THE MAGAZINE

Making the Most of Mentoring

By James Carsey

Once, on-the-job training or military experience was enough to qualify a security professional. Times have changed. Today’s up-and-comers increasingly need education and certification. Less widespread, but just as important, is mentoring. Lacking it, the next generation of practitioners may be hamstrung in their ability to climb the advancement ladder. And without mentoring, some otherwise skilled and hardworking employees may be disregarded, marginalized, or even fired, because of negative personal traits. These pre­ventable terminations lead to more company costs towards recruitment, screening, and training of replacements.

As an example in which the latter situation was avoided, men­toring helped one security professional, who worked in an upscale New York City hotel, to keep his job. Although he was vigilant and skilled at dealing with intoxicated bar patrons, unruly hotel guests, fire and life-safety emergencies, as well as catching the criminal element trying to operate on his watch, this security professional lacked “people skills.” His aggression and take-charge ways so irritated his coworkers that they gave him the nickname “the Sheriff.” In fact, other employees filed so many complaints against him that the Sheriff was in danger of being fired.

The hotel’s new human resources director, however, realized that because this employee excelled at his job in all other ways, mentoring was a better option than termination. His attendance was impeccable and he had valuable experience as a military police officer in the United States Army. The human resources director put the Sheriff in touch with a friend, a director of security at another nearby city hotel.

Mentoring is a transformative process. Essential to it is a commitment between two professionals based on trust and communication that primarily focuses on the mentee’s needs. During mentoring, guidance is dispensed from a person who has accrued professional accomplishments and valuable life experiences. The mentor shares these experiences with his or her mentee in formal or informal conversations. The mentee develops and grows from the relationship and learns to mitigate issues and resolve problems, as well as how to plan into the future to accomplish career goals. As a bonus, the mentor also typically learns and grows from the experience, making the relationship mutually beneficial.

One company that has deeply studied the benefits of mentoring is Sun Microsystems, Inc., of Menlo Park, California. Sun was an early proponent of mentoring. In 2000, the company initiated the first of its large-scale mentoring programs and continues to use them to date. A study conducted by the corporation looked at the impact of the mentoring on retention, salary grade, performance rating, merit raises, and promotion raises for mentors, mentees, and nonparticipants.

According to the report Sun Mentoring: 1996- 2009, a demonstrably positive effect accrued from the investment in companywide mentoring programs. As the authors, Katy Dickinson, Tanya Jankot, and Helen Gracon, noted in the report, “Mentoring increases effectiveness and efficiency to achieve business results by doing real work, real time. Developing a corporate culture of mentoring is a good way to establish a network of communication across organizational silos, promote a wide variety of talents, and broaden the diversity of ideas and innovation available to the company. The ROI on Sun mentoring has been calculated to be 1,000 percent or greater.”

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