Increasing Loyalty Through Mentoring

By: John L. Blake, Vice President, Horizon Leadership in Texas

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Can mentoring compensate for the continuing decline in employee-company loyalty?  If so, how?  Or, are we all “employer and employee alike”, doomed to continue on our respective paths, each seeing the other as a necessary, but adversarial partner?

The Challenge for Employees and Employers

While interviewing for my first post-college job, I asked what job the current company president held at my age. I planned my whole career with that company and didn’t want to be limited by being in the wrong job. Much has changed since that day. Employees expect to change jobs. Employers are expected to take a passive (or reluctant) role in their career development. Employees may appear to consider their current position as a springboard for a career elsewhere. Employers may appear to treat employees as commodities, discarding them at will.

It is unimportant now who is responsible for this change. We must simply accept it as a fact of life. Whoever is to blame or if we are all guilty together strong company-employee loyalty is unlikely, at least in the near future. Yet, both companies and employees pay a high price for the lack of loyalty (or even distrust). But both employer and employee feel powerless to change the flawed relationship…without taking an unacceptable risk.

Continental Airline’s Response

That does not mean it is hopeless. When Gordon Bethune became CEO of Continental Airlines, he was the tenth CEO in ten years, and took over a company where employee-management trust and loyalty were flawed. His attitude, approach, and actions slowly reversed the employee perceptions, eventually resulting in a profitable, award-winning
airline. He didn’t just do things differently, he thought differently. And his beliefs were reflected in everything he said and did, eventually winning over Continental employees. He took all the risks to build a better relationship.

Mentoring as a Trust Building Strategy

Anyone who has ever managed a large organization knows how challenging it can be to build a relationship of trust with hundreds, even thousands of employees. Yet many companies are discovering that mentoring offers an effective modern-day version of employee-company loyalty. In fact, there are a number of ways in which an effective mentor-protégé relationship can gently and constructively bind the protégé to their employer.

Role Model

Mentors who are successful and valuable to the company help their protégés gain a vision of what they can become. For instance, at Merrill Lynch, highly successful financial consultants mentor trainees. Often, mentors are graduates of the same training-mentoring program, demonstrating the clear viability of their trainee’s future successóif the trainee is willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

Retention Benefit

A protégé may be reluctant to give up a comfortable, tested mentor relationship, even for the promise of a mentor elsewhere. Mentors, like friends, are bought at a price. Once the mentor and protégé have paid the price to develop a relationship of trust, it is not easily discarded. Although the protégé may be confident of their continued friendship, leaving the employer will significantly change the benefits of the relationship.

Early Warning and Intervention

Once an employee has decided to change jobs, intervention rarely is successful at stopping the departure.  On the other hand, a mentor, who has demonstrated primary interest in the protégé’s well-being, becomes a trusted counselor in many areas. Often, a protégé considering a job change will consult with their mentor, seeking guidance and balance in decision-making. Without compromising mutual trust, the mentor can help the protégé see the whole picture, avoiding a common “grass is always greener”
syndrome during the decision process. Even if the protégé decides to leave, the mentor may provide a safe return path, significantly increasing the likelihood that the protégé will return after acquiring more knowledge, experience, and training.

Linking Mentor-Protege and Organizational Trust

These benefits to the company are not obtained without price. Mentors must, above all, be worthy of the trust and confidence of their protégés. They must really care about
their protégés, seek their well-being (even if it involves working elsewhere) and help them to establish a personal and career vision, aligned with the company goals. Mentor-protégé relationships built upon this foundation offer an effective alternative to company loyalty, while simultaneously demonstrating company commitment through the mentor to the protégé’s success and long-term career.