Mentoring in Practice
Dan Getman, Ph.D., Vice President, Pfizer Global Research & Development
Q: Tell me about a person who made a difference to you in your career.
A: Almost every boss or colleague I have had has been a mentor in some regard. I would point to my first Boss, Don Morris. He did a great job of exposing me to the breadth of the corporation. He really gave me a lot of opportunities to make connections and presented me with a lot of opportunities that I was able to expand my knowledge and perspective within the industry and Monsanto. I would also think of Phil Needleman, who gave me opportunities to step out of my chemistry-centric role and into a larger role, both as a project leader and, later, as a reviewer of projects.
At various times, Karen Seibert was a mentor to me. She was chair of the EDC in Pharmacia, of which I was a member, and I was in an interesting position at the time. I was moving out of a line role into more of an influencing role, and she went out of her way to include me in a lot of things where she didn’t necessarily have to. About a year and a half later, she was presented with a different career opportunity, and I was prepared to step into her role as co-chair from Discovery. If she hadn’t involved me in the way she had, I don’t think that it would have been as easy a transition or may have never happened actually.
Q: Do you have anyone that you think of as a mentor right now in your career?
A: I use the global site directors as a group for different things without one of them being a specific mentor. I use them as a resource about how to get things done within Pfizer, as a network.
Q. Can you think of one piece of advice that a mentor told you that made a difference for you?
A: I have also used a personal coach, who has helped me with a couple of insights. I am often in the role where I can see gaps in how different groups interact together, where issues exist and have an idea of how to close those gaps. I am in a position where I have a broad viewpoint and ability to influence the organization. Often either the individual groups either don’t see the issue or don’t have a forum to effectively resolve the issue. When you bring up something like that, you often get an initial negative reaction. People will say, “Why do we need to do that? That just sounds like bureaucracy.” My coach helped me to view it as a project with different phases, which was an interesting perspective. In the initial phase, people need to understand what the idea is. The way they seek to understand it is to push back on it and criticize it. Once you move past the understanding phase, you can build it, and modify it based on feedback. Finally, there’s the implementation phase when you put the idea into action. Recognizing which of those phases you were in was really helpful, because in that early phase when you’re getting all of those negative comments, you start thinking, “well maybe this wasn’t a good idea or maybe this is going to be too much work.” I needed to recognize that people may not be able to see what I’m seeing and it’s impact and that I need to let them work through it and help them see the need. But, in that initial phase, there was a tendency on my part in the past to think, “Hmm, maybe this isn’t a good idea or sometimes get defensive to their reaction, when in fact they were just seeking to understand.”
Q: What have you gotten out of being a mentor?
A: It has been interesting and extremely rewarding to see people succeed and advance in their careers. I’ve been with the company for 21 years now, and I can look around at a number of people in senior roles for whom, at one time or another, I had made a difference in their career and vice-versa. That is very rewarding. A few years ago I remember a discussion with my supervisor after a series of project reviews when it struck me how many people I had worked with over the years and how far we had come together in our careers. Seeing them up there in front of the review panel doing a great job and feeling like I had contributed in some small way to them being where they are, was a pretty significant reward.
Q: What advice would you give to someone becoming a new mentor?
A: It takes a while to realize it, but don’t think that you have to be a problem-solver as much as getting the person to explore the situation they want to talk about. Rather than jumping to a solution or suggestion, together go through a process of exploring it.
Q: What about someone who is being mentored? What would you give them advice to them as far as how to best learn from their mentor?
A: Make sure that there is a strategic component as well as an operational component to the discussions. I think there’s a tendency to always dig into the details, and there’s value in spending time in a strategic discussion to provide a framework for the person to work within. Once that’s done, then let the person wrestle with and solve the specific problem. Get them to step back from the situation and think more broadly about the context of the situation.