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by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.
One of the more underutilized tools mentors have at their disposal is giving feedback to a protégé. Because most mentors don’t observe protégés in their daily work, they may not feel they have the opportunity to give feedback. As a result, protégés miss an opportunity to learn from the mentor’s point of view. However, there are sources of information that a mentor can use to give a protégé feedback:
Using these sources of information, a mentor can help a protégé in many ways, including reinforcing progress the protégé is making, redirecting effort if the protégé’s efforts are not yielding desired results, or challenging the protégé’s assumptions. The steps outlined below can help a mentor give constructive feedback to a protégé:
A Conversation with Kelvin Taylor, President of Maritz Loyalty Marketing
Q: Can you give me a two minute synopsis of how you got where you are now?
A: After I started my career as an actuary with the Department of Labor, I moved to Atlanta, where I worked for a statistical consulting firm called CCN. That company decided to move into the emerging field of database marketing, believing that the same models used to predict the likelihood of somebody filing bankruptcy could also apply to determining the likelihood of somebody responding to a marketing offer. One of the individuals who encouraged me along the way there was Terry Hughes, the chief analytical officer. I followed Terry Hughes from CCN to Fingerhut, where I headed up their Credit Marketing R/D department. I left Fingerhut to start a statistical consulting practice for Frequency Marketing (FMI), which is one of Maritz’ direct competitors. I left Frequency Marketing after seven years to join Maritz Loyalty Marketing.
Q: Thinking back over your career, who are the mentors to whom you looked for advice or for help along the way?
A: When Alliance Data Systems purchased FMI, a key driver for that decision was the success of our analytical offering. They asked me to stay around and I was bold enough to say what I wanted: to run the entire company. I think of Rick Barlow, the owner and founder of FMI, as my mentor there. He and I talked quite a bit about how I could go about scratching the entrepreneurial itch that I have. He gave me a great deal of insight in terms of the kind of risks that he took when he launched his company and how he got financing. Rick made himself available to me to have those kinds of conversations.
Q: Are there any pieces of advice or direction that you were given that made a difference for you?
A: Rick taught me to treat everybody like they were the most important person in the room. He had that natural charisma where you felt he was genuinely interested in what you had to say. He taught me a lot about professional relationships, especially when selling a service as opposed to a product. It’s not the same as kicking the tires or raising the hood of a car to see the engine. A service is an intangible thing. People are really buying a relationship with you, which has risk written all over it. One thing Rick told me is that my job is to help the customer sleep better at night.
Q: Tell me a little about the kind of mentoring you do in your role.
A: Terry Hughes helped me see the value in elevating the conversation from one of technical elegance to the business issue that you are solving. I try to pass this along to our Business Intelligence teams. The first thing I say to them is, get involved in the selling process. Understand how you can contribute to the bottom line. I say to people who are in Business Intelligence that you are smart enough to think analytically about a broad range of topics. What you have to do now is elevate your level of thinking. People in that role tend to think about details, going from one set of details to another without seeing the big picture. I try to help them see the big picture and then work their way back in.
Q: What role does mentoring play in Maritz Loyalty Marketing?
A: My leadership team and I are trying to get the next level of management below us to understand why we are making changes in our business model. Maritz Loyalty Marketing has prided itself on doing whatever it is the customer asks us to do, which can be in opposition to our position as thought leaders. Clients quite often expect us to anticipate the problems they might encounter in launching a loyalty program. If we are truly thought leaders, we need to be proactive in making recommendations to our clients as opposed to just being the executors of our client’s strategy. We have been coaching, more than mentoring, as to why it is important for us to make that transition.
Q: I noticed you made the distinction between mentoring and coaching. What is that distinction in your mind?
A: To me coaching is about helping someone through the matter at hand. If somebody is in the midst of a situation, coaching is about how we should think about getting out of that particular situation. Mentoring, on the other hand, seeks to anticipate a broader scale of things that an individual might face.
Q: What have you gotten out of being a mentor at Maritz?
A: It is really rewarding when you see someone grow professionally and know that you played a small role in helping them achieve that. Maybe it’s the same thing that teachers experience when they have a student that does really really well.
Q: What advice would you give someone to be successful as a mentor?
A: I would absolutely tell them that it is a lot of responsibility, both for the person being mentored and the person doing the mentoring. If you are not prepared to dedicate the appropriate amount of time to the relationship, it is best not to get involved with it from the beginning. You need to make sure that you have a variety of common interests with the person that you are partnering with, both professionally and outside the office. The other thing is to make sure that you develop a written plan that the mentee puts together in terms of what they want to accomplish from the relationship.
Q: What advice would you give to the person being mentored to get the most out of their mentor?
A: Come prepared to the meetings. Make every effort not to waste time. Recognize that this person is making an investment in you. It serves everyone well to come to the meetings prepared. Know what it is that you want to get out of the relationship, and in turn, explore what that person is trying to get out of working with you – the relationship should be symbiotic.
Q: Is there anything else you can think of you’d want to say about mentoring or coaching?
A: Networking is tremendously undervalued. I think that one of the benefits to the mentor is that people who are in different parts of the organization can help the more senior executives stay connected to front-line issues. Networking primarily helps younger employees be able to network at a more senior level, not only within the organization, but also in a broader cross-section of the community at large. Most people who’ve achieved success professionally also are concerned about community involvement. I think that mentoring can lead to personal growth in terms of the mentee becoming more engaged in philanthropic causes, giving back more to the community.