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Merging Aboriginal Traditions with Peer Mentor Leadership Training

Not only is Peer Resources one of the world’s oldest peer assistance train-the-trainer organizations, but they were the first organization to offer a peer mentor program train-the-trainer workshop based on Aboriginal (First Nations) customs and traditions.

Few people know that many of the elements of successful experiential training date back to historical practices that were part of many North American native groups. The “talking circle,” for example, was unknown to the European settlers who came to North America, but was an ancient practice of the Indians they encountered.

Unfortunately, the encounters between the native and European cultures became dominated by a campaign to eliminate the practices, customs and traditions of native culture. Many of the health, healing, spiritual, and educational customs were lost, forbidden, hidden, or forgotten during this attempt to suppress the native way of life.

During the 1970’s when Peer Resources was exploring whether high school students in British Columbia would want to and be able to help each other using positive peer pressure, many of the peer mentor volunteers were students from First Nations ancestry.

Because our training model was based on a socio-cultural tradition—that is, a model that relied on understanding and building upon how individuals within a culture positively communicated with each other and how they understood the world they lived in—we realized we had much to learn about the differences in communication and perspective between native and non-native youth.

What was most surprising as we conducted our research with elders and members of First Nations groups in British Columbia and other Aboriginal groups in Canada and the United States, was the similarity between their traditions and customs and the practices we were using in our training sessions.

And even more powerful was our own finding that the more we established and integrated First Nations customs into our training sessions, the more successful the training sessions became for non-native participants. We were also privileged to have a highly skilled and experienced educator, mentor and coach, Ron Jorgenson, act as our lead trainer. Ron has continued to lead these training sessions for more than 20 years.

Some of our most skilled peer mentor program leaders, upon refreshing what they learned in our “comprehensive training” course, remarked that taking the First Nation version of the same course was a much better learning experience. Participants described their learning as more personally satisfying and deeper, with a greater appreciation of and respect for cultural diversity. In addition, they saw the training as empowering them to develop their own facilitation style and design and manage what was needed for their own peer program effectiveness. As a result, dozens of peer programs have been successfully established in First Nations communities, and many communities now hold their own train-the-trainer sessions for First Nation peer leaders.

From 2005 to 2012 Peer Resources held five-day workshops every summer in Victoria, British Columbia at the University of Victoria. The workshops integrated Aboriginal principles into both the workshop process and the content and were specifically designed for persons who worked in youth populations (ages 12-25) from diverse backgrounds. The purpose of the workshop was to prepare youth workers, educators, teachers, mentor program leaders, and counsellors to establish state-of-the-art peer-led programs for youth (elementary school age to university-based students) who represent a variety of diverse groups in today’s society.

Persons who had previously taken other peer training courses emphatically stated that these specialized sessions enhanced their learning of how to use the medicine wheel, healing circles, ceremony, and other Aboriginal customs and traditions.

The seminars covered all key topics for effective peer program development including:

  • practical strategies to recruit, select, and supervise peer mentors;
  • twenty roles peer mentors use to prevent problems, mediate disputes and promote healthy growth;
  •  the twelve core skills of a peer mentor training curriculum;
  • how to design a curriculum for advanced skills and issues;
  • a custom-designed set of peer training and peer program development materials and resources;
  • experiential learning techniques that energize training;
  • when to teach and when to facilitate;
  • how to conduct a needs assessment for program longevity;
  • how to use feedback and facilitation skills to train like an expert;
  • how and when to motivate peer mentors;
  • how to gain and maintain program support from unexpected sources;
  • six proven methods to turn resistance into alliance;
  • eight peer program standards that resolve challenging legal issues;
  • examples of successful implementation strategies; and
  • how to use simple strategies to evaluate program progress.

Participants in the five-day workshop were organized into small groups for the peer training and consultation activities. Each participant has an opportunity to partner with another workshop participant to lead a supervised training session. The workshop relied strongly on interactive methods designed to maximize adult learning and to model effective training. Participants were involved in lectures, communication skill exercises, role plays, training leadership opportunities, curriculum development, peer mentoring, and other experiential activities.

