This is a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. It is focused on organizational culture and addresses what I consider a critical need for organizational success – the need to mentor. My thoughts have been shaped by many years of serving in a large organization, the U.S. Government, but should apply to many other organizations as well. I will let you decide.
Staff development is often identified as an important, and even critical, organizational need. In my view and that of many others a successful staff development effort requires consistent top down encouragement and support. Lots of organizations talk about staff development as a worthy goal, and there is an extensive literature on the subject, but truly successful programs are limited in number because of lack of follow through and true organizational commitment to the goal. Without senior management buy-in and publicly expressed support for such an effort I see little value in an organization moving ahead with the needed planning – memo to the staff, and staff surveys to identify staff interests and potential mentors and mentees. Success is unlikely to happen, given everyone’s assigned responsibilities and management’s focus on ‘firefighting’, unless staff development is made a priority of the organization and rewarded as an activity.
– People really are an organization’s most important asset, and it is through people that we can have lasting impact on that organization. You make an enduring difference through the people you choose to develop.
– In addition to supporting continuing education, a critical ingredient of staff development is providing a mentor, someone whose knowledge and experience the mentee respects and someone whose wisdom and know-how can support the professional growth and development of the mentee.
– Corporate mentoring programs have long been recognized as an essential strategy for attracting, developing, and retaining top employees. They send a message to employees that they are valued and the organization wants them to be satisfied and happy.
– Mentoring helps new employees settle into an organization, understand what it means to be a professional in their working environment, facilitates the transfer of expertise to those who need to acquire specific skills, encourages the development of leadership abilities, and helps employees plan, develop and manage their careers.
– Mentoring is also a two-way street that can benefit both the mentee and the mentor.
All of this may sound trite – most of us have heard the words many times before – but the concept is right, and in my experience many organizations do a poor job of ‘preparing the next generation’ by translating the good words into meaningful and effective programs.
Unfortunately, this was my consistent view during my years at DOE and I hope that DOE’s current leadership will take the concept of mentoring and training successors more seriously than in the past. Some other federal departments and agencies did a better job at this during my time in government – e.g., as evidenced by their heavy participation in the open-to-all Excellence In Government Program. Such programs do take time away from other activities but are investments in the future, just as are federal R&D investments in emerging energy technologies.