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The Power of Mentorship

Part One of a Four Part Series on Mentoring

By: Bruce Tulgan

I have a simple rule I teach managers in my seminars: day one is the most important day. In today’s workforce culture, if you want to engage and retain a new hire, you have to prepare for that new employee’s first day like you would plan for your kid’s birthday party. That doesn’t mean you greet them with candles and balloons and gifts and song, necessarily. But you do have to greet them.

Consider the greetings the U.S. Marine Corps offer to brand-new recruits. The Marines’ have a well-known on-boarding program called boot camp. For thirteen solid weeks, they provide an all-encompassing 24/7 experience in which they take an ordinary human being and transform that person into a Marine – a person with a unique set of values and a unique set of skills, a person so connected to the Marine Corps and its mission and every other Marine that this person is now ready to walk into the line of fire, literally, and win battles. Now that’s what I call a greeting.

You don’t need obstacle courses and firing ranges, of course. What matters is replicating the intensity, the connection to mission, the feeling of shared experience and belonging to a group, the steady learning, and the constant challenge. It’s about taking new employees seriously on day one, and every other day after that.

In one consulting firm I know with about a hundred employees and very limited training resources, here’s what they do with the four or five new young hires they bring on each year. From the moment an applicant accepts an offer of employment, that person is assigned to three experienced employees, called advisers, who work with the new employees from day one. Between the day the applicants accept the offer and their first day at the company, the advisers take turns staying in touch with them, are involved in setting their start date, and are expected to take responsibility for orientation and initial training. “Our goal is simple,” the CEO of this firm told me, “The new staff should never be alone for one minute in the first six months if the advisers can possibly help it.”

The mistake employers often make is investing time, energy, and money in a highly-engaging orientation program, and immediately afterwards depositing employees into a demoralizing no-support workplace. Following the intensity of the orientation program, new employees end up being greeted in the real workplace by co-workers and managers who don’t particularly care about helping them succeed and improve, as long as they get the work done.

But the longer you sustain the intensity and support of an adviser- or mentor-type program, the more value you will get out of your new employees over time. And the benefits aren’t just for the new hires. “Usually one of the three advisers will really own a new staff person and carry a disproportionate amount of the weight,” the consulting firm CEO told me. “But they are the smart ones because it gives them their own power base. They have these die-hard protégés who always want to work on their projects and these protégés break their backs for their advisers.”

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that some of your new employees are so talented, skilled, and motivated that they don’t really need the attention of an adviser, mentor, or even their manager. As one young employee put it, “If you expect me to believe I am one of the best in my class, then why would you totally ignore me? You tell me I’m the future of the company, but you don’t give me the time of day? How do you expect me to interpret that?” The better they are, the more attention they want: the superstar employees want leaders who know exactly who they are, help them succeed, and keep close track of their success.

 


About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (Revised & Updated, 2014). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at brucet@rainmakerthinking.com, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website www.rainmakerthinking.com.

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