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Power Mentoring Rising Stars is Good for Business

Bill Rosenthal is Chief Executive of Communispond

Your high-potential managers should be getting much more than the standard-issue kind of mentoring that most businesses provide. To accelerate the development of your rising stars and, equally important, keep competitors from recruiting them, you should deploy what I call "power mentoring." It can also be called the "mentor as advocate" model. Here are eight keys for more effective mentoring for your company's future leaders.

Keep the Managers Current

Be sure they understand the company's big-picture goals and its strategies for reaching them. Equally important, keep them informed about important news — including developments that may be too confidential for general announcement. You'll show these managers that they've earned your trust and are seen as valued partners in the organization's future. This also will help them take a long view when they're making decisions.

Showcase Their Accomplishments

Let the senior management team know about the managers' wins — and tell the managers you're doing it. Encourage senior management to personally acknowledge the accomplishments. Everybody appreciates recognition for having done a good job and senior executives' recognition is especially valued.

This tactic is particularly useful for managers who are in remote locations and those handling functions that get little visibility. Managers who know they're valued by senior management will be less likely to jump ship if an organization is undergoing staff cuts.

Conduct "Power Assessments"

Performance reviews can become a dispiriting experience for managers if they're conducted badly. Be certain that your star performers' reviews are handled well. You might want to conduct them yourself for the managers you particularly value. At the very least, don't let a manager who is only one level above the rising star conduct the review.

Moreover, a future leader should be given reviews more frequently than once a year. Some businesses now routinely conduct reviews each quarter. Fast-track managers should be reviewed at least that frequently. To encourage an honest self-assessment at the review make it all about development and handle the discussion about compensation separately.

Deploy Every Development Resource the Company Offers

Your business might be providing development opportunities you don't know exist. For example, most big businesses offer reimbursement for college-level tuition but it's often not publicized.

Broaden your star performers' capabilities with job rotation. You can rotate them within the company, perhaps at an offshore unit, or at a supplier or customer. Let them "shadow" a manager working in another function for a day. Provide work on interdisciplinary project teams. Use stretch assignments. Let the manager accompany you to a management meeting.

Be certain that managers on a fast track aren't moved ahead too quickly. New skills can be learned in even a day but it takes time to learn lessons. Give the managers time to finish their projects — and to evaluate the results as well. Shuttling them through jobs at a fast pace might make them concentrate on fixing only the problems they've had experience with and ignore others.

Plug Skills Gaps

Even your best managers might be lacking an important skill. A technology manager, for example, might have gotten promoted because of technical expertise but doesn't have so-called "soft skills," such as knowing how to manage people. If internal resources aren't available to fill your rising stars' skills gaps, you can do it with the help of a wide range of outside organizations.

Some 6,000 companies in the employee skills training business provide short courses that take from a half day to five days on many technical and soft skills, some of them very specialized. Many of these companies offer free online seminars to make themselves better known. Online seminars also are provided by universities.

You also can send managers to executive education courses and industry conferences; provide them with executive coaching; assign them reading lists; give them subscriptions to business magazines and business book digest newsletters; and ask them to join online groups of people performing their job function, where they can get others' insights.

Step Up to Problems

A manager on a fast track sometimes gets assigned to a boss who would rather have a more experienced person in the manager's position. This can cause conflicts. You have to be ready to help when this happens.

A mentor who is an advocate should be ready to intervene whenever a problem of any kind surfaces. The manager being mentored certainly will appreciate help if there's a shortage of resources needed to meet a tough deadline, a customer who's making impossible demands or a question about whether a directive raises ethical concerns, for example.

A fast-tracked manager might not be ready for the new job or even feel signs of burnout. The manager would express these concerns only to a mentor who's seen as an advocate — one who can be trusted with confidential information and is a seen as an unwavering ally.

Know Your Stars

What do your future leaders want? You won't know unless you ask. Don't assume they're motivated by the same factors that move you. Senior executives sometimes believe that salary and security are most important. Many younger employees in particular put more value on factors like participation in decision-making, recognition, freedom, transparency, advancement opportunities, good relations with their boss, a congenial environment, teamwork and lots of support.

You can't make assumptions based on group behaviors, though. Every manager is an individual and responds uniquely to each situation. The most successful talent management programs are based on an understanding of the managers' personalities, work styles, values and expectations. Don't assume either that a manager's goals will remain constant.

To really understand a manager the mentor should look beyond performance results and determine how the results were produced. Does the manager use best practices or innovate by breaking the rules? Were the P&L results achieved by finding new revenue sources or cutting costs?

A successful mentor doesn't have to share the manager's work style. It's essential to at least understand the manager's values, though.

Encourage Introspection

Don't assume that your rising stars have a clear understanding of their capabilities. Encourage them to analyze the results they're producing to identify what's working for them and what isn't. Introspection can give them more useful knowledge than a formal evaluation does.

Ask them to ask themselves if they've fallen into unproductive habits; whether any behaviors, such as mood swings or unneeded anxiety, are hurting their performance; whether they're continually trying to develop their strengths and correct their weaknesses; and whether they're focusing on their priorities. It's easy for managers in challenging positions to go on autopilot, relying only on strategies that worked in the past, irrespective of whether they're suitable now.

Suggestions for mentors

  • Have a clear understanding with the manager about what each person should expect from the relationship, how long it should last and how much time should be devoted to mentoring.
  • Don't try to provide solutions to problems. Help the manager think of possible solutions and work on evaluating them together. Ask good questions rather than come in with the answers.
  • Be supportive but don't brush aside possible problems.  Don't beat up on the manager either.
  • Set concrete goals with the manager. The goal shouldn't be "to increase sales," for example, but rather "to increase sales for the quarter by X dollars."
  • Begin the next meeting by discussing the previous meeting's goals and results.
  • Don't take the responsibility for mentoring a rising star unless you can make a strong commitment to being a power mentor, a mentor who's the manager's advocate.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessNewsDaily.

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