Tag Archives: Mentoring

Knowing Is Half The Battle

Trolling across the pages of BusinessWeek, I came across an interesting article about the surprisingly high turnover many nonprofits encounter and the “leaky bucket of volunteerism.”

“Earlier this year, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published a piece that noted how poorly most nonprofits manage their volunteers. As a result, more than a third of the 60 million-plus Americans who donate their time and talents one year don’t do so the next—not only at the organization where they’d signed up, but at any nonprofit at all. Some call this “the leaky bucket of volunteerism.”

There are a host of reasons for this pullback, according to the analysis, including nonprofits inadequately recognizing the contributions of their volunteers and a lack of training among volunteers and their managers.

But Robert Grimm, director of research and policy development at the Corporation for National and Community Service and one of the authors of the article, believes there’s a more fundamental issue to grapple with: It isn’t so much that volunteers have nightmarish experiences at nonprofits, he says; it’s that they have “bland” ones.”

This certainly sounded familiar to me and I’m sure it sounds familiar to many of those in for-profit organizations as well. Who hasn’t experienced being “inadequately recognized for their contributions” and noticed a “lack of training among workers and their managers?”

Gone are the days where most companies hired the best and brightest kids out of school and groomed them through training and mentoring for corporate positions. Gone are the days of lifetime employment. Gone are the days where organizations treated human capital as human. More often than not, modern workers are being treated as interchangeable cogs in a machine rather than creative, innovative thinkers with potential who are essential to the growth and prosperity of a business.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal on how small companies are luring big-company talent neatly underscored this mindset:

“In March, Jack Rabbit Collection LLC, a three-person handbag and leather-accessories maker in Los Angeles, was able to snag a large rival’s design-development executive after that person was laid off.

Founder Mollie Culligan says the new hire, who has connections to tanneries and vendors, has helped the label reduce per-unit costs 20%.

Plus, Ms. Culligan doesn’t have to spend as much time mentoring and can instead concentrate on her design work.

“Before, I had to train people myself and really dump so much energy into inexperienced people who didn’t really add value,” she says.”

Why is training and mentoring seen as so much of a burden for employers?

I see scores of job ads searching for that elusive person with the exact, unique set of skills who can “hit the ground running” with little to no guidance. What person will honestly be able to have 100% of the skills and knowledge to function with no on-boarding whatsoever? I’ve watched first hand how management has hired talented people with a great background from outside the industry who end up floundering and eventually leaving because they simply do not understand the specific business model of this company and therefore could not be successful at their work. No one bothered to explain it to them when they started and even if the new hire was motivated enough to ask someone, chances are that person didn’t know either.

It is ridiculous for companies to invest nothing in their employees up front (in terms of knowledge and guidance, not salary and benefits) but expect a maximum return. Viewing workers as dynamic individuals with unique skills, motivators and potential rather than a vessel for tangible skills is the key to better worker engagement and sustained company growth.   

The moral of the story is this:

  • Empowering employees to make decisions and generate ideas helps the business.
  • Employees cannot formulate informed decisions or ideas without a minimum amount of knowledge about the company and its goals.
  • Determining a set level of basic knowledge and disseminating that your employees on the first day, week or month of hire will not only increase the likelihood of their job satisfaction (because they feel empowered and informed) but will improve your bottom line due to the creativity and productivity of your team.

As GI Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle.”


A Plea to Baby Boomers: Please Stop Bashing My Generation

It seems that everywhere I look, I see some article or blog post about “Gen-Y” or “Millennials” (Am I the only person who thinks that name sounds silly?) in the workplace. There are heaps and heaps of articles about generation Y: what they want, what their goals are, how to recruit them and make them happy. There are also many, many posts from managers describing how bratty Millennials can be. As a member of what could effectively be labeled “The Dreaded Generation,” I have definitely seen examples of bad behavior but at the same time I am resentful that my generation is earning such a bad reputation.

