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Benefits of mentoring

Building successful organizations one successful employee at time

By Shannon M. Gibbs

Litigation associate Michael Kendall joined Marks Gray, P.A., in early 2011 after his previous law firm joined with the Jacksonville-based law firm. Everything was different than his previous firm, including the fact that he recently began practicing in the area of workers’ compensation defense.

With his career sights on becoming partner, he needed an ally to guide him in the right direction, foster his career growth and provide truthful and constructive feedback to help him achieve his goals. Michael needed a mentor, stat.

Marks Gray, P.A.’s Practice Committee assigned Allison Hauser to be Michael Kendall’s mentor. Hauser is a shareholder at Marks Gray and has had a successful workers’ compensation and employment law practice throughout her tenure with the firm.

Where to start

A proper mentoring program can provide much value to an organization by cultivating employee’s career development, providing professional leadership skills and retaining employees by keeping the best and brightest and securing a competitive edge.

A solid mentor-mentee relationship is critical to developing and maintaining successful working relationships, inside and outside of the office. As Michael’s mentor, Allison has helped guide Michael through the trials and tribulations of merging into a new office with new procedures and new people.

Simultaneous with guiding Michael through in-house matters, Allison helps Michael with practice issues and in identifying and developing relationships with current and prospective clients.

The mentoring relationship between Allison and Michael has added significant value to the firm as it fosters career development that in turn increases the firm’s bottom line. A greater number of attorneys with effective client development skills help firms like Marks Gray retain a competitive edge in today’s market.

Choosing the right mentor

In order for a mentoring relationship to be successful, a mentee must first find the right mentor. Complimentary personality profiles can be a critical predictor of an effective mentoring relationship.[1] Commonalities such as gender, race, educational institutions and career paths can aid in the selection of a mentor but, most importantly, the mentor must feel completely comfortable with the relationship.

A mentor should be established within the organization, be well respected and have a similar career path as the protégé. Having support at a higher level can help ensure that a mentee can effectively plot a successful course through an organization. A mentor does not need to be in the same organization, but it is most helpful to have an internal advocate. [2]

Open communication and trust are essential. The mentor is someone who will help the mentee navigate the organization and provide useful advice. A mentor should be someone the mentee can trust and who the mentee can share the good, bad and ugly. Equally, a mentor’s advice should be brutally honest on learning the politics of the organization, excelling in the current business environment and how to best promote their professional development.

A mentor’s advice should be focused solely on the mentee’s best interest and career development. An effective mentor-mentee relationship is based on the benefits of the mentors experience and knowledge on the career development of the mentee. For example, a good mentor ensures that mentee’s work with enough people to facilitate their careers. They ensure a broad range of experience to promote development in the organization.

Allison was chosen to be Michael’s mentor because the two attorneys shared a client base in workers’ compensation. The pairing was obvious and after 18 months, the decision has proven to be wise. Allison has helped Michael develop skills and techniques for his practice that provides Allison with a level of trust enabling her to share her workload with Michael when the practice gets busy. Allison’s ability to share existing clients’ work with a trusted associate attorney allows her to continue to do quality, time and cost efficient work for her trusting clients.

Formal mentoring programs are more successful than informal

Having an advocate in management who values the success of mentor and mentee programs in an organization is vital for the program’s success. Buy-in from senior management will ensure that the program receives the recognition and attention from everyone throughout the company.

A mentor’s time is valuable so be respectful and use the time wisely. A mentee should take the lead on initiating agendas, facilitating all meetings; and provide follow-up action items for next meeting.

Once a mentor-mentee has spent some time cultivating a personal relationship, the team should establish specific guidelines for the program, when and how they will meet, and schedule official times on both their calendars and a location. Sometimes mixing formal locations with informal locations is preferred.

Some items to address during the mentor-mentee meetings might be [3]:

•Establishing career goals, objectives and goal setting

•Discussing the mentee’s strengths and weaknesses and how to enhance their growth

•Discussing growth areas and plans to for working on them

•Agreeing upon how feedback will be given and received and who will be included on the feedback reports

•Providing mentee’s with assignments that cultivate development

•Working on 1-3 objectives that pertain to leadership or goal development

•Promoting networking opportunities and extracurricular activities

•Share articles, educational resources and provide tips on how to address specific issues relevant to the mentor’s career.

Similar to many employee development programs, the mentoring program should have benchmarks for lessons learned, reviewing and, possibly, realigning goals as well as a list of future objectives that will be accomplished.

Allison and Michael have quarterly mentor-mentee meetings. In addition to formal meetings, Allison operates an “open door policy” encouraging Michael to “brainstorm” difficult legal issues and innovative marketing/client development ideas. The mentoring program at Marks Gray also allows firm management to maintain an active role in the growth of the associate attorneys. The associate attorneys, as mentees, are encouraged to share ideas, concerns, and resources to better develop their own practice area and client base. Each month the attorneys at Marks Gray share lunch together at the firm to discuss relevant legal developments to work as a team, mentors and mentees together, to maintain the firm’s market share in a competitive legal arena.

Worth the Investment

As is the case with any relationship, successful relationships take effort. Both the mentor and the mentee must put great effort into the relationship. Time, management and communication are factors to consider when a mentor agrees to the program.

Communication is a predominant factor for success. It is imperative to provide feedback to the mentee on the status of their goals and the defined strategies needed to achieve them. It is also valuable to keep the organization informed of the progress of the program. Mentor reports on behalf of the mentee and their development will provide the organization or a specific committee with the information they need to maintain the program success or to reevaluate and refine the objectives based on the feedback provided by the mentor.

The return on the mentor-mentee investment at Marks Gray has proven to be well worth all effort. Allison’s delegation of work to Michael communicates to her clients that she has a team around her to help effectively handle an increased workload. This also allows Michael to develop strong relationships with Allison’s clients. The mentoring relationship has worked so well at Marks Gray that clients are sending new work to Michael based on the introductions and confidence Allison has made and shared.

Allison agrees, “Michael has done a super job following my recommendations and building on his already strong litigation and client development skills. He has assumed primary responsibility for handling several accounts. Further evidence of his success is that these clients now call him instead of me and send their files directly to him! That is successful mentoring.”

As mentioned previously, the development of a high-quality relationship between mentor’s and mentee’s can provide an organization more productive, happy and highly skilled employees, reduced absences and employee turnover and an increased attractiveness and competitive edge in recruitment. A mentor- mentee relationship can last years and, sometimes, over a lifetime, and is worth the investment.

 

[1] THE HANDBOOK OF MENTORING AT WORK (Belle R. Ragins & Kathy E. Kram eds. 2007)

2EXPECT TO WIN (Carla A. Harris, 2009)



[1] THE HANDBOOK OF MENTORING AT WORK (Belle R. Ragins & Kathy E. Kram eds. 2007)

[2] EXPECT TO WIN (Carla A. Harris, 2009)

[3] Philip-Jones, Linda (2003) ’75 Things to Do with Your Mentee: Practical and Effective Development Ideas You Can Try.” The New Mentors and Protégés. 


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