Participants were also eligible to apply for national certification as Peer Mentor Trainers (Level I or Level II). This certification system is based on national training standards originally developed by the Peer Counselling Project at the University of Victoria. Participants who attended a complete workshop received a Certificate of Completion.

While we no longer offer these workshops on an annual basis, we do offer them on a specialized, custom basis in communities in North America. Anyone interested in setting up one of these workshops in their community to be led by an experienced First Nations training leader is encouraged to contact Peer Resources by phone or email.

References

Carr, R.A. (2005). Peer helping: Youth working together. Thunder Bay, Ontario: Nishnawbe Aski Nation. (Retrieved May 1, 2009 from http://bit.ly/6lzOY).

Carr, R.A. (2001). The theory and practice of peer helping. Victoria, BC: Peer Resources.Carr, R.A.

Carr, R.A., & Saunders, G.A. (1999). The peer counselling starter kit. Victoria, BC: Peer
France, H. (2000). The helping circle: First Nations peer support network. (Retrieved May 1, 2009 from http://bit.ly/jVBrU).
Jorgenson, R. (2004). Kit & culture: Supplemental resources for peer counselling in First Nations communities. Victoria, BC: Peer Resources.
Jorgenson, R. (2004). Youth helping youth: A training plan introducing peer helping into a native community. Victoria, BC: Peer Resources.

MacDonald, S., Denby, C., and Madak, P. (2003). The Northern Aboriginal Peer Support Network Program: Current practices and plans for a generative curriculum. Unpublished manuscript: First Nations Center, University of Northern British Columbia.

Saskatoon Health Region. (November 19, 2008). Aboriginal LiveWell program celebrates success. e-connect: The Saskatoon Health Region Employee Newsletter. (Retrieved May 31, 2009 from http://bit.ly/D6iFm).

Six Nations Police. (2008). Community service: Peer helping. Ohsweken, Ontario: Six Nations Police Service. (Retrieved May 10, 2009 from http://bit.ly/118Nep).

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Guardians of Mentoring

Existential psychotherapist James Bugental (1915-2008), the author of The Search for Authenticity, mentored many well-known psychotherapy practitioners. One of those, Orah Krug, recalled that her mentor likened his role to that of a track and field coach who, running along side the hurdler, helps the athlete maintain form. “My function,” Dr. Bugental said to his mentoring partner, “is that of being my client’s ally, of supporting the client’s effort to be authentically present and self-exploring.”

Mentor in Memorium: Edward Albee (1928-2016)

I met playwright Edward Albee when he was in Los Angeles shortly after Elizabeth Taylor won the Academy Award for best actress in the film version of Albee’s play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” He ordered something from the drug store in Beverly Hills where I was working doing deliveries. I got to deliver his order to him while he was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I had his name on the delivery sheet and I recognized him right away when he answered the door himself.

He was very friendly and he asked me if I also delivered stuff to other Hollywood people and named a couple of names. I said I wasn’t allowed to reveal any of the names of our customers. He launched into some caustic and funny comments about “movie people” particularly Jack Warner (the studio head), Richard Burton (who played opposite Elizabeth Taylor and was also nominated for a best actor Academy Award), and Jack Valenti (the head censor in Hollywood). I remember those names in particular because they were all involved with the movie version.

After this meeting, I started reading everything he wrote. The dialogue in his plays was always sparkling, acerbic, and witty. I had never seen a play before I met him, so I owe my play-going life to meeting him in 1967.

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Advice-Giving: The Forbidden Fruit of Mentoring, Coaching, and Peer Assistance

Four-Way-Split_2Advice-giving in a coaching, mentoring, or peer assistance relationship appears to be a controversial topic. Yet, access to such advice is often the most frequent reason why clients seek the help of coaches, mentors, and peers. How can there be such a disconnect between the anti-advice-giving training that these practitioners receive and the desire on the part of clients and partners to obtain such advice? This article identifies the origin of the no-advice principle and provides a concrete alternative that enables clients to maximize their needs and coaches, mentors, and peer leaders to maximize their skill.

