Mentoring Programs: The Why’s, What’s, and How’s

Do you consider employees your organization’s most valuable asset or a cost of doing business?  It should come as no surprise that outside of interest expense, employee-related expenses usually represents the biggest hit to the bottom line.  But few bankers view employees strictly as an expense.  Many would suggest that the greatest intangible asset unrecognized on the balance sheet are experience, knowledge of the company and familiarity with customers.  Therefore, the astute manager sees employees and their development as a long-term investment. That’s why your financial institution should consider a mentorship program.  I like to say, “Grow the people, grow the bank.”

Mentoring is one of many tools that financial institutions can use to nurture and grow their people.  Mentoring programs can be formal or informal.  However they work best when aligned and integrated with the organization’s overall strategy, talent and succession plan.  An effective mentorship program should incorporate the mentoring relationship as depicted in the illustration to the right.

What makes a mentee?
Mentee’s should be the high-potential leaders in your organization as identified by a solid talent planning assessment. Mentees need to be open to new ideas, and not afraid to take risks.  They should be receptive to both positive and constructive feedback.  Moreover, they must have the desire and willingness to apply new concepts on the job.  The most successful mentees are those who are focused on achieving long-term business results.

What makes a mentor?
Mentors on the other hand need to be people developers.  Not all successful leaders in the financial services industry are good at that.  Some may be better at it during the latter years of their career than they are when they are climbing the corporate ladder.  The components of an effective mentor, include

  • Those who have been mentored in the past and had a good experience
  • Leaders who are interested and willing to help others
  • Those with time and energy to dedicate to the relationship
  • Individuals who have industry specific knowledge and experience
  • At least two levels removed from the mentee and/or outside the organization

Essentially, mentors share their stories, demonstrate, explain and model the way, while mentees observe, question, explore and apply.

What is the role of the manager, then?
Managers must support the learning process.  They should encourage the mentee to take risks and explore new ways of doing things, while monitoring performance.  Managers are primarily responsible for the day-to-day authority and management of the mentee, while mentors provide a broader, long-range view that creates a development path to the mentee’s future.

How does a mentorship work?
At the beginning of a mentor relationship, goals, outcomes and mutual expectations should be clearly defined and agreed upon in an initial meeting.  Detailed objectives can be refined as the relationship evolves.  Ongoing communication is important in order to effectively maintain a positive relationship.  Depending on the objectives, mentors should meet formally with the mentee on (at least) a quarterly basis.  The role of the mentor as a coach, counselor, facilitator and networker will take shape as the relationship develops.

 What are the components of a quality-mentoring program?

Changed behavior as the mainstay – Mentoring’s ultimate outcome should be changed behaviors of the mentee, which should ultimately align with the financial institution’s strategy.  The responsibility of the mentor is to promote intentional learning, to include building capacity through one-on-one coaching, providing experiences and opportunities, and modeling the way.  Meanwhile, the mentee must be a willing learner, able to accept feedback, act on it, and apply it.

Failure and success stories as important and potent teachers – As leaders of a learning experience, mentors should share their “how to” success stories.  Equally important are their “what not to do” stories of failure.  Sharing how they approached a problem that failed miserably can be a very powerful learning experience for the mentee.  Stories, anecdotes and real-life examples offer valuable, unforgettable insight.  By being vulnerable, authentic and real, mentors build rapport with their protégé.

Successful mentoring as a journey – It evolves over time, and shares responsibility between the mentor, mentee and manager.  It is the fusion of events, experiences, observation, and thoughtful analysis.  It begins with setting a pledge for learning around which the mentee, the mentor and the line manager are in agreement.

Any CEO or president who is interested in increased performance must become committed to the mentoring process.  Mentorships are one of the most efficient ways to deliver financial outcomes, while achieving a financial institution’s strategic performance and growth objectives.  And, it is a terrific way to develop the high-potential, top talent as identified in the financial institution’s succession plan.