At Johnson & Johnson, the healthcare products and pharmaceuticals giant, mentoring is helping to shape future leaders.
Elayne Verner is leadership development manager at Johnson & Johnson Medical and says its formal mentoring program is part of an enterprise strategy targeting talented individuals at a senior level with the purpose of building “a strong succession pipeline for key leadership roles and accelerating progression”.
Into its second year, the program is modelled on “the best bits from other parts of the company within the Asia-Pacific region, and tailored to a local approach”, explains Verner.
A shortlist of mentees is drawn up by J&J’s executive board, after which the board cross-matches with mentors in other parts of the company (J&J Medical is one of four businesses in Australia).
“The idea behind that is to broaden their enterprise mindset as well as focusing on specific competencies. For example, someone in finance could be matched with someone in medical affairs to give more diversity of thinking,” she says.
Occasionally, mentors and mentees will struggle to know how to spend their time and may need guidance. In what Verner calls “a high-touch program”, the mentor and mentee relationship is closely monitored with monthly meetings and progress feedback to HR to ensure leadership objectives are being met.
“Mentoring can be quite open-ended or it can be career focused. You want to allow enough freedom for it to be driven by the mentee and yet have enough of a process wrapped around it. We try to provide enough structure without stifling the drive from the mentee to suit their development needs,” says Verner.
While J&J arranges its mentoring in-house, some organisations choose to contract out.
Sophie McCarthy’s company, McCarthy Mentoring, caters to the government, business and not-for-profit sectors. She says mentoring isn’t just about attracting and hanging on to talented employees, “it’s about keeping people engaged and encouraging them to take responsibility for their careers – taking the initiative, asking for [mentoring] opportunities or looking for them rather than waiting for them to be offered.”
While it’s mostly organisations that approach McCarthy seeking mentors, individuals make up around 15 per cent of her clients.
“These people might be in the executive team but they’re at a level at which they can’t talk to peers,” she explains.
“Or they may be new to leadership and don’t have people they can confide in.”
Confidentiality is paramount for the success of any mentoring relationship and McCarthy typically matches mentees with mentors outside their own organisation and even outside their profession.
McCarthy works with around 100 mentors across the world, half of whom have been with her for more than 15 years. She agrees the process is not unlike a dating service.
“We’re looking for a mentor they will work well with, who they are going to respect and who they will find challenging – and we’re fitting personalities together.”
The process begins with a brief from the company and face-to- face interviews with individuals. Some people (and organisations) are seeking very specific objectives from a mentoring experience while others just want a confidential sounding board for their ideas and problems.
Mentoring has a cascading effect, says McCarthy.
“People who have been mentored successfully are often the best advocates. When it has been offered to you, you’re pretty excited about opening it up to someone else.”
Exposure proving invaluable
Traffic isn’t all one-way in the mentor/ mentee relationship either. Between senior and junior employees, exposure to the next generation’s thinking is proving to be invaluable for mentors, says Wilson. “Reverse mentoring is occurring more frequently, where the mentee teaches the mentor. It’s happening particularly in the realm of social media.”
Wilson, whose book Make Mentoring Work explores the history and evolution of mentoring to the present day, says Asia has also been an important driver in highlighting the significance of mentoring to business success.
“Competitive pressure forced Western companies to look at the way Asian businesses operate. They are primarily family businesses and hierarchical but they work very co-operatively with older generations mentoring the young.”
He recounts that former Commonwealth Bank of Australia CEO Ralph Norris mentored a Chinese woman who was a banker from HSBC.
“The insight he got from her influenced his decision to appoint a Chinese-born woman as his head of CBA in China.”
In Australia, cross-organisational mentoring has been particularly successful, believes Wilson, particularly for advancing the careers of senior women executives.
“A situation where, for example, a CEO of company A mentors someone in company B works well because the chairmen are all looking for female, non-executive directors to mentor (because they’re under pressure of quotas) and they’re getting the best of the crop who then go on to be mentors themselves.”