Prohibitions Against Advice-Giving

Lesley Matile, the Managing Director of The Coach Academy and a 25-year veteran coach exemplifies the standard view of advice-giving. She believes that “in the purest form of coaching, which I believe is the most beneficial to clients, there is no room for advice-giving.” She equates “purest form” with a “non-directive” approach to coaching. She has merged the counselling technique originally developed and perfected by psychologist Carl Rogers with coaching. She thinks that giving advice hinders client motivation, ownership, commitment to change, and reduces life-long learning. She does provide two benchmarks to use to determine whether advice given by a coach has value for the client. She instructs coaches to keep track of the number of times a client will say “Yes, but” as a reaction to a coach giving advice; and (2) to track the action taken by the client as a result of coach suggestions versus ideas the client has generated as a result of asking the client a “wisdom-accessing” question.

Management expert Chris Argyris (1999) supports Lesley’s position. Mr. Argyris argues that a preponderance of advice from the “masters” is full of mixed messages and often yields a range of unintended and counterproductive consequences. Often people send these mixed messages without any awareness of doing so. And in many cases, the sender may also send a subtle message that says this advice is not for discussion or full examination. Not all advice will lead to disaster, and Argyris tempers his view by providing a basis for determining how to sort the good from the bad.

Rosamunde Bott (2007), a career and writing coach, believes that making suggestions to clients can actually have a catalytic impact and often helps a “stuck” client or session get back on track. She supports the necessity for a coach to be flexible and not become paralyzed by a coach training instruction such as “coaches should not give advice.”

Parent_Book-coverIt’s likely that the prohibition of advice-giving in a helping relationship was made popular almost 50 years ago when Tom Gordon, a student of Carl Rogers, created the revolutionary approach to raising children known as “Parent Effectiveness Training.” Gordon characterized the typical ways we respond to others into 12 categories called “Roadblocks to Communication.” Such messages interfered with effective communication and typically made the person on the receiving end of such messages feel defensive, blamed, angry, accused, patronized, or admonished; not the necessary ingredients for improving a relationship. Probably the most controversial “roadblock” he identified and the one that appeared to be the most difficult to stop was “giving advice.”

Tom Gordon based his practical ideas on the work of psychotherapists Carl Rogers and Alan Carr, both of whom had no place for advice in their therapy. Most of the thousands of lay practitioners who became advocates for Gordon’s communication effectiveness approach described giving advice as a “no-no.” Literally hundreds of books and articles on communication skills published after his pioneering work echoed or duplicated his twelve roadblocks approach (many without accurate attribution). Parents, teachers, and thousands of others learning the Tom Gordon system were stymied by this end to advice- giving and struggled to prevent it from creeping back into their repertoire.

The best contemporary media example of the prohibition of advice-giving in a helping relationship is depicted weekly in the award-winning TV-show In Treatment. This North American cable-TV show is about a psychologist, Dr. Paul Weston (superbly played by Golden Globe winner Gabriel Byrne), who provides weekly one-on-one psychotherapy to a series of four different clients. The show also includes a weekly session where the psychologist sees his own therapist, Dr. Gina Toll (brilliantly played by Oscar- and Emmy- winner Dianne Wiest).

The show is adapted from a popular Israeli television series and recast for a North American audience. Each week, at some point during the patient’s half-hour session, the patient will ask the therapist for advice. The psychologist always responds by asking the patient a probing question, and never gives the requested advice.

While the show is intense, moving, and very realistic, it also has some lighter moments– one of which highlighted the advice-giving dilemma. At one point when Dr. Weston is in session with his own therapist, he asks her for advice. The therapist responds with a question; to which the psychologist has a short tantrum and says, “Now I understand why my patients get so frustrated when I don’t answer their questions. Just tell me what you think!”

The Alternative for Effective Advice-Giving

But is advice-giving really a “no-no?” Isn’t getting advice often the primary reason people seek out coaches, peers, and mentors? And how many times have coaches and mentors had to “sit on” an idea they thought would truly help the seeker merely because the “no-no” approach taught by all the disciples of “effective” communication admonished them against it.

There is an alternative. Years ago when I was one of Tom Gordon’s students, I created a simple, five-point method for dealing with advice-giving. I modified my mentor’s system so that the powerful human urge to give advice and the strong motivation to get advice from a peer assistant, mentor or coach could occur without being a roadblock to effective communication.

