As a business owner or manager, would you like your employees to embrace the same diligence, corporate loyalty, broad-based abilities, experience, customer-orientation, and character as you do? Among the trades, journeyman tradesmen have historically imparted their ways of success to their apprentices via apprenticeships. Can this impartation be accomplished in corporate America? Yes, it can. Today, an increasing number of business leaders, whether in private industry or in government organizations, are mentoring their employees so as to effectively and efficiently perpetuate valuable corporate skills and character traits. Christian businessmen who desire to reproduce their own multifaceted skills and character in their employees have a tremendous running start when mentoring their protégés. They, as mentors, can implement valuable principles derived from the discipleship ministry of the Lord Jesus as a pattern. Notably, God's common grace enables even the unregenerate to implement these same principles. This article examines and encourages the implementation of corporate mentoring principles. It also presents pitfalls to avoid and benefits to derive in light of some primary discipleship concepts revealed in the Scriptures.
Employee mentoring is about a relationship between a mentor (a seasoned employee) and a protégé (a newly assigned employee). The goal of a mentoring relationship is for the protégé to become like the mentor. The protégé garners the best and proven qualities of the mentor and adds them to his own unique success characteristics. Luke 6:40 reveals this concept in Jesus' teaching, "[E]veryone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher." The mentor- protégé relationship is very much akin to that of the master-disciple pattern revealed in the Scripture. Feminists, in the 1970s, embraced this concept and coined the phrase mentorship as a way to describe their discipleship of the next generation of feminists. Needless to say, the feminist cause was greatly advanced due to their diligent mentoring investments.
However, the mentoring relationship is not as narrow as a training relationship, wherein one is taught to perform repeatable tasks that are executed with regularity. But mentoring is also not as broad as an educator-student relationship in which a wide range of subjects are imparted to the student to enable him to analyze in the abstract and to determine appropriate courses of action. Specifically, in corporate mentoring, the mentor imparts his abilities, his success strategies, and his character traits over time to a faithful protégé so as to equip him to fulfill personal and corporate objectives, one of which is to mentor others.
Corporate mentoring has been the driving force behind the phenomenal 2900% growth of BTAS, Inc. [editor: Business Technologies and Solutions, the author's employer] over the past six years. BTAS is a high-tech consulting firm that began six years ago with five employees (three of whom were owners). It has grown to 145 employees, a result of the benefits that corporate mentoring has brought to its customers. The company's clients, who delighted in BTAS' original employees, placed a strong demand on the company for additional consulting personnel who possessed the same professional skills, customer relations abilities, and character of the initial five employees. Corporate owners and managers could neither obtain new hires with the array of traits that customers desired, nor could they simply send new recruits to a school for character training. Therefore, the officers began to mentor newly hired employees in the business characteristics that originally made them successful with their clients.
The following principles have made the BTAS corporate mentoring program successful:
Bring Together Faithful: Mentors and Faithful Protégés
Corporate mentoring requires that faithful mentors and faithful protégés work together for the good of each other and of the company to the glory of God. Recall the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2: "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." Mentors must embrace the company's goals as well as their own, and must direct their energies toward building up the company. In the same manner, protégés must be faithful to their mentors and to the company's interests, in addition to their own. A mentor-protégé relationship is no place for pursuit of self-interest at the expense of the company. Protégés must prove themselves progressively faithful by following the instruction and impartation of their mentors. Jesus defined the true disciple (i.e., the disciplined follower/learner) in John 8:31 as one who continued to do His words: "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed." Furthermore, as the faithful protégé succeeds, he will be entrusted with more responsibilities, a Biblical principle from Luke 16:10: "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much...." As one can see, then, a businessman desiring to be fruitful in imparting his ways to others for their benefit and for that of the corporation must seek out faithful men or women who, when mentored, will be able to mentor others also.
Set a Clear Course of Success
From the start, mentors must set a clear course of action for the mentor-protégé relationship. BTAS takes definitive steps to implement a structured and repeatable yet flexible mentoring program. Each mentoring relationship begins with a clear mentoring plan, wherein all of the mentor's expectations of the protégé are documented. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:8: "For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself for battle?" A clear course of action necessarily influences the protégé, depicting expected readings (e.g., corporate strategies, customer profiles), project accomplishment goals, education and training requirements, and mentoring discussion reviews. The elements of each mentor-protégé relationship plan are specifically tailored to suit the mentoring requirements of each newly hired protégé. This plan depicts how long the relationship is to occur and how long and in what ways the protégé's weaning will take place. After a protégé receives his new assignment and is assigned a mentor, both parties meet and collaborate on the documented Mentor-Protégé Plan. Measurable performance standards, including expected character traits, are discussed, agreed upon, and documented in the plan. Documenting this mentoring plan enables both mentors and protégés to remain focused and committed to measurable success.
Find the Right Mentor-Protégé Fit
BTAS corporate managers collaborate continually to obtain the right mentor-protégé relationship fit. To support this effort, mentors many times participate in the hiring of their protégés. It should be noted that mentors need not have the same skill sets of the protégé if, for example, the mentor will only impart character traits and customer relations skills. A systems analyst, for example, may impart his work ethic to a newly hired engineer. Mentors are then provided complete details about their new protégés, including position descriptions and performance objectives, both of which are documented in the Mentor-Protégé Plan.
