Project Management Institute


a key to employee loyalty

by Chip R. Bell


LONG-TERM CORPORATE LOYALTY is difficult to sell to employees in the midst of downsizing, reorganization, and merger mania. TempDigest reports that the outsourcing market is growing 21 percent per year; the temporary help business has outpaced almost any other industry in the last few years and shows no signs of letting up.

Project leaders must develop mentoring skills or risk losing their best team members to the competition.

The search for company loyalty seems particularly hopeless from the Generation-X worker—those 18–25-year-olds who seem unimpressed by authority, unenthused by corporate politics and uninterested in climbing a success ladder with rungs made of miserable stress and missed sunsets.

The scarcity of loyalty is compounded by a second challenge—the need for never-ending learning. Increasingly, organizational success comes through creative adaptation and innovative breakthroughs. And, as skills become obsolete almost overnight, employees must stay perpetually honed and forever in a ready position. “The ability to learn faster than your competition,” said consultant Arie De Geus, “may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.” A year-long study of 77 major companies conducted by McKinsey & Co. concluded that the most important corporate resource over the next 20 years will be talent: smart business people who are technologically literate, globally astute, and operationally agile.

How does an organization retain talent? Is it all about a bidding war for salary dollars in which employees act more like free-agent athletes than associates ready to enlist for the long haul and cheerfully salute the company flag? The new tool for combating negative turnover while addressing the rapid obsolescence factor is wisdom.

The opportunity to learn to turn knowledge into wisdom may not keep employees forever, but will keep them longer and enhance their commitment until they move to greener pastures. The 1 March 1999 (p. 8) issue of Business Week, in a story on the 1999 Emerging Workforce Study; reported that 35 percent of new hires without a regular mentoring relationship will look for another job within 12 months.

Chip R. Bell, manages the Dallas, Texas, office of Performance Research Associates. He is the author of 11 books, including Managers as Mentors [SF: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1996]. Dr. Bell was a keynote speaker at the 1999 Project Leadership Conference.

Cornering the Last Market: Talent

Which is more valuable to organizational success: allegiance or professionalism? Sure, it would be great not to have to choose. However, one side of this choice is quickly becoming a non-option. Employees see how quickly Wall Street-sensitive organizations are prone to cut, reorganize, drop and hunker down. “Selling their soul to the company store” is not in the cards when the toll has been “being made available to the industry.”

Employees also see the declining half-life on professional competence. They know that life-long learning is the secret to “keeping up” since the luxury of “catch up” will never return. “Learning didn't end with ‘Pomp and Circumstance’,” reported one young computer technician in an enlightened software company. “It happens daily with work and happenstance.”

Employees need up-to-the-minute wisdom to be marketable in their next job. When Tom Peters tells management audiences to “Stop doing performance appraisals and development plans; start helping employees keep their résumé relevant and up to date,” you know the era of transportable expertise is upon us.

Wisdom is the new employee benefit that has many payoffs. It is more relevant than retirement benefits and more motivating than most perks. Providing wisdom will keep project members around far longer since greater competence means greater confidence and security. “I can always leave,” said one accounting analyst. “As long as I keep learning new skills, I'll probably stay … at least for the next few years.”

Yet, organizations are so anxious to maximize this week's return on education while fighting to stay on the green side of declining margins, they fail to focus on fostering competence. There's a warning implied in the axiom: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Some learn only after their best talents are on their competitors’ payrolls. Some never learn. If wisdom is to be a palpable perk, it requires the gifts of a project leader who facilitates learning.

The Master Mentor Is … Wisdom starts and ends with an effective mentoring relationship. Employees can learn on their own, but efficient learning is that which is focused and purposeful; effective learning is that which is relevant and usable. And great mentors enhance learning's effectiveness and efficiency.

Ten Steps to Being a Master Mentor

images Be willing to reveal your own challenges and frustrations to your protégé.

images Remove the mask of position as you demonstrate enthusiasm for the learning.

images Display enthusiastic curiosity—learning, like planting, requires warmth.

images Avoid “why” questions—they can be heard as judgment and create defensiveness.

images Ask questions that make your protégé think—questions that ask for comparison, evaluation and reflection.

images Listen as if your protégé was a “hero” you always wanted to meet and interview.

images Do not rely on power symbols—an imposing desk, making the protégé do the approaching, or a reserved manner—all of which telegraph distance.

images Support without rescuing. Before you help, ask if your help will build greater competence, or just more dependence.

images Protégés watch your moves, not your mouth—be a courageous role model. Learning requires humility, curiosity and risk taking. Let your protégé see these qualities in you.

Historically mentoring implied a protégé assigned (formally or informally) to a mentor outside the protégé's direct chain of command. The belief was that the power-based relationship of boss and subordinate severely limited the capacity of the protégé to take the risks needed for learning. Unfortunately, contemporary organizations can no longer afford to narrowly view mentoring as only a role reserved for sages who sponsor new recruits or a tool to deal with diversity issues. In successful organizations, mentoring must become the requirement of every project leader.

Being a project leader and a mentor to members of a project team raises a special challenge. How does an employee comfortably pursue necessary trial and error in front of the person who may ultimately pass judgment on salary increases, promotions and project assignments? Since learning requires experimentation and risk taking, how does a project leader carry out an insight goal from an in-charge role? While power does retard learning, project leaders who are master mentors demonstrate four qualities critical to “leveling the learning field.”

