I don't mean the casual bonding that sometimes occurs between newer and older employees, but formal mentoring programs designed to accelerate the company knowledge acquisition and communication process.
When new people come into an organization, they should be given a month to find a mentor to not only show them the proverbial ropes but to help them plan their careers in the company. Mentors should be assigned to work with new hires for what equates to a day a week, for at least several months. After that, the mentoring should continue for as long as the employee and mentor are with the company, or until the relationship needs to be changed because of the trajectories of either career.
A day a month for life sounds about right.
Mentoring is like continuous orientation. It increases the probability of a successful employee/company match and therefore helps with retention -- and succession. The worst thing that can happen is to spend lots of time and money recruiting people who leave before they make any useful contributions to your company because they were lost somewhere in the shuffle.
Formal mentoring is good business, and in order to make it work, positive and negative incentives should be used to make the programs viable.
Speaking of incentives, which ones do you use to keep good people? And how do you use them to send the right message to the people you don't want to keep?
There are lots of arguments here. Some think that the quintessential incentive is money. No matter what else you offer, there better be enough cash (in various forms) to please your star performers. There's a lot of wisdom here. People need to buy food, educate their kids and pay off their homes.
One thing is for sure -- if you underpay your top performers, you will lose them. We can argue forever about how much is enough, but if you don't pay it, you'll lose people and it most likely will be to the competitor that has a data base of your good people. So you have to find the right number and stay just above it for as long as you want to keep them on the job.
But money is not the only incentive. Evidence suggests that managers who respect their employees and offer them the right learning opportunities keep their employees. Trust results from a mutually respectful and beneficial relationship between employer and employee. Profound, huh? Actually, while we all pay lip service to platitudes like this, they do keep us balanced -- especially when meritocracies lose to golf handicaps.
What does this mean?
If there's one aspect of a corporate culture that demoralizes employees at all levels, it's the perception that factors other than merit determine rewards.
You've seen it and I've seen it. Frat boys, sorority sisters and golfing buddies who are anything but brilliant get promoted and rich because of who they know, not what they know or how they perform. When this kind of reward structure exists, it infects organizations at all levels. People become cynical, angry and disenfranchised when they believe that no matter how hard they work, how right they are or how well they perform, they won't be appropriately rewarded.
So what happens when golf handicaps drive wealth creation?
First, given the message that's sent loud and clear to the troops, the get-along. go-along culture will reduce your overall competency to mediocrity. Many of your employees, in other words, will adapt to the rules of the game that the buddy system plays by. They won't rock the boat, think outside the box, or -- God forbid -- challenge authority, because they understand that if they anger the ruling boys -- or gals -- they'll never get rich.
So they begin to spend more time working on their relationships with the ruling elite than with customers, suppliers or partners. The obvious result here is that business suffers. Next, the star performers who really want to improve the business -- and who are uncomfortable with good ol' boy/gal rules -- leave your company to work for one of your competitors.
Third, the company will eventually collapse under the weight of these rules if they continue to grow in number and complexity or if they spin out of control into what we've recently seen in the form of corporate anarchy, arrogance and irresponsibility.
Sabbaticals? You bet.
When key people work really hard for a long time with consistently impressive results, you need to occasionally give them a rest. Is this that complicated? Look at the companies that offer sabbaticals and see what kind of loyalty they generate.
Performance reviews have been around for a long, long time. They are some of the most political processes in your company. Some of your employees are so good at gaming reviews, that actual performance has little to do with an employee's assessment.
How should you do this?
First, publish the rules of the process and the outcomes, which range from promotions, raises, bonuses, new responsibilities, demotions and dismissals. Each year, employees should participate in the development of performance objectives which should be used at the end of the year to assess how well the objectives were met. The employee's immediate supervisor, along with a two-person 'independent' board should be involved in the review.
Overall, we spend too much time worrying about people trivia and not nearly enough on how to grow loyal, productive employees. Think about mentoring, positive and negative incentives, meritocracy, sabbaticals and objective performance reviews. When used correctly, they're all great tools.
Steve Andriole is the Thomas G. Labrecque Professor of Business at Villanova University where he conducts applied research in business/technology convergence. He is also the founder and CTO of TechVestCo, a new-economy consortium that focuses on optimizing investments in information technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.