Mentoring Is an Investment in Relationship
Mentors and protégés must invest in their working relationship for their mutual success and for that of the company. Of course, professional mentoring relationships can get prickly, messy, and political, but, as the saying goes, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." Proverbs 10:4 states, "Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; But much increase comes by the strength of an ox." Luke records Jesus' words in Acts 20:35: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Each participant must give to the relationship. The mentor humbly and diligently imparts, and the protégé follows in a disciplined manner like a corporate disciple. Both members of the relationship must take relationship risks that require trust, unselfish consideration of each other's interests, and diligent pursuit of accomplishing the objectives set forth in the Mentor-Protégé Plan. Christian mentors and protégés can truly think of each other's interests, based on their desire to serve one another to the glory of God from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. The Christian mentor wants the protégé to glorify God in his skills and character. The Christian protégé humbly submits to the labors of his business mentor to please his Lord.
Mentoring Is an Investment in Time
Although the relationship investment involves time, being a mentor need not and should not take forty hours per week. After the initial collaboration meeting, mentors and protégés may formally meet once per week for focused counsel, training, and education regarding business success. The most successful relationships begin when mentors and protégés are assigned a mutual project. This enables the mentor to demonstrate skills and to note how the protégé works and what steps can be taken to perfect the protégé's skills and capabilities. The relationship is usually more intense during the first six months than afterwards when the protégé begins to be more comfortable with the corporation, his corporate duties, and his mentor.
The mentor-protégé relationship takes hard work. Since no one desires to labor in vain, mentors must expect and work toward fruitfulness from their protégés. Protégés, on the other hand, should expect their mentors to pour their professional lives into them. With diligence, kindness between the mentor and protégé, and prayer for success, the mentor-protégé relationship will bear fruit in varying degrees for both parties and for the company. A redemptive concept from which this mentoring principle is derived can be found in Mark 4:20: "But these are the ones sown on good ground, those who hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred." Fruitful mentoring is not simply hoped for; it is worked toward. In the case of BTAS, corporate management monitors the success of mentor-protégé relationships against the documented plans to ensure that expectations are being met. Adjustments to the plan (including assignment of new or additional mentors) can take place, if needed, to produce the intended fruitfulness for the protégé, the mentor, and the company.
Be Patient with One Another
The mentor-protégé relationship is one of patience. Mentors must allow for their protégés' individual qualities and need for some separateness, whereas protégés must embrace their (the mentors') abilities and character. Protégés must never grow weary of being reminded of policies, strategies, instructions, or procedures by the mentor. Peter the Apostle reminded his disciples of the Words of Life while knowing that they would grow weary from his reminders (2 Pet. 1:12): "For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth." Protégés must tolerate reminders, remembering that the mentor is trying to reduce the risk of failure for the protégés and the corporations.
Protégés Must Be Weaned
Just as every child must be weaned, so also must disciples and protégés be weaned. Mentors wean their protégés when they reflect the intended skills and traits documented in their Mentor-Protégé Plans. The weaning process usually occurs when protégés are assigned projects, wherein they operate partially or fully on their own without the focused attention of the mentor. During protégé weaning, the mentor trains the protégé in mentoring techniques to prepare the mentored employee to become a mentor himself. As the formal mentor-protégé relationship ends, the mentors prepare to take on new protégés, while the former protégé, at the appropriate time, prepares to become a mentor.
Although these principles provide a framework for mentoring success, there are some potential pitfalls that must be overcome. Mentors should not knowingly hoard information their protégés need. Knowledge-hoarding not only stifles the mentor-protégé relationship but also restricts the growth and learning capability of the corporation or any organization, for that matter. Also, mentors should resist temptation to be jealous of the success of their protégés. A successful protégé reflects the successful discipleship capabilities of the mentor. In addition, when mentors perform well in their mentor-protégé relations, corporate management should reward them for their labors on behalf of the company. Protégés should learn to trust that their mentors have their best interests at heart and protégés should remember that higher corporate authorities are evaluating the mentors. Mentors should never refuse to wean their protégés. Protégés, on the other hand, should not fear being weaned away from their mentor. Finally, both mentor and protégé should keep the goal of the relationship in mind: the impartation of the mentor's valuable success traits in a particular corporation to the protégé.
BTAS has learned from applying these tried and proven discipleship principles in its mentoring program that diligent mentoring provides corporate cohesiveness among the employees, continuity of valuable service capabilities, and corporate knowledge-sharing benefits. Through the mentoring program, the company perpetuates its greatest skills and character traits. Furthermore, mentoring creates a pool of employees who better understand the company, its needs, and its customers because they have been discipled by those who have a vested interest in the company's success. Further, mentoring reduces the time newly assigned employees need for learning as well as the initial anxiety employees experience because of new employment tasks. When mentoring is institutionalized, mentors and protégés experience a sense of contribution to the long-term success of the company. Protégés embrace the comfort of knowing that they will be mentored into succeeding.
Customers benefit, too, from a company's mentoring program because they come to expect certain skills and character traits from employees of the company. In addition, customers' business risks are reduced when they hire consultants or work with businessmen who reflect the character of the superior employees with whom they have worked before. They have the comfort of knowing that new hires will be helped toward success.
Mentoring is a corporate discipleship relationship that works to strengthen a company's most vital resource its superior employees. Mentoring is a practiced way for top-notch employees to impart the outstanding qualities that make them successful to protégés who are ready to receive this impartation to become successful. Mentoring operationalizes Biblical discipleship techniques within the corporate arena. BTAS and its customers have benefitted in concrete and multifaceted ways from long-term investments in forms of mentoring that perpetuate corporate success.
- Gerald W. Tritle