abound. No wonder in a survey conducted by Robert Half International, 62 percent of the workers interviewed said navigating office politics was at least somewhat necessary to get ahead. So it’s no wonder that a large number of those articles use the swimming with sharks analogy.

In a blog post entitled “Shark Week at Work! Are You Swimming With an Office Shark?” Robert Half, which is one of the world’s largest staffing firms, advises workers to “keep on top of which kinds of sharks are native to your waters so you know what to expect — and how to react.”

So here are the five kinds of shark I encountered during my career and how I survived swimming with them:

  • The Hammerhead Shark: People who choose less-talented friends over more talented strangers (i.e., you). I am a big believer in mentoring — mentoring others and being mentored. Among the people I established mentoring relationships with were people who were higher up the food chain.

Those people also served as sponsors. In one instance, an executive wanted to unilaterally hire a candidate. One of my sponsors asked for a competitive process; no guarantees, just a fair shot.

As it turned out, I was selected and the person who expected to get the job ended up working for me. But not for very long: the executive granted her request for a transfer.

  • The Bull Shark: People who pass on misinformation or rumors about you. In my experience, it was never worth my time to address every rumor or bit of misinformation about me. It was more important for me to build my credibility in individual encounters over time. Thus, some rumors would temporarily take hold. But the reputation I built usually spoke more loudly. “That does not even sound like, Greg” people would say in response to negative rumors.

A case example: I once had to ask for the resignation of a popular employee. Friends of the employee spread the rumor that I terminated him unfairly. Eventually, as people who knew me spoke up, that rumor faded.

  • The Basking Shark: People who make you look bad so they can look good. The key here is to take the high road. Focus on highlighting your own work. The best response you have to attacks on your work is to produce good work.

Once, after I had completed a temporary assignment, I was told by the regular manager that I had “failed in the field” because an ethics investigation was launched during my assignment (related to conduct that preceded my arrival). However, my response to the misconduct was praised. I never directly addressed the comment. My actions spoke louder than her words.

  • The Great White: People who highlight your mistakes to higher-ups. When you mess up, fess up. I learned to choose accountability. That is, I didn’t wait until my mistake came to light to reveal it. I always wanted my boss to hear bad things about me from me first. In doing so, I defanged this particular species of shark. As an internal client once said, “Bad news does not get better because it’s older.”
  • The Sand Shark: People who ask you to support them at the cost of doing what was right. This is a particularly dangerous species of shark, especially if they outrank you. Fortunately, I faced this particular shark only a few times. In each instance, I did what I thought was right and provided a legitimate business explanation about why I chose to carry out an order in a way that was different than directed.

Once I was asked to pay a consultant who was hired to perform ongoing work from a special project budget so that our operating budget would not take the hit. I did find some minimal work on the project and charged just that work to the project budget. I told my boss, that upon closer examination of the invoice, I found that most of the work was part of normal operations and so I charged the work accordingly.

I placed the ball back in the shark’s court (talk about your mixed metaphors!). And the shark acquiesced to how I handled the situation.

In my experience, the primary survival tips in the office shark tank are to do the right things the right way and let your actions, your reputation and your relationships represent you.

So long as we resist the temptation to become one, we can successfully swim with the sharks.


AUTHOR:  Greg Wallace is CEO of leadership consulting firm The Wallace Group. He is also the author of the book “Transformation: the Power of Leading from Identity.”


Reprinted from Workforce magazine



3 Ways to Leverage Online Mentoring

With today’s technology to build just-in-time learning for immediate impact, leaders can leverage online mentoring programs to empower individuals with technical resources to strengthen their skills. Since most people are turning to the Web to get answers, why not capture, organize and structure the best resources on the Web for easier and smarter access?

That is exactly what some organizations such as pharmaceutical company Santen Inc. and talent assessment company TalentMine are doing to become more efficient. By documenting lessons learned in a search and drill-down approach, these organizations are better able to prevent reinventing the wheel. For example, there should be a standard programming technique for summarizing clinical data that can be copied from a template instead of completely rewriting the program.

Successful online mentoring programs welcome users with an easy-to-navigate menu system and a built-in cross-reference index. To customize online mentoring systems, leaders can capture their employees’ favorite websites, images, structure and knowledge. With a click of the mouse, new employees can access process flow charts to show technical details.

