Mentoring programs can be key to a company’s success. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network utilize them to help employees grow, learn and prepare for the company’s future. A study by the American Society for Training and Development found that 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies have a corporate mentorship program. It also found that 75 percent of executives’ credit mentors with helping them reach their current positions. Tiffany Albert, president and chief executive officer of BCN, can attest to the importance of mentoring. She supports two company-sponsored mentorship programs — Break Thru Leadership and Mentoring Circles. She’s also a mentor to employees informally.
Tiffany Albert Albert says she’s been mentoring others since college and is passionate about it. “It’s just something I’ve always gravitated toward,” she said. “I enjoy mentoring because it gives me a sense of fulfillment and a sense of purpose. I take my lessons learned over the years and help others with what I’ve learned along the way. “It’s really rewarding for me to work with people to help them find their inner strength, instill confidence, identify their skills and talents, and then watch them blossom.” Kellie Norton, director, West Michigan and Upper Peninsula, has been a CoachForward mentor since the program began.
Kellie Norton “It is rewarding to see someone succeed, fulfill their dream,” Norton said. “See them get a promotion that they didn’t think they could get. To see the joy that they experience. Seeing their success, whether it is a promotion or a good presentation.” At Blue Cross, the CoachForward program provides tools to help leaders improve their skills and positively affect business performance. The program requires a 90-day commitment, and the mentors meet with the mentees at least eight times. “I’ve always seen mentoring as a way to help encourage people to keep going,” Norton said. “Getting to the next step. That is how we grow.”
A cycle of mentoring
A lot of mentees later become mentors, contributing to a culture of learning. Albert credits Cindy Monroe for making a huge difference in her career. Monroe, vice president of Corporate Strategy at Blue Cross, was Albert’s leader-turned-mentor at another company. Albert jokingly said she wasn’t even a lump of coal then, describing herself as a charcoal briquette. “She really saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Albert said. “I didn’t have the confidence, I didn’t really appreciate my skillset or where I brought value. I just wanted to do a good job and work hard. Cindy saw something in me and she encouraged me. She was very honest and candid in her feedback with me. “I’m in the role I’m in today largely because Cindy saw something in me, invested in me, encouraged me, guided me.” Albert added that her mentor inspired her to want to do the same for others. “I love when I meet people and I see that they have that spark, that they are special and really good at something, but they don’t know it.” She said she’s personally rewarded by helping them build confidence and go on to higher success. And, Albert said, she believes in paying it forward. “Everybody that I have mentored, as far as I know, is mentoring someone else,” she said. “Pay it forward. If you have someone who invested in you, then you need to turn around and see if there is someone you can help.”
A learning experience for everyone involved
Mentoring is a two-way street, according to Albert. She has learned just as much, if not more, than some of her mentees. “Sometimes the questions they ask me challenge me,” she said. “So my mentees help me to learn and grow continuously, so it kind of keeps me fresh.” Norton also has seen the benefits of mentoring. “I’ve learned a ton. A lot more than some of the participants.” To be an effective mentor, you have to invest in the mentor-mentee relationship, Albert said. That means getting to know the person you’re mentoring and really establishing expectations:
- What does he or she want to get out of this relationship?
- What is his or her desire for development?
Albert gives her mentees homework assignments. “I’m going to ask you to be self-reflective and spend some time just thinking about what it is you really want. I can’t tell you exactly what you need to do. I can give you guidance, but you have to think about things for yourself, too.” Norton asks open-ended questions to help mentees come to their own conclusions.
An investment in the future
Albert sees mentoring as an investment in the next generation of leaders. “I think by mentoring we are building a stronger foundation for the future.” If you’re looking for a mentor, Albert said, you have to be self-reflective and think about what you want. Then ask someone you respect and admire, and whose opinion you value.
Beneficial for businesses
It’s important that companies invest in their people at varying levels of the organization, Albert said. Mentoring can help them plan for the future of their company. “(Mentoring) matters,” she said. “It lets people know that they are valued. Overall, when you mentor and you have successful programs, it pays huge dividends to the business because people will feel good about their goals. That their employer cares about them. They’re learning and growing.”
A success story
About five years ago, Albert met a young woman at a mix and mingle event at Blue Cross. The very ambitious millennial wanted to know, “What’s my next move? I’ve been in this role six months. When is my promotion coming?” Albert said the woman didn’t lack confidence, but she knew she needed a mentor, someone to give her instruction and guidance. She wanted to move up quickly, but Albert stressed that she had to do her current job well first and demonstrate to people that she was serious and committed to her work. Her mentee worked hard at Blue Cross to gain exposure, learn the culture, learn the business and master her current role. Since the two met, the mentee has changed roles three times; two were promotions. Albert, who watched her mentee lead a team meeting in 2017 and then another in 2018, said she has seen tremendous growth in her. “In December 2018, there was a completely different culture to her team,” Albert said. “I could see they really respected and admired her … I saw a difference in her confidence and how she handled and carried herself — the maturation. She is my biggest success story.”
Mentoring by the numbers
A five-year study of 1,000 employees by Gartner, a research and advisory firm, and Capital Analytics, a software and services company, found:
- Twenty-five percent of employees who took part in a mentoring program had a salary-grade change, compared to only five percent of workers who didn’t participate
- Mentors were promoted six times more often than those not in the program
- Mentees were promoted five times more often than those not in the program
- Retention rates were much higher for mentees (72 percent) and mentors (69 percent) than for employees who didn’t participate in the mentoring program (49 percent)
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