Mentoring successful careers: Page 2

Posted November 1, 1999

Ann Howe

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In other cases, some of the participants have chosen to sit in on staff meetings and serve on task forces. Klippel believes that all these efforts have enhanced the participants' views of how IT and the railroad work effectively together.

How to make formal mentoring work at your company
Match participants on the basis of skills and need. A personality fit isn't as important. For example, a mentor with proven communication and presentation skills is matched with a protégé interested in learning those skills. Whether their personalities are compatible isn't significant. Learning the new skill takes priority.

Build in accountability and commitment--ensure that all participants understand their roles and responsibilities:

Mentors-protégés need to regroup within two weeks of their initial meeting.

A joint mentor/supervisor/protégé meeting is held within one month.

An action plan is finalized the first month.

Oral status/activity reports are given at follow-up meetings.

Start with a pilot program and expand after you have been successful.

Evaluate the program's impact to justify any company expenditures. One suggestion for a quick evaluation is to compile a protégé's accomplishments in a "yearbook" and share it with senior management and other appropriate parties.
Prospective protégés in the CSX program fill out a formal application that includes letters of recommendation and an interview by a cross-functional committee that oversees the program. "It's a lot like a graduate-school application," says Klippel, noting not everyone is chosen. The protégés drive the process and are responsible for formulating an action plan that lists what they will accomplish during the program's one-year tenure. Those chosen indicate what they want to learn and are then paired up with a mentor who has the functional expertise.

"For example, we'll pair an IT person who wanted to know about railroad operations with a trainmaster or a superintendent on the railroad," Klippel says. "Similarly, we have people from operating departments who want to learn about the technology group, so they'd be paired with a mentor from that group."

By providing this cross-functional exposure, Klippel believes IT professionals see the gaps and, in turn, can think of future applications while learning how the railroad does business. "When our IT folks move to IT management functions, they do so with more scope and more of an understanding as to how technology serves the railroad they work for," says Klippel. "For mentors, we look for someone, director and above, with a good overall knowledge of our company and for someone who has a genuine interest in people-development issues, that is, someone who has done a good job of developing the staff members they currently oversee," he says.

The committee meets with prospective mentors to outline their roles and to ensure their interest. Next they complete a profile form listing their skills and knowledge. The information helps the committee pair up a mentor with a protégé. The CSX program kicks off with a three-day orientation session where the partners get to know each other, and where they receive training on how to be good mentors and good protégés. Groups leave this orientation with an action plan. The CSX ground rules state that the mentor-protégé team must touch base within two weeks of the orientation program. An internal survey indicates that most teams meet once a month, some twice a month.

The group has quarterly follow-up meetings that combine a topical business presentation along with progress reports from each team. Klippel says 70% of the mentoring teams choose to continue the relationship after the program's formal conclusion. "We have found that over 70% of those participating have been promoted. Of course, this isn't due solely to the program. In fact, we go out of our way to point out that this is a career-development program, not a promotion-oriented program," says Klippel.

What style of mentoring program is right for you?
Formal or informal--just what type of mentoring program works best for IT professionals? Opinions vary.
Read more >
CSX conducts extensive surveys of participants at the six-month mark, and again about six weeks after the one-year anniversary date. Klippel says these surveys "show that an overwhelming number of participants report that they have a better idea of the big picture of our company, understand more about other departments, found the program's networking valuable, and developed more of a career focus while in the program." He estimates that about 70% of the IT protégés are interested in learning the operational side of the business--how the company is structured and how the trains run. The remaining 30% want additional technical skills.

A winning combination

Marilynne Miles Gray of The Mentoring Institute, in Sydney, British Columbia, is the consultant working with CSX on its mentoring program. She believes that the guidelines developed by the company are one reason the program is successful. "The mentoring program has to be voluntary with stated expectations," says Gray. "You must have confidentiality between the mentor and the protege, a commitment, and the supervisor shouldn't be the mentor."

For IT professionals, mentoring programs offer tremendous opportunities to learn skills not often associated with technical prowess. "Mentoring is an easier method of learning a company's unwritten rules, such as how people dress, how they talk to each other, and how they get things done," says Gray. "People skills are necessary today. The combination of people and technical skills is a winner."

Dr. Linda Phillips-Jones, principal consultant of The Mentoring Group, in Grass Valley, Calif., believes IT mentoring benefits the mentor as much as the protégé. "Mentoring is a way for seasoned IT professionals to keep up with current trends and exchange information," she says. "Since mentoring shortens an individual's learning curve, management sees improved performance sooner." //

Ann Howe is a freelance writer living in Amherst, N. H. She can be reached at

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