Albert Einstein
Physicist and mentor, Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

In my system, the first step for dealing with advice-giving is to determine the degree of risk associated with giving advice. For example, start by assessing the emotional state and the visionary capacity of the person asking for advice. Is the seeker overwhelmed, calm, agitated, enraged? The more activated (at one end of the emotional continuum) or the more depressed (at the other end of the continuum), the higher the risk that the advice will be meaningless, not heard, or completely rejected. Even worse (and often a stated reason for withholding advice), the advice seeker may act on the advice and when it doesn’t work or leads to even more severe circumstances, the seeker blames the advice giver for the muck he or she is now mired in.

At the same time, a lack of vision, a low ability to forecast, or an inability to state goals, places the advice seeker in a poor position to understand advice and often leads to arguing with, disputing, or demeaning the advice giver. Persons who have a better idea of where they want to go and can articulate their goals are often able to hear advice not as a command, but as a possible option or suggestion.

Before doling out advice, then, the advice giver can reduce the risk of advice-giving contributing to poor communication by assessing both the emotional state and visionary ability of the seeker. When the assessment results in a low-risk conclusion, then advice- giving is more likely going to contribute to an improved and fulfilling relationship. (When the assessment reveals a high-risk situation, then continued deep listening and asking powerful questions are better options than advice-giving.)

When the advice giver determines that the seeker is in an appropriate low-risk state to receive advice, he or she can then extend what I call step two or “the invitation.” In many cases, the seeker has already specifically asked me for advice. But if this hasn’t happened or is implied, I will ask seekers whether they think my sharing a similar experience and what I did about it might be helpful to their situation. In other words, I want the seeker to invite my contribution. I recommend an invitation such as “Would it be useful to you for me to let you know what I did about a similar situation and how it turned out for me?” This step can help the seeker feel supported and that he or she is not alone.

In step three, which I call “the disclosure step” the advice-giver draws upon his or her own life experience and frames the advice within that experience. Rather than saying, “Here’s what you should do…” the advice-giver constructs his or her advice as a personal statement: “When I was experiencing (the advice-giver describes his or her similar situation), here’s what I did or thought…” (The amount of description of the experience may vary depending on the circumstances.) The two key elements to this step are the advice giver’s ability to “own” the advice (“here’s what I did” and not “you should do this…”) and “frame” the advice within his or her own life experience.

The fourth step in effective advice-giving is called “the open dialogue step” and is simply the next sentence that follows the disclosure step. I recommend adding a question to the end of the disclosure statement such as: “In what way, if at all, does my advice fit for your situation?” or “Having heard my description and what I did or told myself, how close does that come for your situation, challenge, or circumstance?” The purpose here is to encourage the advice-seeker to honestly react, respond, reject, or modify the advice giver’s statement without disrupting the relationship.

Finally, in step five the advice giver listens deeply to the reaction of the seeker and through asking powerful questions helps the seeker modify, revise, or create the advice as to what to do or think. I call this final step “switching gears,” (a term borrowed from Tom Gordon). The purpose of this step is for the advice giver to “let go” of the need to give advice, and let go of the need to ensure that the seeker complies with the advice. Instead the advice giver tunes in even more deeply to the seeker’s circumstances and life experience.

Advice-giving is neither good or bad in a coaching relationship. Instead, it’s more useful to think of giving advice as having risks. As coaches, mentors and peer assistants we can reduce the risk and ensure that giving advice contributes to an empowering relationship. Since giving advice and seeking advice are so strongly ingrained in our being, it’s probably more useful to figure out how to do it effectively rather than relying on the more outdated communication skills models that prohibit giving advice.

References

Argyris, C. (1999). Flawed advice and the management trap: How managers can know when they’re getting good advice and when they’re not. London: Oxford University Press.

Bott, R. (2007). To advise or not. Personal Success Magazine. (Retrieved April 30, 2009 from http://tinyurl.com/cjjfx6)

Underhill, B. (2015). To give or not give advice. Peer Bulletin 214, 21-24. (Retrieved August 22, 2016 from http://www.peer.ca/Projects/Peer_Resources_Network.html)

“Share your success and help others succeed. Give everyone a chance to have a piece of the pie. If the pie’s not big enough, make a bigger pie.”