Ideally, mentoring programs generally consist of three components — leveraging experience with job aid guides, indexing best practice resources, and using forums and frequently asked questions. Within the organization, industry experts build and maintain consistency and direction of each component.

1. Leverage experience by creating job aid guides, or summary cheat sheets, to prevent reinventing the wheel. For the computer programming industry, for example, five programming e-guides were created to contain chunks of technical information in a logical and concise format with internal and external hyperlinks for cross-reference.

In these e-guides, along with real-world programs as examples, images are included to help associate each program task such as data access, data management and data analysis.

Research has shown that visual images with drill-down capability simulate how our brains process large and complex data. Based on a small informal survey of pharmaceutical industry professionals during a typical work week, there may be up to 80 percent of tasks that are repetitive in some form that require detailed steps to be followed in sequence. A checklist helps to assure that not only all steps are completed, but in the expected order.

Instead of trying to remember all of the key details, why not document and translate the tasks to more meaningful instructions from employees’ perspectives? Not only will this simple technique increase their success rate without making any mistakes, but they will then start to gain insights into how their routine job can become more creative by automatically remembering key details, identifying suggestions for improving the process and expanding their knowledgebase to learn more.

Leaders know that these job aid guides serve as an extension to departmental standard operating procedures. For example, to standardize the technique to read data, it is more efficient to click on the e-guide, then do an online search for the data access section to display programming code that can be copied.

2. Master the fundamentals. Most everything requires having a thorough understanding of the basics before advancing. With information overload on the Internet, there is no reason for professionals not to access this often free information. By building an online personal productivity platform, professionals can take advantage of free resources for their professional advancement. Smarter leaders take advantage of tools to help their employees access their favorite technical websites and images in their personalized structure along with capturing their knowledge.

For example, in most industries, there should be available a collection of top papers from conferences, articles or blogs. Within the online system, by organizing papers into employees’ meaningful categories, employees are better able to use them when they need them most.

With popular membership-based and social bookmarking websites, just about anyone can create a robust website full of links to relevant papers for any topic, product or service. In addition, often there is flexibility to add images, videos and insights to enhance understanding.

Continuous education and certification training should be scheduled regularly to reinforce, for example, applications of techniques and software options. Having a mentor with industry-related experience can drastically reduce the learning curve and fill in gaps to higher productivity.

3. Collaborate with peers. By actively participating in professional forums or blogs within the mentor system, for example, members can post their question or issue by category for other members to contribute their suggestions. This simple process not only stimulates the members to jog their memories, but also builds camaraderie within the industry. Often if members have experienced a related issue, they can offer potential solutions.

Often, members can get all this advice for free and usually within days without an appointment. By building friendships and expertise within their industry community, members too will be able to continue sharing tips based on their experience. Once a knowledge base is established, then searches can be performed against frequently asked questions for easy reference.

Usually, employees have common questions that can be shared and updated as needed. Solutions to these FAQs can be linked to papers or references for more details.

About the Author:

Sunil Gupta is the best-selling author of “Sharpening Your SAS Skills,” a global corporate trainer and founder of and Gupta Programming. Reprinted from Talent Management Magazine

Conversations with 3 Mentoring Leaders

One of the tough challenges for companies today is finding systemic ways to tap into the vast pools of knowledge that exist in their organizations, and then creating effective ways for that knowledge to be shared among employees. The breadth and depth of knowledge available can make this task overwhelming.

Networked mentoring begins with the philosophy that everyone has something to teach, and everyone has something to learn. In this same vein, mentoring leaders from Agilent Technologies, YUM! Brands, and McDonald’s share what mentoring means to their organizations and how they are taking mentoring to the next level.

Agilent Technologies

Leslie Camino-Markowitz, Director, Next Generation Leadership Programs, Global Learning and Leadership Development

Q. Why is mentoring important to Agilent?

A. Agilent’s aim is to foster a high-performance environment that will focus and maximize the passion, performance, and potential of its people to deliver business results. Agilent has strong management practices, processes, and systems that support the development of employees in their current work and encourages their continued growth at Agilent. Mentoring can play a significant part in supporting all levels of employees to achieve this together.

Q. How is Agilent using mentoring?

A. Agilent has a strong mentoring culture, and as such, we use mentoring in a variety of ways. Mentoring at Agilent is a process that supports learning and development, and therefore, performance improvements for an individual, team, or business. It typically involves offline help by one person to another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work, thinking, or career.

