Why Mentoring Creates Competitive Advantage

Why Mentoring Creates Competitive Advantage

Mentoring your team creates an IT department that is better able to compete for talent and business advantage, says the CIO of Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development.

Developing people is part of my job. To me, part of our responsibility as executives is to ensure that a pipeline of diverse capabilities exists—and not just in our own departments. Many CIOs get tunnel vision when it comes to developing their staffs. They may only focus on developing one area at a time, such as technology, project management or business relationship management skills. But it's wrong to go after one competency; the skill sets of employees becomes lopsided. You need a balanced organization that reflects people's different strengths and covers all your bases.

Because I'm nuts about employee development, I've raised the bar for my peers; others can see how I work with employees. Some of my peers come to me for mentoring and coaching advice. As a result, my colleagues' attitude toward me has changed over the years. They look to me as a leader in helping drive employees to fulfill their managers' expectations.

I have demonstrated my involvement in companywide employee development. For example, I help champion board-level sponsorship for some of our diversity groups, such as our Hispanic leadership development organization and a group for women's leadership. Because I'm visible as a mentor, I get calls from people ranging from college graduates just entering the company to VPs within and outside of IT who want to discuss their futures or run an idea by me.

Since IT has become ubiquitous within the business, developing employees across the organization should be a strong competency for the CIO. The more people know about IT and how their jobs relate to IT, the better the company will be. Becoming a champion of corporate employee development starts with your IT team. Here's how we set an example for developing staff for the benefit of the entire company.

A Team Effort

You can't help everyone on your staff meet their career goals by yourself. I hold my direct reports accountable for developing the employees under them. At least twice a year, my leadership team and I talk about every employee and we all contribute to the conversation about individuals' strengths, weaknesses and growth potential. Then we set goals for each of them and determine how much help they need to achieve them.

We don't just talk about what people need, but also how they are going to get it. Other places may focus on the "what" but not the "how," which is a key element to our conversations. It puts the managers on the spot because they have to come up with the solution right then and there.

My managers and I give employees regular feedback on their progress. A lot of times, managers focus on organizational development once a year and choose performance reviews as that time. But if you compare employee feedback to having quality and process control, you can see why feedback needs to be frequent. You don't wait until your product is finished to test it. If you wait until the end and the product is bad, you have spent time, money, resources and raw materials only to be left with wasted inventory.

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