~ Dave Thomas (1932-2002) ~

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The Olympic Challenge for Mentoring Olympic Athletes

Virtually all athletes who participate at the Olympic level have mentors or will become mentors. The most difficult task for the mentoring relationship is helping the athlete deal with the feelings and thoughts associated with outcomes from the Olympic games. Whether the athlete was a medalist or did not medal doesn’t matter when it comes to learning how to gain spiritual and psychological benefits from the experience. Dealing with success and adulation can be just as difficult as dealing with failure, disappointment, and obscurity.

Sometimes the challenge to the mentoring relationship comes from the fact that the mentor is also an Olympic-level athlete. This can aid in understanding, knowledge and sharing wisdom, but it can also interfere with the athlete being mentored being able to find his or her own path through adversity or the vestiges of success. Recovering from feelings of humiliation, letting down parents, friends, and country in front of millions of people, or not living up to expectations cannot be successfully managed with a “cheer-up, it happens to us all; we can learn from failure” advice from a mentor. Instead, the crucial skill for the mentor is being able to dwell in authenticity, stillness, acceptance and a mindfulness that enables the mentored athlete to fully explore his or her own range of feelings and reactions. Uncovering the story the athlete has been telling him or herself about his/her Olympic performance is an essential element of mentoring that is meant to be transformational and spiritually relevant to the developing athlete.

Byron Katie put it this way: “I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always.”The mentor can help the mentored athlete turn around his or her story of limiting beliefs by integrating Byron Katies’ four questions into the mentoring conversation:  “Is it true?” “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?” “How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?” and “Who would you be without the thought?”

The mentor can help the mentored athlete turn around his or her story of limiting beliefs by integrating Byron Katie’s four questions into the mentoring conversation:  “Is it true?” “Can you absolutely know that it’s true?” “How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?” and “Who would you be without the thought?”

Here are some examples of Olympic athletes and their mentors taken from the Mentor Hall of Fame at http://www.mentors.ca/mentorpairs.html

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Dr. John Seward (1905-1985): A Mentor Transforms Adversity into Achievement

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When I was growing up I dreamed of a career with a professional baseball team. I attended university on a baseball scholarship and thought I was on my way. But two short conversations changed all of that and changed my life. And I’m glad they did.

It was near the end of a grueling season. My university team was on its way to setting a record for the most losses in its history. We had travelled back and forth across the country playing teams whose star players went on to play in the major leagues. I was playing with and against some of the best talent in the game. Several seniors on my team were already reviewing contracts with professional clubs. But I was, to paraphrase a famous former ball player and sports announcer, “one of the best of the mediocre players.”

That afternoon we were playing our traditional cross-town rivals, a university that consistently fielded one of the best baseball teams in the country. Their power hitters were easily knocking balls onto the steps of the fraternities on the other side of the center field fence. Even the players at the end of their lineup were turning singles into doubles.

I had been getting more playing time as the 60+ game season wound down, and today I was in the starting lineup replacing our injured first baseman. I struck out three times, got hit by a pitch, made three fielding errors, bruised my hip chasing a foul tip into the stands, and sprained my ankle while sliding into second base.

At the end of the game, the coach gathered the team together and proceeded to single out individual players for feedback. When it was my turn, he asked me: “What are you doing on this team? How do you expect to go further playing the way you did today? What were you thinking when you did X?” He wasn’t interested in answers even if I did have any. I was disappointed with my play and now I felt humiliated, dejected, and ridiculed.

As I was leaving the field a professor, Dr. John Seward, who taught introductory psychology, which I was taking along with 350 other undergraduates, came up by my side. He said he had come out to watch the game and was delighted to learn that one of his students was playing on the team. At first, I didn’t even realize he was referring to me. The only personal recognition I had experienced at this large university was when my coach would single me out and say, “What’s your name again?”