Mentoring can be formal, using structured and systematic processes, procedures, and tools. It is typically driven by organizational needs, based on goal achievement, and of a fixed duration. Mentoring can also be informal, which is flexible and loosely structured, with only periodic measurement of results. The characteristics of mentoring relationships will vary depending on the nature of the partnership and the needs of each partner.

Agilent’s Next Generation Leadership programs provide accelerated development for top talent by matching senior leaders and executives with high potential talent to develop a leadership pipeline. Our CEO leads the way by enthusiastically accepting mentoring relationships as another way to directly influence the development of our future leaders, and it allows him to get keen insight into the organization.

Q. What business impact does Agilent hope to achieve through mentoring?

A. At Agilent, we look at our yearly strategic imperatives to analyze the business requirements for talent and to understand how we can move on our commitments. We consider how to use mentoring in support of our values.

From creating a culture of speed to opportunity, creating strategic alignment, building organizational capability, and delivering results by engaging the hearts and minds of our people, mentoring allows for people connections to get us where we need to be. Ultimately, it’s about increasing speed to competence and breaking the intrinsic challenges that come with matrix organizations.

Q. Where do you see the practice of mentoring going in the next 5-10 years?

A. It’s all about increasing connectivity for a purpose. While I do think that traditional mentoring continues to be highly effective, the reality of the speed in which we need to deliver results, react to continuous unprecedented change, and synthesize information—along with demands on our time—require us to develop faster modes of connectivity toward building capability, enabling informed decisions, and promoting action. Tapping into sources of knowledge quickly and in real time is an imperative. It is all about dynamic mining for knowledge.

To that end we are conscious that we need to evolve mentoring as a knowledge transfer solution that incorporates social learning approaches. We are in the midst of launching ASK network—Agilent Sharing Knowledge—to help shift the mindset of traditional mentoring only as a long-term commitment to one of mining knowledge now, and we are doing it by socializing the concept in support of business objectives.

Q.What influence do you think this will have on your employees?

A. Knowledge exchange to increase productivity and enable competency to deliver on Agilent’s strategic intent is the desired result. With this comes the potential of higher employee engagement and innovation. It is about using the rich knowledge and experience we already have in-house and about the innovation that comes when several minds come together.

Yum! Brands
Emma Oberdieck, People Development Manager

Q. Why is mentoring important to Yum! Brands?

A. At Yum! Brands, one of our core beliefs is, “people capability first… satisfied customers and profitability follow.” This guides our overall approach to the training and development of our associates. We know that the only way to achieve breakthrough business results is by believing in all of our associates and helping them to unleash their full potential. Mentoring is one of the key ways we build the capability of our associates to help them grow and develop.

Q. How is Yum! using mentoring?

A. We practice a philosophy reinforcing the belief that every associate owns their own development. In support of this practice, mentoring has been woven into the people development fabric of our organization to make it accessible throughout the year. We talk about mentoring when we set goals at the beginning of the year.

We encourage onboarding mentoring for many of our new hires, and we strongly support mentoring for new coaches. We use one-on-one mentoring as a complement to our broader internal ideation and project collaboration network. And mentoring supports our cultural values, which we call “How We Win Together.”

Our most visible mentoring effort is in direct support of our mid-year Individual Development Planning process. Together associates and their supervisors create yearlong action plans to help the associates grow and develop. Emphasis is put on learning from experience, learning from others, and formal learning methods.

And while special development offerings such as stretch or temporary assignments can be made available from time to time, mentoring is always available to Yum! associates who work above the restaurant level.

To ensure that these associates get the most out of mentoring, we provide a variety of tools and support to enhance the mentoring relationship experience, including goal sheets, discussion guides, newsletters, websites, books, and self-guided e-learning modules.

We offer a formalized matching tool for those associates who would like a helping hand in identifying the right mentor or mentee. And we have assigned mentoring leaders in each of our operating divisions to provide program and participant support.

Q. What business impact does Yum! hope to achieve through mentoring?

A. Mentoring allows us to grow our people and our business in two key areas: business growth and expansion, and retention and engagement.
In business growth and expansion, mentoring matches associates across geographies, disciplines, and generations, both allowing us to share our wealth of knowledge outside of the boundaries that our business can naturally create and encouraging global innovation and new thinking. Because mentoring fosters close relationships, we learn to deliver superior results supported by the requests we feel more comfortable making of each other.

