Love him or hate him, Dick “Dickie” Vitale, the extremely extroverted and often very colorful commentator for college basketball, is known for his over enthusiastically corny commentary on what a successful team needs to execute in order to win a game. He often refers to his observations as “the trifecta of offense,” or “defense…baby!” Well, in the spirit of Dick Vitale, we’re going to address the “Trifecta of mentoring…Baby!”
Somewhere along the way to developing workers, the topic of mentoring soon surfaces in the mind for a contractor. For most contractors, this is normal for a few reasons.
First, the spirit of mentoring closely resembles much of what is common to construction — the apprenticeship process. Though most apprenticeship programs today are focused on the technical skill instruction of a trade (i.e. electrical, carpentry, masonry, etc.), the early history of an apprenticeship relationship went deeper than skill training alone. An apprentice often was taught how to run a business, or at least how to manage some part of the business, for the sponsoring owner. In some cases, the apprentice might even be given a part of a business to lead, eventually perhaps even owning the business.
The second reason for a contractor to consider mentoring as part of an employee development strategy is due to a reality that the business is growing! Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I find that contractors who are growing their companies soon realize they must get more of their less-experienced workers to take on greater job functions. It is at this point that mentoring begins to surface and my organization (Pinnacle Development Group) is approached and asked to create a mentoring program that is sustainable.
While I admit that many formal mentoring programs do fail, I have found that three key elements must be in place — firmly in place — to give the mentor and “mentee” (i.e. protégé), a fighting chance to see needed and profitable results. Before you throw your current mentoring effort away, or before you think that mentoring must only happen naturally, consider what I call the “Trifecta of mentoring.”
Part #1 demands a motivated & focused HR leader
You don’t have someone who is motivated from head to toe about the power of mentoring? Scrap all of your effort to create a meaningful and sustainable mentoring process because it just will not happen. That’s how important this leader is to the success of any mentoring process you try to implement.
Even if you do not have a formal Human Resource manager in place, you will need some very motivated and knowledgeable individual tasked with keeping his fingers all over the mentoring process. This individual is the one empowered to:
- Pull together educational materials on how mentoring really works
- Recommend to the contractor the individuals who might make a good mentor and those who are ready to be a mentee and continue their growth and development
- Interview candidates for mentors and mentees to better learn about the individuals and to qualify their personalities, motivations and skills
- Organize meetings that focus on teaching about mentoring including how to be a mentor and how to be a mentee
- Follow-up with both mentor and mentee to make sure they are meeting regularly and getting something of value from the meetings
- Confront either mentor or mentee if one or both need to improve their efforts, including dismissing either individual if commitments and needed actions are not being executed
- Provide reminders to both mentor and mentee about getting the most from their relationship
If you have not yet begun a mentoring process internally but want to, start with this first role and get your hands on an HR leader who is sold on mentoring. This first element of the “trifecta” cannot be managed by someone who has only a small piece of time to devote to it — not to mention someone who is not 100 percent committed to the positive returns mentoring offers.
Part #2 demands a mentee (protégé) who is motivated & focused
You place a less-than-motivated mentee into a mentoring program and you will see poorly attended meetings with their mentor. The mentee must be someone who wants to grow as a craftsman or professional. He or she recognizes that the potential gain from such a relationship offers new opportunities, new ways of thinking and new strategies to tackle future dreams.
To be a mentee, a person needs to demonstrate:
- Consistent performance in his current role
- A sincere hunger to learn more (how often does he approach more-experienced workers and leaders with questions?)
- The desire and capability to listen!
- The ability to put into practice what others have coached them to do with other responsibilities
- Consistency and sustainability to stick with a process, task or problem solving; they don’t dump their problems on others
- Respect for the company and for those who do have more knowledge and experience
The mentee doesn’t have to be a perfect angel; in fact, it’s probably good if he is not. However, he does need to demonstrate a real enthusiastic streak to improve his own performance, insights and future.
Part #3 demands a mentor who is committed to time, purpose & discipline
The final part of our trifecta is the role of the mentor. Without mentors you have no mentoring program. Herein lies part of our dilemma for the mentoring strategy.
Many wise and experienced construction “gurus” are leaving our companies and industry. Some are leaving physically through retirement and some, unfortunately, are leaving mentally, simply “checking out” with three to five years left in their employment.
More contractors must work harder at helping their aging workers, at all levels, to renew their love for this great industry we call construction. Contractors then need to “download” as much of their experience and wisdom into the younger workers as possible. This is no easy feat for sure, but it must be addressed.
However you can gain the motivated involvement of a mentor, this very important individual must:
- Be prepared to commit some regular time to the mentee
- Be more than open and transparent about what he knows and be motivated to “release” such wisdom
- Be very clear as to the purpose of mentoring, understanding that mentoring is not “babysitting” or micromanaging but instead a personal educational strategy to prepare the next generation of experts
- Be very disciplined to have a strategy of what he will be sharing with the mentee
- Be just as prepared to create some discipline lessons for the mentee to acquire and take for his own
Mentoring is still a great way to grow employees. For the many companies that have good experiences with mentoring, these employees will grow into the future contractors, field leaders and senior decision-makers for many lucky construction companies.
But mentoring isn’t easy. With the increased time commitments already imposed on construction leaders, getting those who can serve as mentors to adjust their schedule to work “another commitment” into their busy week will require all of the discipline that the mentor can muster. However, the long-term success of any construction company might very well depend on such efforts.
If your experience with mentoring has not been so positive, take another read of this article. Mentoring can be a real staple of your plans to grow workers at all levels. (I’ve written about other things to consider when using a mentoring process, see my seven-part series on worker retention strategies.) Just be sure to incorporate the three parts of our “trifecta for mentoring” as laid out here.
Use the three parts presented in this article and watch your mentoring process realize new and higher levels of success!
Remember, mentoring is a great employee development strategy…baby!
© Brad Humphrey, Pinnacle Development Group/The Contractor’s Best Friend™