… Purposeful. One of the greatest mentors in American industry today is the CEO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, Horst Schulze. In his 10-plus-year tenure at the helm of the hotel company with the most Five Star properties ever and the only hospitality company to win the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality award, he has crafted a culture which makes daily learning as natural as breathing. “He is the best mentor I have ever had … or, ever heard of anyone else having,” said Rosemary Chastain, director of human resources for the Atlanta, Ga.-based hotel company. Mentoring is a central part of the role of every project leader at Ritz-Carlton.

What makes this master mentor so effective? “He is intensely loyal to all associates. He teaches a major part of every orientation because he wants to personally communicate our vision and values,” said Michael Carsch, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton's Tyson's Corner,Va., property. “He is constantly visiting properties, taking the time to meet every employee to communicate his loyalty to them, but most of all to remind them of our focus.” The Ritz-Carlton's mission of “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” is the anchor that makes learning purposeful and relevant. Associates are never confused regarding why they are learning a particular new skill nor uncertain as to the reason a housekeeper is being cross-trained as a front-desk clerk. Horst Schulze makes certain the value of growth is hardwired into the vision of the company.

… Humble. Humility entails relinquishing efforts to control the outcome, putting great effort into being authentic, real and mask-free. It implies a project leader devoted to learning, not dedicated to convincing. It is one of the most difficult and courageous interpersonal acts a project leader can take with an associate. It is also powerful!

Years ago I worked with Dr. Richard Furr, a gifted consulting psychologist. He and I designed and taught a series of executive workshops on project leadership and coaching. The final advice Furr gave attendees was to practice their newfound skills on a couple of subordinates within the coming week. “Start with practice,” he advised, “by telling your associates something like: ‘I have just attended a workshop on project leadership and learned some new skills that I want to use in our relationship. I will be awkward initially and make a lot of mistakes. But, with practice and your patience I will get better. And, we will both benefit.’” The advice was powerful.

Attendees reported enormous success at follow-up sessions. The authenticity caused subordinates to see their project leader in a new light. Many reported their sessions with subordinates turned out to be the single most powerful and productive conversation they had ever had with the employee. Here's a typical project leader report: “When I gave up trying to force it to work, it seemed to take on a life of its own and took the relationship where it needed to go. It was amazing. It was like magic.” This “like magic” quality of mentoring begins to happen with the demonstration of humility.

Southwest Airlines’ CEO Herb Kelleher has been revered in countless articles and speeches. His avant-garde and charismatic leadership often overshadows the trait his employees most admire: humility. “He is a jarringly open leader,” says Colleen Barrett, EVP and director of customers. Stories abound about his willingness to roll up his sleeves and help load baggage at a busy time. He readily admits error, confidently shows compassion, and reveals a genuineness that encourages others to remove “false masks.”

… Curious. There are many by-products to curiosity. Most foster learning. Curious project leaders ask get-behind-the-issue questions. Curious project leaders are interested in people and reach out in ways that are inclusive and show genuine regard for others. Curious project leaders avoid the artifacts of power because they inhibit the interpersonal rapport important to relationship building and leveling the learning field. They intently listen to ascertain feelings behind words and make responses that acknowledge those feelings.

Reader Service Number 052

Prestigious consulting firm Bain & Company's CEO Orit Gadiesh is renowned for her extraordinary listening skills. In a January 1996 Fortune article, Patricia Sellers quotes a colleague of Orit's as saying: “Orit has that talent for making you feel you're the most important person in the room.” One way she does this is by never looking at her watch. Inside Bain, Gadiesh is regarded as a junior consultant's most generous mentor.

… Generous. Generosity means bestowing value upon another without expecting reciprocity. A master mentor's primary gift is advice conveyed with passion for learning and a concern for the learner. While such a gift exemplifies the core of the mentoring role, it also represents the challenge—power-free facilitation of learning. Resistance and resentment raise their heads when the conveyor of such “gifts” carries the title of “leader”!

Advice giving only works if the context is learning. This means offering advice solely out of a belief that the output of an employee will be improved if their knowledge or skill is enhanced. The reason this is important is the fact that for advice giving to truly work you must be ready for the protégé to not take your advice. If the protégé has no real choice as to whether or not to honor your advice, then simply give a directive and be done with it. Couching your requirement as advice is manipulative, and will only foster distrust and resentment.

Begin your advice giving by letting the employee know the focus of your mentoring. Ambiguity risks leaving the employee confused. Make sure you have a “meeting of the minds” on the focus. Ask permission to give advice. Your goal is to communicate advice without surfacing resistance, and to keep ownership with the employee. State your advice in first-person singular.

Phrases like “you ought to” quickly raise listener resistance! By keeping your advice in first-person singular, the protégé will hear it without the internal noise of defensiveness.

THE TEMPORARY NATURE of most employment relationships can easily foster a “looking out for No. 1” type self-centeredness. However, mentors who cultivate portable wisdom may help to forge “hero” into the résumé of today's on-the-move employee. Besides, which would you rather have on your team: a portable hero or a permanent droid? images

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM Network November 1999



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