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Profitable Mentoring

by Judith Lindenberger

The worst thing about a cube farm is that nobody peaks over his cube. Too many offices are set up like a housing development that no one has made the effort to transform into a neighborhood. People don’t get tapped on the shoulder and taken into the inner sanctum by some member of the old guard.

We tell ourselves that business races at too fast a pace now for the luxury of old-fashioned mentoring. Besides, nobody stays with a company long enough to get brought along, anyway. Of course the reason employees flip in and out like hotcakes might be that their firm has not provided them with any personal incentive to stay.

For executives who cringe at the cost of constant retraining and seek a more desirable workplace, the Tri-State Chapter of the Society of Human Resource Professionals presents “Strategies and Tactics for Mentoring and Coaching” on Tuesday, January 25, at 5:30 p.m. at the Clarion Hotel in Cherry Hill. Cost $40. Call 856-216-1177, ext. 3 or visit www.tristatehr.org. The seminar features Judith Lindenberger, training consultant and founder of the Lindenberger Group, based in Titusville, and Pennington-based corporate coach Linda Sepe.

For the last quarter century Lindenberger has sought to personalize today’s tough job culture for the benefit of both employee and owner. Lindenberger grew up in Yardley and in l976 graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a B. A. in arts and communication. She then earned an MBA in human resource management from Drexel University. Taking her skills to the Federal Aviation Agency, Lindenberger came on board as an employee developer just as that agency was slapped with a massive suit in the new area of sexual harassment.

“I was on the road for a year, giving this harassment workshop I had developed to FAA officials,” she recalls. “And believe me, back in the early-1980s, this was not what they wanted to hear.”

After working as a human resource trainer for several large companies, Lindenberger opened her own shop three years ago. The Lindenberger Group coaches and sets mentoring programs for such clients as Dow Jones, Horizon Blue Cross, and the New Jersey Department of Education.

“The process of corporate mentoring is more one of sharing than just instructing,” insists Lindenberger. When General Electric’s former CEO Jack Welsh began a program of linking new employees in their 20s with senior managers in their 50s, an odd benefit occurred. The new, untrained younger people showed the veterans a whole new youth market. The oldsters discovered what this generation was seeking and developed new product lines to fill the need. The mentoring program at GE indeed was worthwhile, and produced benefits far above and beyond expectations. Here is how any firm can reap similar rewards:

Make the commitment. Almost everyone believes that bringing new employees up to speed is a good idea. Unfortunately, the sole protocol for achieving this in most companies is: “Hey, Jim, show this new guy the ropes, O. K.?” Chances are slim that such an effort will bond Jim and the novice at the hip.

Mentoring should be a program with scheduled time and resources. It demands both formal and informal sessions, and goes beyond the one-on-one. Senior management must send the message that mentoring is an expected function of the work day, not idle schmoozing gobbling up precious company time. Here’s how to get started:

Pairing. The odds of correctly selecting which mentee pairs off with which mentor can seem as daunting as choosing the Belmont trifecta. As companies continually flatten out their traditional hierarchies, the old idea of naming a successor and taking him under your wing may not apply. Jobs are too specialized, and more frequently are custom-tailored to individual abilities than to some set title.

It’s not always older paired with younger or veteran with newcomer. Instead, knowledge is the prime mentoring directive. “Pair your new person with someone who has the information he wants to learn,” she says. “His natural ambition and desire for the knowledge will hold the two together.” If you work it so that both are giving information, personal chemistry becomes a secondary consideration, and the factors of age, gender, and race are distant thirds.

Nudge of encouragement. Not everyone will gleefully welcome becoming a mentor. Despite the implied flattery, training is, after all, just one more thing that takes time out of the work day. At this point, management can step in and provide helpful enticements.

Interestingly, Lindenberger has found that Baby Boomers typically make excellent and willing mentors. It is this group who are now running companies or are making major decisions. They have, after a few decades experience, learned teamwork, and they do not want to retire.

“This is a generation with a huge career drive,” says Lindenberger, “and if offered a coaching consultancy will often jump at it.”

The Me Generation – those who burst upon the work scene in the mid-1980s – Lindenberger notes, need a little more motivation. They want to know what is in it for them. Show them that mentoring is linked to career enhancement, and this group may prove more willing to test the waters. She suggests such things as formal congratulations, publicity, and awards, such as “Mentor of the Year,” to help create this atmosphere.

Each of us wants to peek over the top of the cubicle, find out how everything fits together and rub elbows with the people who are making it happen. A good mentoring manager can provide a pathway for this natural curiosity, while at the same time vastly increasing cross-cube communication, understanding, and cooperation.

Copyright © 2015 by The Lindenberger Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

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