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.

When we give constant feedback to employees, they're more likely to be able to act on it than they would be if you wait six months to tell them. Being busy shouldn't be an acceptable excuse for skimping on feedback, because focusing on employees should be a priority. You can be quick and to the point—a voice mail or an e-mail often does the trick. That tiny amount of time has huge ROI in the loyalty, growth and development of people who will deliver more for the company.

To ensure I make the time, I commit all day every Friday to people development, coaching and mentoring—either one-on-one or with a group. It's important for those in the organization to know that leadership is committed to their development. I can see people appreciate my devotion because of the many employees who seek me out for advice. Being a mentor not only helps to develop in-house staff, but also to recruit top-tier talent.

How Staff Development Helps Business

I've also created developmental rotations, which place technology people in business roles for six to nine months so they can get closer to that business. One gentleman worked in IT delivering database systems for the pharmacogenomics team, which focuses on the influence of genetics on drug response. We assigned him to their laboratory. He learned how to use their equipment, such as how to run DNA scans. When he came back to IT, he had a much better understanding about what he should be doing with their IT systems.

When IT staff do such rotations, we see a whole change in their approach to their jobs because they saw first-hand the sense of urgency that business has and where their real priorities are. Benefits such as cost reductions, increases in efficiency and simplification of processes come out of that experience, helping the company overall.

Meanwhile, managers in the company see these employees as prime candidates to export out of IT. Ten years ago, if you were in IT, you were just in IT—not part of the business. But when we focus on developing employees, we demonstrate how their technical savvy, business understanding, leadership and ability to understand and elicit change are critical to business success.

I've also had businesspeople come over to IT. We don't just stick them on a computer and make them crunch out code; I like to teach them how to do IT project management so they can understand what it takes to deliver an IT system.

Become a Talent Magnet

When we focus on individuals' career development, we lift our organization's reputation externally. People want to work here because they see what we do to develop our employees. When you're competing for the best-in-class talent, our kind of culture is a differentiator.

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