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Making the Most of Mentoring

Once, on-the-job training or military experience was enough to qualify a security professional. Times have changed. Today’s up-and-comers increasingly need education and certification. Less widespread, but just as important, is mentoring. Lacking it, the next generation of practitioners may be hamstrung in their ability to climb the advancement ladder. And without mentoring, some otherwise skilled and hardworking employees may be disregarded, marginalized, or even fired, because of negative personal traits. These pre­ventable terminations lead to more company costs towards recruitment, screening, and training of replacements.

As an example in which the latter situation was avoided, men­toring helped one security professional, who worked in an upscale New York City hotel, to keep his job. Although he was vigilant and skilled at dealing with intoxicated bar patrons, unruly hotel guests, fire and life-safety emergencies, as well as catching the criminal element trying to operate on his watch, this security professional lacked “people skills.” His aggression and take-charge ways so irritated his coworkers that they gave him the nickname “the Sheriff.” In fact, other employees filed so many complaints against him that the Sheriff was in danger of being fired.

The hotel’s new human resources director, however, realized that because this employee excelled at his job in all other ways, mentoring was a better option than termination. His attendance was impeccable and he had valuable experience as a military police officer in the United States Army. The human resources director put the Sheriff in touch with a friend, a director of security at another nearby city hotel.

Mentoring is a transformative process. Essential to it is a commitment between two professionals based on trust and communication that primarily focuses on the mentee’s needs. During mentoring, guidance is dispensed from a person who has accrued professional accomplishments and valuable life experiences. The mentor shares these experiences with his or her mentee in formal or informal conversations. The mentee develops and grows from the relationship and learns to mitigate issues and resolve problems, as well as how to plan into the future to accomplish career goals. As a bonus, the mentor also typically learns and grows from the experience, making the relationship mutually beneficial.

One company that has deeply studied the benefits of mentoring is Sun Microsystems, Inc., of Menlo Park, California. Sun was an early proponent of mentoring. In 2000, the company initiated the first of its large-scale mentoring programs and continues to use them to date. A study conducted by the corporation looked at the impact of the mentoring on retention, salary grade, performance rating, merit raises, and promotion raises for mentors, mentees, and nonparticipants.

According to the report Sun Mentoring: 1996- 2009, a demonstrably positive effect accrued from the investment in companywide mentoring programs. As the authors, Katy Dickinson, Tanya Jankot, and Helen Gracon, noted in the report, “Mentoring increases effectiveness and efficiency to achieve business results by doing real work, real time. Developing a corporate culture of mentoring is a good way to establish a network of communication across organizational silos, promote a wide variety of talents, and broaden the diversity of ideas and innovation available to the company. The ROI on Sun mentoring has been calculated to be 1,000 percent or greater.”

The Sun study noted that “25 percent of mentees and 28 percent of mentors saw a positive change in salary grade compared to 5 percent of nonparticipants.” Employees who received mentoring were promoted five times more often than people who did not have mentors. Mentors were promoted six times more that those who did not mentor. Rates of employee retention were also markedly improved according to the study, increasing to 69 percent for mentors and 72 percent for mentees, while in the nonparticipating control group, the retention rate was 49 percent. Sun estimated that the increased retention saved the company $6.7 million in avoided turnover costs.

Organizations that want to follow Sun’s lead need to consider what kind of mentoring program they need. For example, should the program focus on improving employee performance and retention or seek the creation of business leaders? Each of these types of programs may require a different type of mentor.

Mentors should be guides, confi­dantes, and good listeners to best help their mentees. However, mentors should not be conscripts into any pro­gram; they must choose to participate for their own personal satisfaction and development, and they must be fulfilled by their role. Those who think they are too busy, stressed, or inade­quate should not take on the extra burden of a protégé.

Companies establishing mentoring programs should recruit willing mentors who match what the mentees need. One enticement may be to explain that even short-term mentoring has a proximal benefit for mentors in terms of their own performance on the job and their recognition by coworkers and peers.

To successfully match these mentors with the mentees they will assist, there should be a vetting process in which individual information on each mentee is collected through questionnaires or interviews to build a profile that details what areas of knowledge need improving or what skills are lacking, as well as strengths that can be further enhanced for the benefit of the mentee’s career path. Mentor profiles should also be established for comparison of needs and beneficial experience.

Some organizations match one mentor with multiple mentees or a group of mentees. In any case, the important aspects of the mentor-mentee relationship are a shared purpose, communication, goal setting, and reevaluation at the end of the goal-setting period. The cycle can then continue with the establishment of fresh or longer-term goals, or if everything that can be accomplished has been, the relationship can formally end with some form of official closure.

It is typically unwise for a manager or director to mentor his or her own staff or subordinates. The mentor should be outside of the mentee’s immediate chain of command. Additionally, mentoring should never be disguised as disciplinary action to address a specific employee problem.

