The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.
Next week, I will accept the 2013 HIMSS/CHIME John E. Gall Jr. Award for CIO of the Year. At my table will be three of my mentors. I chose them because these men coached me during various phases of my personal and professional life. Mentoring is everything to me. Everything.
Two-plus years ago, I wrote on this subject. The Lost Art of Mentoring quickly became one of my most popular posts. I have given a dozen speeches around the country on mentoring. I am passionate on the topic because it shaped who I am today and where I will be tomorrow. I want to share with you one method to accelerate the adoption of mentoring in your organization and get you to 2.0.
We started the Business Technology Leadership Academy (BTLA) two years ago. Its purpose is to accelerate and enhance our pipeline to produce business technology leaders at all levels of our organization. The curriculum is designed to prepare candidates to take on positions of increasing responsibility by developing and sharpening their leadership skills. Major props to our People & Culture (HR) division who helped the BTLA vision become reality.
The Academy lasts 10 months during which my direct reports and I serve as mentors.
The Academy meets once per month for two hours. The first meeting focuses on developing relationships and establishing the rules of the road. Student goals are agreed upon based on 360-degree feedback, developmental needs, and career objectives. Both mentor and mentee sign a contract. This covenant identifies the specific roles and responsibilities of both parties, and outcomes are clearly identified.
The next eight seminars focus on the eight BTLA “Success Factors.” Mentors co-teach the specific subject areas along with their mentees. Success factors vary from setting strategy, value realization, leadership, and life balance. The final meeting is run by the cohort, where the mentees present their capstone BTLA projects.
Each month the mentor and mentee meet privately for 90 minutes. There are few rules here, but the time is focused to help the mentee meet defined goals and to talk about real-world situations they face. Some of this time is also used to develop assigned presentations and special projects.
Students have opportunities to spend additional time with their mentees through shadowing. This provides more time for coaching and gives the mentee a chance to see their mentor in action. Often, the best mentoring is when nothing is said, just observed. At any time, we will have mentees participate in our leadership meetings, offsite retreats, and attend conferences or our own presentations.
Students are automatically enrolled in any special development activities we might have during their course. Examples include high-impact presentation classes and personal development courses.
Students are expected to volunteer for special projects. These will vary and must be agreed upon by both mentor and mentee. A student might help lead our annual TEDx event, while another leads our organization’s annual employee giving campaign. These projects provide real-world opportunities for leadership while under the careful eye of a mentor and are ideal for real-time coaching.
Selection is a highly competitive process. Every employee is encouraged to apply. We have an average of 100 applications. We open up an online questionnaire consisting of roughly 20 questions. There are no right or wrong answers, but some answers receive a higher point value than others, which remain unknown to the prospective students. The questions, point values, and criteria change each year dependent on our target cohort. Our leadership needs change, so the tool is built to allow us ultimate flexibility in the selection process.
Typically, the top 25 scoring submissions are selected for the next round, which consists of a 360 peer and manager review. Once the results are in, we look at the final 12 or so candidates. Our People and Culture team runs special reports for us based on the questionnaire and 360 to allow us further insight into each prospective student.
With all the data points in hand, my team holds a vigorous debate about which candidates to select for that year’s cohort. We try to ensure a diversity of individuals with respect to title, responsibilities, and gender. After the finalists are decided upon, we debate further to decide the mentor/mentee combinations. Again, we use leadership judgment to make the best matches possible. We have few rules here, but we do ensure that the mentor is not already in that person’s chain of command. The side benefit is significant cross-pollination. For instance, we may have an applications vice president as a mentor to a technical analyst or our CTO may have a governance manager as a mentee.
Everyone wants to know the specific criteria and scoring formulas we utilize. We purposely do not share these. We do not want candidates applications focused on maximizing point values.
Clearly we are making a material investment in the students. Joining BTLA means the person is making a long-term commitment to our organization. It also means that, when calls for volunteers are made, BTLA graduates should be the first to respond. There is nothing worse than investing but getting no return. Mentors are expected to make their mentee a top priority and are making a significant time and mind investment.
We have observed tremendous growth in our inaugural cohort. They are more confident and effective. As we continue this program year after year, we will have multiplied the leadership capabilities of our IT organization tenfold.
But here is another reason we do BTLA. We the mentors learn. We may in fact learn more than the students! My hope is that one day a few years from now, one of our graduates will be accepting an important award and their mentor will be sitting at the table cheering them on! Just as mine will be next week.
Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.