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Mentoring: An Important Source of Training

By Kirby Payne, CHA President, HVS Hotel Management & HVS Asset Management

With the tremendous growth of the lodging industry over the last three decades, the industry's ability to develop competent management staff has been severely strained. The educational institutions that focus on the industry, whether they are two- or four-year programs, cannot keep up with the growth rate and never have been a major source of entry-level management staffing. Additionally, those who do come from educational institutions do not have enough of the necessary "on the ground" experience to be a strong leader for the industry. The most significant source of future leaders comprises line-level employees or people moving into this industry from other industries. This means that company training programs and OJT (on-the-job training) are really our keys to developing managers with technical and leadership skills that will contribute to the success of the organization. As an industry, hospitality loses too much talented staff to other industries due to low pay, demanding hours, and inadequate support. Too often industry leaders rely on the "it's in my blood" motivation to find and retain staff who will eventually become the future leaders. The assumption is that, for those people, the low pay, demanding hours, and inadequate support are not enough of a detriment to drive them from an industry that they love. While that scenario is true for many, it means that we also lose too many people with incredible potential who take the experience and resilience they learned while in hospitality and bring that to benefit other employers and other industries.

Mentoring Regardless of the source of the emerging managers, they all need support and nurturing to achieve their potential, have a successful career, and contribute to the organization their fullest. Mentoring is one way to do this. Many of us are familiar with informal mentoring, but formal programs can accomplish much more. One solution to losing people with potential is to identify those folks pro-actively and help them to acquire the technical, communication, and leadership skills needed for success in the hospitality industry. Committing the time and resources to a mentoring program demonstrates how valued the participants are to the organization and the industry. Mentor and mentee relationships generally occur on an informal basis in the hotel industry. This is typified by the General Manager who takes junior managers under his/her protective wing and provides guidance and coaching so that they can take on more and more responsibility, eventually becoming effective leaders in their chosen path. This type of traditional mentoring relationship is based on an unspoken agreement and is subject to the availability and good will of the senior manager, as well as the assertiveness of the mentee. Formal or structured mentoring aims to accomplish the same thing-the pairing of a skilled and experienced senior person (the mentor) with a less experienced and junior person (the mentee) to help the mentee grow and develop under the guidance of the mentor. Unlike the traditional informal mentoring relationship, a structured mentoring program clearly defines and documents the mentoring relationship by ensuring that the mentor, mentee, and organization all understand what to expect and what is expected of them. The roles that the mentor may play are those of the teacher, supporter/coach, or sponsor. As a teacher, the mentor teaches the mentee the skills and knowledge needed to perform the job and provides inside information about the organization, such as politics and personalities. The role of supporter/coach involves helping the mentee handle career and personal conflicts and pressures, build self-confidence, and make good decisions. And, as a sponsor, the mentor might intervene on the mentee's behalf in conflicts that might endanger the mentee's career or even promote the mentee to upper management for assignments or promotions.

Is Mentoring for Your Hotel? Although mentoring provides an attractive training and development alternative, it may not be right for your hotel. Mentoring programs work best when specific human resource needs and resources exist. In the absence of these conditions, a mentoring program could actually hurt rather than help your hotel.

Some basic questions need to be answered before launching a mentoring program.

  • Does your organization have strong career opportunities and, therefore, need people to fill future management positions? Mentees join a mentoring program with the implicit expectation that excellent performance will be rewarded by career advancement. If there is no room at the top for successful mentees, the organization will be burdened with a surplus of ambitious, overqualified, and frustrated individuals who will eventually take their skills and talents elsewhere.

  • If future leadership needs have been forecast, are they continuing or are they one-time needs?

  • Does your organization represent an expanding chain of hotels where continued growth ensures an ongoing need for upper-level managers, or does your organization represent a single hotel that needs managers because of attrition? If this is an infrequent, one-shot occurrence, then a structured mentoring program would not be cost effective, and a better use of your resources would be to address the attrition.

  • Does your corporate culture value the veteran employee or does it prefer to buy "new blood" from outside the organization? Developing talent from within the organization takes time, resources, and long-term commitment from upper management, making their support vital to the success of the program. A high level of upper-management interest and commitment is needed from the outset because they would be the mentors.

  • Does your organization have enough suitable and interested managers available to pair with mentees? Mentors should be at least two position levels above the mentee (to prevent mentors from feeling threatened by their mentees), competent, widely respected, secure in their jobs, skilled coaches, and possess excellent interpersonal skills. They should have the time and the willingness to volunteer for the job.

  • How will a mentoring program fit in with your other human resource programs? If successful succession planning and management development programs are already in place, will a mentoring program replicate, replace, or enhance it? How will a mentoring program link to other training programs? Is there someone who can initiate and oversee the program? A successful mentoring program requires someone to coordinate the selection and pairing of mentors and mentees, establish orientation programs, perform periodic reviews of the pairs, and help complete the process at its natural end.

Mentoring is not a panacea for all organizations; however, given the right conditions, its organizational benefits can be enormous. Good mentoring programs attract the best candidates for a job, reduce turnover of talented people, help people achieve their optimum potential and productivity, assure a smooth transfer of leadership from one generation to the next, and encourage communication up and down the organizational hierarchy.

Steps to Implementation Implementing a mentoring program requires the same careful planning, monitoring, and evaluating that any major project requires, but a mentoring program may only consist of just two or three pairs of people.

  1. Select a mentoring program coordinator. The coordinator will be responsible for helping the mentor and mentee negotiate an agreement, conduct orientations, monitor the relationship, and assist with concluding the relationship.

  2. Select mentees. They should be intelligent, ambitious, committed to the organization, have good interpersonal skills, be positively perceived by the organization, and be willing and able to accept greater responsibility.

  3. Determine the developmental needs of the mentee. This can be accomplished by reviewing the mentee's work record, interviewing the mentee and his/her manager, and testing.

  4. Select mentors. They should be technically competent, supported by peers and upper management, have power within the organization, be highly regarded in the organization, feel secure in their positions, have the time and the desire to assume responsibility for a mentee's career development, and be able to teach, coach, and motivate others.

  5. Pair mentees and mentors. Considerations in the paring would be the developmental needs of the mentee and the skills and knowledge of the mentor, as well as the personalities of the individuals involved.

  6. Familiarize mentors and mentees with their roles. Subjects to be addressed should be time commitments; expectations of mentors and mentees; available resources; relationships among mentor, mentee, mentee's manager, and the mentoring coordinator; and the benefits of mentoring to the mentor, mentee, and organization.

  7. Negotiate an agreement. Mentors and mentees should negotiate an agreement, including their expectations and responsibilities, confidentiality terms, duration of the relationship, scheduling of meetings, and the amount of time that will be spent on mentoring activities.

  8. Develop a plan. The mentor and mentee should develop a customized plan to address the unique needs of the mentee, including specific action steps, goals, and deadlines.

  9. Implement a plan. The mentor and mentee should meet periodically according to a schedule for coaching sessions, evaluating progress, and reviewing the development plan. Progress should be periodically reported to the coordinator.

  10. Conclude the relationship. Relationships could be concluded when all goals are achieved, the agreement date is reached, or the mentee and mentor feel that the relationship is no longer productive.

Whether you undertake a formal mentoring program, as we described above, or simply take some of these ideas and improve the informal mentoring already occurring in your property or company, the result will be a stronger and more effective talent pool. One of the most surprising results may be improved retention among your entry-level managers and the line staff that works for them. What better assets could a lodging facility have than high employee retention with outstanding job skills and great loyalty?

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