Acquiring great talent is tough enough in today's workforce, but if you want to retain your top workers, it's best to keep them under your wing beyond initial training.
With this in mind, ESL Federal Credit Union (ESL) in Rochester, N.Y., implemented a mentoring program for all new employees in 2005. The purpose of the program, according to ESL, is to provide recruits with mentors who can guide them through company indoctrination and set them on the path to becoming fully functioning team members.
Training recently spoke with Kelli Loveless, a senior training performance specialist at ESL, about the mentoring program and what makes it work:
Training: Why did you launch the program?
Loveless: In early 2005, we found that ESL employees were floundering after leaving new-hire training and often felt "abandoned" during the first early few weeks on the job. Every day, it seemed, another new hire was leaving. So, we started to look at what was going on and implemented an anonymous exit survey. The results of the survey indicated that many new hires felt like they were fed to the wolves. Many didn't feel like they knew what to do or which way was up after leaving training. The problem, I think, is that training is a safe environment where everything works. No one is yelling at you and stressors are kept to a minimum. Once new hires reach their branch to begin work, however, it's a completely different experience. There also wasn't any consistency in terms of resources available for new hires to turn to for help from branch to branch. Some branches had great natural mentors who helped out informally. Others didn’t have anyone occupying that role.
Training: How does the mentoring program work?
Loveless: We begin by focusing on the selection of those in the organization who are capable of teaching others. Once these mentors are identified, they are sent to a full-day workshop that teaches them how to be a successful mentor. The primary objectives of the program are to confirm the commitment of the mentor, establish the basic parameters of the program, and prepare mentors for the realities of the mentoring experience. It is designed to set the stage for the mentor's relationship with the new employee, and give mentors the tools necessary to be effective.
Then, during new-hire training, new hires spend three separate occasions working under their mentor's guidance. To facilitate a consistent experience, mentor checklists were created for each of these visits. These checklists are tracked to evaluate the mentor program, the effectiveness of the mentor, and the skill level of the new hire. After training, the new employee spends two full weeks with his or her mentor. This two-week period is also monitored to ensure success.
Training: What results has the program delivered to date?
Loveless: Since the program's inception, the number of employees looking for a new job within their first six months of employment has been reduced by approximately 26 percent. This is a great reduction in itself, but I am more excited that we no longer have anyone leaving in the first couple of weeks on the job. In two years, in fact, we have not lost any employees during their first few weeks on the job.
Training: What are some tips that you have for other training professionals interested in launching a similar program?
- Choose mentors carefully. Don't assume that just because someone is a top performer, he'll make a great mentor, too. Mentors need to be people-oriented, good motivators, capable of inspiring others, good listeners and effective teachers, and they need to understand how the job works. To choose our mentors, we put together a list of the characteristics, skills and qualities we believed any good mentor should possess. Then, we gave the list to managers and asked them to nominate mentors for consideration based on whom on their team they believed possessed those qualities and skills.
- Incentivize. If you are going to ask someone to contribute her time and expertise by becoming a mentor, you can't punish her for doing so by giving her extra responsibility—with no reward. So, we lower mentors' sales goals during the mentoring period so that they don’t have to take on "extra" work. In addition, we made mentoring a component step on the path to becoming a branch supervisor or manager. In other words, sharing knowledge through mentoring is a required first developmental step to moving to higher levels within ESL.
- Give mentors a medal. At ESL, serving as a mentor is a badge of honor of sorts. We hand out a big star-shaped business-card holder—which only mentors receive—that sits on each mentor's desk. The card holder says, "You make the difference." There is also prestige associated with being selected as a mentor because those selected were nominated by those in leadership positions.
- Monitor and communicate. I do tons of communicating and follow-up work with the mentors. For example, I monitor the mentoring checklists that are submitted to my department very carefully, and if a checklist is only half filled out, I don't let it go. I call the mentor right away to find out what’s going on and I intervene when necessary to help the mentor and mentee get back on track. I also send out kudos messages on a regular basis.
ESL Federal Credit Union is a financial services company headquartered in Rochester, N.Y. The company placed 85th on Training magazine's 2007 Top 125 list, an annual ranking of organizations that excel at human capital development.