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Mentoring in Practice: A Conversation with John Scott, Vice President of Organization Development, Tyco Healthcare
Q: Can you give me a two minute synopsis of how you got where you are now?
A: It was through three things I believe. First, make sure I was clear on my career goals, knew the type of role that I wanted to be in. Second, communicate those goals to not only my boss, but to other people within this organization and other organizations, broadening my network. Third, look at the competencies required for success in this position, and work to develop those competencies before the position becomes available.
The first 17 ½ years I was with Schnucks, starting as a bagger. When I left, I was Director of Training and Organization Development for the corporation. After that, I took a job in Florida, working for the Jewel-Osco food chain for a year until they sold out to Albertson’s. From there, I went to work for Bankers Insurance Group doing leadership training for a year before going to a division of Huffy Bicycle Corporation as the southeast regional HR director. Then, the opportunity with Mallinckrodt came up through my network. Actually, it was through a sales representative who heard about the position here and called me in Florida. I interviewed and within a week I was working here. My career management lives by those three roles: Know what you want. Communicate it clearly. Make sure you are qualified so that when the opportunity comes along you are the logical choice.
Q: Thinking back over your career, who are the mentors to whom you looked for advice or to help along the way?
A: The first was John Griffin, a store manager at the first Schnucks store I ever worked. John had a reputation within the organization of developing other managers. John did a great job of coaching, providing feedback, stretching you, challenging you. In my role in Organization Development, I had the opportunity to work with Don and Ed Schnuck when they were both still alive. They were both great mentors in different ways: Don from a business standpoint and Ed from a community involvement standpoint. Then, there was my first boss here at Tyco Healthcare (Mallinckrodt), Rich Meyers. He was a great mentor and someone that I could go to and ask questions, learn about how the organization worked, what I needed to do to position myself properly, and build relationships within the organization.
Q: Are there any pieces of advice or direction that you were given that made a difference for you?
A: John Griffin used to say, “Look for the possibilities. Don’t look at the problem, look for the possibilities and possible solutions”. Another favorite phrase of his was “It is no hill for a stepper”. He would constantly refer to his mentees as steppers, as people who could take the next step. His metaphor was, any time you are faced with an obstacle or an opportunity, if you are out for a walk and there is a hill in front of you, a lot of people turn around and go back. But, people who are really driven and goal oriented will just say it is not an obstacle. It is easy for me to get to the top of that hill if I just put out the time, effort, and energy.
Q: Do you find that you do a lot of mentoring in your role?
A: All the time. Both my own staff as well as high potential people within the organization. I even do it long distance.
Q: Do you have any kind of core philosophy or core principles from which you see your role as a mentor?
A: It is really their career and it is their life. My job is to help them get the most out of it. I don’t try to impose my values or my beliefs or my goals. I spend a lot of time listening, asking questions, and offering alternatives as opposed to giving advice. I think the role of a mentor is to help people see all of the alternatives, to see the bigger picture as opposed to telling them what to do.
Q: What role does mentoring play in general in the organization?
A: Well in some parts of the organization we have formal mentoring programs. On a less formal basis, we have an ambassador type of program where a new person joins the organization and they are assigned a big brother or an ambassador to work with them for the first year.
Q: What do you get out of being a mentor?
A: My personal mission statement is to help other people, to be in a role where I can help other people, and see people grow and develop.
Q: If you were coaching someone who was becoming a mentor, what advice would you give them to make mentoring successful for them?
A: It is really about balance and make sure that they don’t overextend themselves.
Q: How about for the people who are seeking mentors?
A: Use it. Leverage it. If you don’t have a mentor, go find one. Everybody ought to have somebody that they can bounce ideas off of to get a grounding or to get a sanity check, whatever terminology the people like to use these days. It is a conscious dedicated effort to utilize and maintain that relationship.
Q: Do you have anything else you would want to add about mentoring or coaching?
A: The one thing I would really like to convey would be that, as a mentor or coach, you never know what you may say or do that makes a difference to somebody else. I had somebody yesterday tell me that I changed their life because I gave them a book. I mean other people I have given the same book to I have never had anybody say that. Make sure that you understand the impact that you can have on people and realize and accept that it is not what you think is important, it is what impacts them. Sometimes it is the little things.
When I first started working with organizations to design mentoring programs, I did research to learn the keys to successful mentoring partnerships. The biggest surprise was the importance of deciding on logistics up front. Many potential mentoring pairs failed to form because the parties did not agree on the little things up front. Below are tips I have gathered to help both participants in formal programs as well as those who form their own partnerships:
1. Meeting Schedule: Decide on an approximate meeting schedule. I recommend once a month for most partnerships.
2. Means to Schedule Meetings: Share the best way to get on each other’s calendar. I have talked to too many protégés who miss opportunities because they didn’t know how to get on the mentor’s calendar.
3. Scheduled Meetings: Don’t wait until the end of one meeting to schedule the next. Always have the next two or three meetings on the calendar.
4. Length of Partnership: For formal partnerships, the organization may suggest a length of time to meet (usually a year). For informal mentoring, I suggest still having a date on the calendar to review goals and examine the relationship.
5. Confidentiality: Mentors and protégés need to discuss what confidentiality means to them. It is the foundation of trust, which is the basic currency of mentoring. I will explore the role of trust more fully in future issues.