There are different types and dura­tions of mentoring, including flash mentoring, short-term programs, and long-term mentoring relationships.

Flash mentoring. Of interest to some organizations may be the concept of flash mentoring, originally proposed by Scott Derrick. Derrick is a founder of 13L, a group of midcareer federal employees who meet to ponder leadership issues.

Flash mentoring is meant to appeal to busy executives who want to mentor but lack the time to do so even on a short-term basis. Flash mentoring allows these business leaders to impart some of the wisdom they have gathered throughout their careers to a group of interested mentees. Typically a single session, lasting about one hour, takes place in an informal setting.

The same concept can be used at any level of an organization where mentors may be short on time, but not on knowledge and perspective.

Short term. Short-term mentoring usually involves a mentor and mentee discussing how to respond to unexpected business problems or employment issues that come out of left field, and usually takes place in informal meetings. The individual may not need the ongoing support of a mentor but does require a short-term relationship to remedy a situation or to make a key decision having to do with career and personal development.

As an example, a security manager at a small independently owned hotel unexpectedly received a job offer from a large hotel chain. The offer could have a huge impact on his professional career and personal life. The magnitude of the potential change left the manager unable to weigh the issue effectively. He sought out the help of a veteran security director at another hotel.

Through the veteran’s guidance, the security manager was able to outline the pros and cons of the offer, as well to explore his own strengths, weaknesses, and personal needs. Key among the issues that mentee and mentor discussed was the size of the hotel company that had made him the offer. The mentor had some experience in this that he could share from a detached perspective and could use short-term mentoring to help the mentee think rationally and remain levelheaded. Another was the requirement of extensive travel. Ultimately, the mentee realized that he worked best in independently owned hotels where his responsibilities were varied. The corporate structure and substantial travel made the proposed position incompatible with the security manager, and he respectfully declined the offer.

Long term. Long-term mentoring assists the protégé in overall career navigation. These types of mentors are sometimes referred to as “life” mentors and are usually outside of the company—possibly alumni of the organization, such as retired executives or managers—who have a unique ability to help the mentee visualize the arc of his or her career.

For example, an associate loss prevention manager in a large department store chain wasn’t attaining what she wanted from her career. Prior to her job in retail loss prevention, she had worked in airport security and later made the transition into retail. While managing a loss prevention department, she began feeling bored and un­happy in her job. Her retail organization sponsored a mentoring program and she decided to enter it in the hope of alleviating the negativity.

At enrollment, she was paired with a loss prevention executive who had a solid reputation and a sterling work ethic. Through their conversations, the junior manager discovered that she did have a passion for security and loss prevention but that it was clouded by lofty aspirations, unorganized endeavors, and an interest in several different areas within security and loss prevention.

After deciding that she did indeed wish to further her career in loss prevention, the mentoring sessions focused on the development of 30-, 60-, and 90-day action plans to move her forward in the workplace by focusing on short- and longer-term goals. After these were met, the mentor recommended that she increase the plan to one-, three-, and five-year outlooks, giving her a roadmap she needed to steer her career.

The mentee is currently regional director of loss prevention training for the same department store. She attributes her success to the mentoring she received over that two-year period.

And what happened to the Sheriff? He attended sessions with his mentor, with whom he discussed his frustration at his lack of career success in the face of what he perceived as actions that were correct and made for the best reasons.

His mentor was able to make him see how teamwork and respect play critical roles in any security team or business environment, and how abrasiveness and unilateral behavior was impeding his recognition as a skilled security professional deserving of approbation. From this, the Sheriff gained valuable insight: success would come if he learned to function as a member of the hotel team. He agreed to work on his interpersonal skills and to build relationships with his peers on the security team—something that he eventually did successfully after enrolling in a business networking class that emphasized people skills.

The Sheriff eventually went on to manage the security department, and he says now that he believes that he never would have achieved the goal without the mentoring process. The mentor, who could have refused to become involved when asked to help the Sheriff, earned not only his mentee’s respect but that of his peers. And the human resource director’s efforts validated his worth as a leader, saved his hotel money that would have been lost by replacing the Sheriff, and gave him the personal satisfaction of knowing that he helped someone truly change and thrive.

A mentor has the ability to shape the next generation of security professionals through guidance, friendship, and shared experiences. The new generation may come from security or a multitude of different backgrounds; they will be educated and credentialed in a variety of security-related topics. But they will still need mentors to chal­lenge their shortcomings and enrich them with the mentors’ own knowledge, insights, and perspectives. 

James Carsey is an assistant security director in New York City’s hospitality industry. He holds a Master’s Degree in Protection Management from City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Prior to his hospitality security position, he served in a military police unit in the U.S. Army’s Schofield Barracks, Honolulu, Hawaii.