CASE BY CASE // LEADERSHIP IN TALENT MANAGEMENT
Intel's mentoring program helps groom a new generation of project management talent—and teaches the old pros a thing or two.
by Sarah Fister Gale
Hiring the right candidate is only the first step. No one in project management—no matter how experienced they are, no matter how many credentials they hold—comes into a new position knowing everything.
Organizations need a way to mold that promising raw talent into a true leader. That includes training, guidance, career development and, perhaps most important, mentoring from senior staffers, says Jeff Hodgkinson, PMI-RMP, PMP, PgMP, a Phoenix, Arizona, USA-based senior program manager at IT behemoth Intel.
Mentoring rising stars is always considered a best practice, but it's especially needed in project management. Unlike more traditional management roles, project managers move from initiative to initiative, often working with cross-functional teams aligned with different departments. That can create an isolated environment where learning and knowledge-sharing are difficult.
The support of a mentor can help ease that isolation and give project managers the lifeline they need as they work their way up through an organization. “Mentoring is how we groom the next generation of talent,” Mr. Hodgkinson says.
Mentees' questions make me step back and think about why I do things the way I do.
—Bill Crider, PMP, Intel, Austin, Texas, USA
A 30-year veteran at Intel, he has mentored dozens of people across the corporation—from fresh-faced recruits to senior-level program and project managers looking for help as they transition to new roles.
“I had great mentors and managers over the years, and now I'm at the age where I feel obligated to pass that knowledge on to the next generation,” Mr. Hodgkinson says. “Besides, I want to make sure the next generation of Intel employees keeps our stock up and keeps putting out good products.”
When mentoring is incorporated into the talent-management process, companies reap generous rewards. The guidance from an “old pro” can transform even the most skittish micromanager into a well-developed and confident project leader ready to take on the most complex initiatives.
Too often, though, companies don't invest the time or resources.
“A lot of companies hire new project managers, then expect them to figure things out by themselves,” Mr. Hodgkinson says. “But most new project managers need guidance. Without it, they either fail or spend a lot of time on a longer learning curve.”
That failure inevitably extends back to the business. “Your people hold your tribal knowledge,” he says. “If you don't share that knowledge, you lose it, and that affects your bottom line.”
Watch and Learn
More than 15 years ago, Intel was building wafer-fabrication plants. Peter Hargis, PMP, senior project manager in the flex services group in Chandler, Arizona, was interested in project management but had no formal training, experience or skills. So he watched Mr. Hodgkinson.
“I was intrigued by how he documented everything and the charts he used to track his projects,” Mr. Hargis says. “I kept bugging him to teach me how to do this stuff.”
Mr. Hodgkinson became an informal mentor to Mr. Hargis, and they built a relationship that continues, even though they have both moved to different areas of the company. “There was no plan, but we always talked. He's a great resource for me,” Mr. Hargis says.
The two men continue to talk on the phone and exchange e-mails when Mr. Hargis runs into a project management issue he'd like advice on. “If Jeff doesn't have the answer, he usually knows where to get it,” he says.
Mr. Hargis especially values having someone outside of his office he can turn to. “The whole project management path, especially at Intel, can be daunting,” he says.
Even the most seasoned professionals can benefit from mentoring. One of Mr. Hodgkinson's more experienced mentees is Bill Crider, PMP, senior program manager in the engineering computing program management office at Intel in Austin, Texas, USA. The two met in 2008 while Mr. Crider was in the midst of running a massive five-year IT upgrade project that involved 48 sub-teams, more than 85,000 computers and 24 project managers who reported to him.
The project had been Mr. Crider's idea, and at Intel, if you pitch a project, it's usually yours to implement. It was a great career opportunity, but he'd never led anything of that size or scope before.
“There were many times on that project where I felt completely in over my head,” Mr. Crider admits.
During the last year of the program, Intel launched a principal program manager career path, and Mr. Crider was assigned Mr. Hodgkinson as a mentor. It was a formal relationship, and the two often met three times a week to discuss how the project was going and brainstorm solutions to tackle problems Mr. Crider was facing.
“The mentoring philosophy at Intel is that it's up to the mentee to set the agenda, which was fine with me,” Mr. Crider says. “I never had any problems finding reasons to talk to Jeff.”
He brought many problems and questions to Mr. Hodgkinson during that year, ranging from his own frustrations and shortcomings as a program manager to problems with the people on his team. In one instance, Mr. Crider struggled with a project manager who had an autocratic and aggressive style that put off team members.
“Jeff gave me good advice on how to set an overall example for team management, and how to help the project manager let go and trust his team more,” Mr. Crider says. “As a result of the feedback I gave that project manager, he changed his behavior.”
The mentoring relationship also helped Mr. Crider improve his own project management style, teaching him to focus on the big program management issues and delegate more of the daily tasks.
“I was heading toward a classic burnout situation. I was working 12-hour days, but I couldn't complain to anyone over or under me,” Mr. Crider says. “Jeff helped me see that I was taking too much on and how to worry less about the little things.”
Even now, after the project has ended, he continues to reach out to Mr. Hodgkinson for help and advice.
Coming Full Circle
Mr. Hodgkinson is hardly alone in his role as mentor at Intel.
“It's not a requirement of the job, but it's encouraged,” he says.
Mr. Crider himself now mentors and coaches about 15 people, including a very junior project manager and a more senior colleague who was once Mr. Crider's own manager but is now pursuing a project management career path. He admits mentoring can be time-consuming, but he says it's worth the effort—both to the mentee and to the organization. “You need to mentor because it's wrong not to pass on what you know,” he says.
Being a mentor also helps Mr. Crider think more deeply about his own choices in his role. “Mentees' questions make me step back and think about why I do things the way I do,” he says.
For Mr. Hodgkinson, mentoring has expanded his network and established him as a project management go-to guy at his organization.
“When you mentor other people, you earn respect,” he says. “They come to you for help, which establishes your reputation as an expert. And that's a valuable thing to be known for, especially in this economy.”
Mentoring also increases your own job satisfaction, Mr. Crider says. “When you see the role through the eyes of someone just coming up in your field, you appreciate what you've accomplished”. PM
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