Dr. Seward said, “Looked like you were having a really tough day out there.” I grunted some reply. But then he asked, “How are you feeling about the way you played?” I stopped walking, turned towards him with unexpected tears in my eyes, and a torrent of feelings, worries, and concerns came forth, most of which I didn’t really know were inside me. He listened to me patiently and when my outburst slowed to a trickle, he asked me, “What do you want to do about all of this?”

I didn’t have any answers to his last question then. But the next day I went to his office and thanked him for listening to me. I told him I was embarrassed about my reaction to his previous questions, but I had been thinking about what he had asked me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the two simple questions he asked me happened during a period of life transition. Those questions changed my perspective, opened me to a new way of being with people, and helped me find a way to turn adversity into achievement. His reaching out to help a young ballplayer in distress turned into one of the most influential moments of my life.

As a consequence of our interaction, I gave up my sports scholarship, quit the team, changed my major to psychology, and took what turned out to be a three-year job as one of Dr. Seward’s research assistants.

Over time we had many learning discussions that went beyond the behavioural research focus of our work. In another article (The Four Pillars: What Life Lessons I Learned from My Mentors) I summarized what I learned from Dr. Seward as learn from your fears; let adversity be a teacher; learn from mistakes; open your mind, particularly when you think you know it all; and your purpose in life is to strive to bring out the best in yourself by bringing out the best in others.

When I learned that my mentor died in 1985, I sent a letter to his wife, Georgene, expressing my belated condolences and telling her how he had influenced my life. She wrote back thanking me for my letter and telling me that she had received dozens of letters like mine from his former students.

Dr. John Seward, who obtained his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1931 along with fellow student, Carl Rogers, was a great teacher, employer and mentor, and a leading authority on behavioural psychology. His compassion, authenticity, and mentoring will live forever in my heart. The two questions he asked me, and his genuine curiosity about my answers have become a foundation for helping myself through difficult times as well as assisting others to deal with adversity.

Recent Entries to Peer Resources’ Mentor Hall of Fame Database

I continuously update the Mentor Hall of Fame database. Many of the new entries come from books I read, or, more sadly, from obituaries of a mentor or a person who had a mentor.

As I may have noted in a previous post, one of the characteristics of mentoring is that when a mentor dies (or died some time ago), the mentoring doesn’t actually stop. That is, a mentor has left a legacy inside the person they have mentored that continues on for a lifetime. So I do not characterize a mentoring relationship as Person X “was a mentor” to Person Y, if person X has died. Instead, I will use the phrase “Person X is a mentor to Person Y to indicate that mentoring continues even after the mentor has passed on.

Canadian activist/author Mel Hurtig (1932-2016) is a mentor to Canadian author,  activist, and leader of the Council of Canadians Maude Barlow.

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Access the entire Mentor Hall of Fame database.

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Solving a Multi-Billion Dollar Problem with Mentoring

In 1995 Peer Resources conducted a national study of the 2000 most productive corporations in Canada to determine the extent to which they were involved in mentoring (Carr, 1999). Almost 1700 of these companies participated in and completed our interviews. Our findings revealed that the two primary reasons for establishing a mentoring program in these highest producing Canadian corporations were (1) to provide opportunities for the career development of employees, and (2) to identify and nurture leadership potential in employees.

We also found one other result. Unfortunately, we did not pay sufficient attention to this additional finding because at the time we were too focused on how to bring mentoring youth in the community and corporate mentoring experience together. Today, however, this finding could be considered a multi-billion dollar oversight. What we found was that less than five percent of the sampled corporations reported that mentoring served either the purpose of (1) attracting and retaining employees, or (2) establishing systematic leadership succession planning.

Ironically, these two infrequently noted mentoring strategies can be more easily examined in terms of cost implications or return on investment (ROI) than either of two reasons that led most companies to initiate mentoring programs. Today, for example, more and more companies are recognizing the cost of losing an employee. Turnover or employee loss can be as high as 50 percent in some industries. Previously all the costs associated with recruiting, interviewing, selecting, and training a replacement employee remained obscure. Now, however, business analysts have consistently calculated that for every employee that leaves a company the cost to the company will be about 1.5 times the employee’s salary to hire a replacement.