The adjectives “greedy,” “entitled,” and “know-it-all” seem to come up frequently when it comes to labeling members of Generation Y. The general consensus seems to be that Millennials are a product of a spoiled upbringing by helicopter parents in an on-demand, instant-gratification culture. Their sense of entitlement comes from being handed everything by authority figures, and their exaggerated bank of knowledge from being over-educated. I definitely agree that this could be true for a lot of people, regardless of what generation they were born into.

However, I have a different theory as to why Generation Y seems to be the most spoiled, overindulged and arrogant of all the generations that came before them:

They are immature.

And what’s more?

They’ll grow out of it.

Greediness, a sense of entitlement and overconfidence are all symptoms of immaturity and lack of experience.

It’s great that young people today are optimistic about their futures and want to accomplish everything they can in work as well as life. I think the problem stems from wanting everything at once, right away, without a clear plan on how to get it. That is the nature of youth. Conflict arises between older generations who are insulted by a perceived lack of respect and younger generations who are frustrated that they aren’t accomplishing their goals. I think that both parties can be happy by finding the middle ground.

My Advice to Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and Beyond

What Millennials need from you is compassion and more importantly, guidance. Younger workers want more from life than a steady paycheck and the corner office. They might come into your office demanding flex-time, recognition or continuing education. Know that lots of workers, not just members of Gen Y, want these things.

If you’re a manager, instead of balking at the impertinence of such demands from someone who is only 7 months into their career, use these perks to motivate your employees. Impress upon the Millennials that if they can get from point A to point B, proving themselves along the way, that they can have more vacation time, promotions or whatever else they desire. It’s important to emphasize that perks must be earned and then outline the steps they can to take to deserve them.

By mentoring Millennials instead of alienating them, you will not only help someone find more happiness professionally and personally but you’ll be helping the bottom line by retaining productive and tech-savvy workers with years of contributions ahead of them.

My Advice to Generation Y

Even if you decide to run your own company, you will at some point, have to play by someone else’s rules. You’ll attract more flies with honey than by trying to catch them one by one in a jar and demand that they give you flexible hours.

The greatest asset of youth is that people are willing to teach you. Soak up all the information you can about your industry while you have none of the responsibility for failure. Sure you may be fetching coffee and making Xeroxes but you also have the opportunity to learn about the hottest new technology or stock. That information is valuable and you can use it later when you decide to change jobs or start your own business.

The biggest favor you can do for yourself at work is practice humility. What you don’t know will always outweigh what you do. Your goal should be to continuously try to flip that ratio while showing the higher-ups that you are worthy of reward and praise. Remember that a college degree is not a golden ticket to success, hard work is.

Working Together

If more managers could be just a little more understanding of the follies of youth and if more Millennials could be just a little more patient when trying to accomplish their goals I think we might just be able to take a few steps towards closing that generational gap.

How To SCORE in Business

Many executive coaches, lucrative CEOs, motivational authors and business bloggers all tout the benefits of having a career mentor. What can’t be good about having someone more successful and experienced looking out for you? If your company offers a mentoring program, definitely take advantage of it. If your company is small (like mine) or doesn’t have a formal program, look around you. Who is at the top of their game in your department? In the organization? Make friends with this person, they probably have a lot to share.

And if you can’t find anyone at your company or in your personal network (Parents don’t always work so well as career mentors—they’re too personally invested) you can contact your local SCORE chapter.

According to their official website:

SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business” is a nonprofit association dedicated to entrepreneur education and the formation, growth and success of small business nationwide. SCORE is a resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).


SCORE has 389 chapters in locations throughout the United States and its territories, with 10,500 volunteers nationwide. Both working and retired executives and business owners donate time and expertise as business counselors.

SCORE brings together business professionals in the community, who volunteer their time and expertise, and match them with people just like you. You can receive free online counseling as well as individual mentoring and coaching sessions. Many chapters also offer low-cost workshops and seminars.

If you are thinking of starting your own business and aren’t sure how to start, SCORE can be a great resource not only for information but also for a helping hand.

Start here to find your local chapter and learn more about this great opportunity.