Align Your Mentoring Program with the U.S. Army’s Mentoring Methods

What can talent management leaders learn from the U.S. Army? This is an interesting question asked in a recent article from author Helene Lollis. Talent managers are waging battles on various fronts, managing a workforce that is stretched thin, and guessing how to prepare the next generation of strong leaders. Lollis parallels the qualms and quarrels of the U.S. Armed Forces with the trials and tribulations faced by talent management leaders.

According to the article, talent managers can learn a lesson from the new mentoring programs for Army civilians. These groundbreaking mentoring programs demonstrate the value of taking a long view of talent management and investing in high-potential leaders now for the sake of the future.

Perhaps these mentoring programs are a good way to interact with and supplement employees during difficult times. With the workforce stretched to its limits and top-talent keeping an eye on better opportunities, mentoring programs may offer an upper hand in employee satisfaction and retention. Many organizations have some form of mentoring program or have taken steps to create a mentoring culture. However, mentoring programs are often loosely structured and informally administered.

In reference to the U.S. Army’s parallels to talent management, the U.S. Army employs a large corps of civilian leaders who work alongside and in support of the Army’s active leadership. The Army’s leadership initiatives  for developing active-duty forces are world-renowned, but the organization has recently placed new and unprecedented emphasis of the development of its civilian workforce. Mentoring is seen as a large part of that effort.

One such program is inside the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and its Senior Leader Development Program (SLDP). The SLDP equips participants with the tools and skills required to lead and manage change, thing strategically and represent the Army across organizations. The programs is an overlay to the participants’ full-time roles, and it combines executive education with unique experiences and exposure in short-and long-term developmental assignments over a period of two years. Mentoring was always integral to the program, but it relied on leaders within the various positional assignments to provide mentoring in a less formal way.

For some time, the Army has relied upon some form of mentoring for those with leadership potential. The hierarchical chain of command seems to naturally offer a sense of mentor-ship. Similarly, many corporate organizations rely upon the hierarchy within their organization  to foster mentoring. Because of this, internal mentoring programs span the spectrum from informal to formal and from loose and ineffective to structured and valuable.

Lollis notes that informal mentoring has always existed within organizations. As the dynamics and composition of the workforce have changed, the benefits of using mentoring as a key tool in professional development have become more and more apparent. Lollis writes that all developmental activities are now expected to demonstrate a return for the organization and contribute to bottom-line performance. Career management has become each individual employee’s responsibility.

Goals to increase diversity in senior management have driven growth in the use of mentoring programs, especially when they are effectively linked to measurable outcomes.

With the notion to create more structured and formal mentoring programs, matching mentors with mentees is a good tactic to ensure that the mentoring program will prove successful. With a good match between mentor and mentee, the partnership allows for more open and safe dialogue on developmental issues beyond the traditional discussion of function and departmental dynamics.

Too often, a mentee’s interest in a position or job function is the primary criterion examined when matching mentors and mentees. Such a process fails to incorporate the individual mentee’s developmental needs, his or her work history and experiences, and the personal barriers to growth that the mentee is experiencing. And, quite often, it is a  mentor who has had similar personal growth experiences or experiences developing others with similar challenges and opportunities who can provide the individualized guidance that can help to position the mentee for success in any position or job function.

The U.S. Army’s tactic to create useful mentor to mentee programs is a great learning model for any corporate organization. To create the basis for the Army’s highly customized matches, mentors and mentees participated in a process combining extensive interviews and structured matching. The mentee interviews focused on several personal motivators such as career plans, personal goals and interests. The process also identifies communication styles, key personality traits and style issues. Mentors were also personally interviewed, with a focus on identifying those areas where they are uniquely suited to guide others in development.

A short overview of this process involves the relationship initiation, where the partners came together for a formal, six-hour training seminar designed to foster mutual understanding of roles and responsibilities. After this initial interaction, each partnership meets monthly either in person or via conferencing technology. A facilitator monitors each relationship throughout the duration of the program, speaking regularly with mentors and mentees to assess the partnerships and their progress. The last key element of the program is the curriculum. To ensure that the team engages in deep, substantive and focused conversation, the program includes a series of discussion guides.

Structure in the launch and the positioning of the program are critical to achieve the consistent high level of success that is required of a focused developmental offering. Support that combines ongoing training, monitoring, check-ins and substantive topics for partnership conversations helps to avoid the polite but ineffective relationships that are endemic to many conventional mentoring programs.

Mentoring is often considered to be something that naturally occurs and develops organically. This is not always the case. Some mentoring programs do happen this way, do not be fooled. However, if your organization’s purpose for its mentoring program is to drive measurable success in achieving developmental goals, a structured, formal mentoring program is in order. To read more about how to parallel your organization’s mentoring program with that which has been tried and true with the U.S. Army, click here to read the full article.

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