I don’t shop at Wal-Mart very often, but I’m always impressed by the range of products and friendly service. Yet I noticed something that seemed at odds with the friendly service: I hardly ever encountered the same employee when I returned to scout out another product. My observation was verified by a stunning figure that appeared in a recent business newspaper. Wal-Mart has to hire between 500,000 and 600,000 employees a year to replace employees who leave. While the article I read was focusing on the progress unions were making in organizing workers (not much), the turnover figure left me wondering about Wal-Mart and how much this turnover is costing them.

Wal-Mart employs close to 1.6 million associates worldwide. The average salary of a Wal-Mart employee is estimated to be between $US13,000-15,000. Managers average between $80,000 and $106,000. Using the cost-of-turnover formula, this means that Wal-Mart spends approximately $1 billion dollars annually just to replace employees!

Replacement cost also includes the costs associated with (1) a staff managing the existing workload when an employee leaves, and (2) the time staff must take to orient a new employee and bring him or her up to speed. If turnover is extensive, it can severely disrupt the workplace and have a dramatic impact on productivity. These factors, which previously were not considered part of turnover cost calculations, are now more likely to be estimated when assessing how turnover impacts the dollar value of productivity.

Recognition of this cost has prompted many companies to search for better ways to reduce turnover and increase an employee’s commitment to and connection with the organization. Some of these companies rely exclusively on strategies that improve pay, bonuses, perks, or other financial incentives. But a rapidly increasing number of corporations are relying on mentoring strategies to prevent or reduce turnover. The primary reason for choosing mentoring is because study after study of new employees,questioned about what attracts and keeps them associated with their employers, has shown three consistent needs: (1) opportunities available for learning; (2) associations with people who care about the work they do; and (3) ability to engage in meaningful work. No other workplace strategy can fit more snugly with these needs than mentoring.

Employees are not the only ones who leave a corporation. One of the results described in a recent study by Booz Allen Hamilton (2004) of the world’s 2,500 largest companies has shown a dramatic rise in the number of CEO’s (14 percent) leaving their corporate position. European and Asian countries have even higher percentages of revolving door CEOs.

A recent study (Bloomberg.com) showed that the average CEO pay in 70 of the 100 largest companies in the US is $14.1 million. Yet too few of these corporations have in place any type of leadership succession plan. The number of companies that hire an external CEO far outnumbers those that hire from within. Yet data from the Booz Allen Hamilton study shows that external hires are more likely to result in an unsuccessful tenure often resulting in the newly-hired CEO leaving before term, lowered overall productivity, and an endless string of bad hires. The situation has become so rampant at the top executive level, the authors of the Booz Allen Hamilton study called CEOs “the new ‘temps’ of the working world.”

The cost to replace a CEO is staggering. Yet the cost to create a leadership succession plan where top executives mentor less senior executives is minimal. Corporations must establish a way to groom future candidates for the chief executive position. The creation of an executive-level mentoring system is essential to continue the productivity of the corporation and the accountability to shareholders. McDonalds (as reported in the Booz Allen Hamilton study) lost two CEO’s to untimely deaths during one year. Yet they were able to continue on despite these tragedies because of their well-established executive mentoring program.

Mentoring today is necessary at all levels of corporate life. While ROI isn’t the only reason to initiate and maintain a mentoring program in business, the tools available now to measure such returns add considerable weight to the value of mentoring and its impact on benefits to corporate life.

For further information about the studies cited in this article:

Carr, R. (Winter, 1999). The status of corporate mentoring in Canada: A survey of the 2,000 most productive businesses. Compass: A Magazine for Peer Assistance, Mentorship, and Coaching, 15, 1, 13-19. (Retrieved from http://www.peer.ca/Compassinfo.html).

Lucier, C., Schuyt, R., and Tse, E. (Summer, 2005). CEO succession 2004: The world’s most prominent temp workers. strategy+business. (Retrieved from http://www.strategy-business.com/article/05204?gko=47020-1876-9227977).

Riggs, P. (2005). Executive remuneration: thriving under observation? Mercer Human Resource Consulting. (Retrieved from http://www.ceoforum.com.au/200412_remuneration.cfm).

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

~ Warren Buffett ~