Related to retention and engagement, we use mentoring to engage and coach associates to grow to their full potential. Mentoring asks us to identify and focus on specific needs for development, and it pairs us with others who are dedicated to developing us in a truthful, safe, one-on-one work relationship.

These relationships, based on low-cost experiential learning, expand professional networks, promote diversity and inclusion, and increase engagement. This heightened sense of associate commitment results in reduced turnover, which allows us to build a stronger talent bench. Our associates tell us mentoring is one of the reasons Yum! is an employer of choice.

Q. Where do you see the practice of mentoring going in the next five to 10 years?

A. Our vision is that every associate around the world has the opportunity to grow professionally and has the responsibility to coach others through every transition and phase of their career. Today, informal mentoring is happening globally in nearly every piece of our business. Formal mentor matching, however, is currently limited to our associates above the restaurant level in both our domestic business and our English-speaking international business units.

Although formal programs would have to be customized to meet the needs of our restaurant associates, we are actively pursuing solutions to enable every associate to enjoy the growth benefits of a close mentoring relationship. In addition, we would expect to offer a formal matching system in all of the languages our associates speak across the globe.

Q. What effect do you think this will have on your employees?

A. Survey and anecdotal feedback from formal and informal mentoring participants and their coaches reinforces our belief that mentoring increases job satisfaction, engagement, and retention. We’ve found that sharing information in a transparent and supportive setting increases breadth and depth of associates’ business understanding.

We know an expansion of mentoring will make our global business strategies and competencies accessible and attainable to associates where they live and work. And we’re counting on that bridge of the knowledge and support gap outside of current comfort zones to unleash the amazing talent potential we house so we can encourage our leaders of tomorrow to emerge as leaders of today.

Dennis Brennan, Director, Inclusion, Global Inclusion & Intercultural Management

Q. Why is mentoring important to McDonald’s?

A. Mentoring relationships harness the additional experience and expertise that is available to every employee in the form of fellow employees. Our founder, Ray Kroc, said it best, “None of us is as good as all of us.” We encourage all employees to seek out formal relationships that build their personal and professional skill sets that raise their competence, confidence, and add value to our business.

Q. How is McDonald’s using mentoring?

A. McDonald’s has a long history of using mentoring programs in formal and informal manners to identify and nurture future leaders, build skills for more competent employees, identify and grow successful franchisees, and assist those businesses that supply our quality products and services. Since 2006 we have offered an internal, online, virtual mentoring program that employees can utilize at their pace to make relationship connections and build their skill sets.

Q. What business impacts does McDonald’s hope to achieve through mentoring?

A. Our mission at McDonald’s is: “We aspire to be our customers’ favorite place and way to eat.” To achieve this mission, our actions as individuals and as a system must reflect our values, one of which is “We strive continually to improve.”

Engaging in effective advisor or learner (mentor-mentee) relationships within and between our employees, franchisees, and suppliers will achieve levels of employee performance, franchisee growth, and supplier expansion that will service our needs in building the McDonald’s brand around the world to satisfy our customers.

Q. Where do you see the practice of mentoring going in the next five to 10 years?

A. Practically speaking, as today’s virtual information society continues to expand, mentoring as we know it in the form of advisor, teacher, or learner will still exist.

People and leaders will continue to reach out to those who have the initiative, drive, and desire to improve their performance contributions to our business and the communities in which we do business. The delivery systems will dramatically change as

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the virtual world becomes smaller and access to people and learning tools becomes more fluid.

Q. What impact do you think this will have on your employees?

A. If past performance is an accurate predictor of future performance, our employees will utilize mentors or advisors to greater depths and continue to build their skill competence on broader scales that will better prepare them for positions and contributions to which they aspire.

Journey Forth

Three unique companies, three approaches to mentoring, yet all with one belief: That mentoring will continue to be the way to spread knowledge, skills, and context throughout their workforces, helping to make their employees better and their companies stronger.

About the Author:

Randy Emelo is president and CEO of Triple Creek and has worked with hundreds of clients showing them how to blend formal and informal learning into an interactive, relational, and measurable process with enterprise mentoring;

Reprinted from T&D Magazine

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