Mentoring: The sensible succession plan

South Africa has recently witnessed numerous succession disasters in companies and parastatals. Eskom, Transnet, Post Office, SAA, SABC and many more have been victim to leadership replacements that did not deliver the expected results.  An alarming number of newly minted leaders fail spectacularly, ill prepared to do the jobs for which they supposedly have been groomed.

This is not only a local problem.   Look at Coca-Cola’s M. Douglas Ivester, long-time CFO and Robert Goizueta’s second in command, who became CEO after Goizueta’s death. Ivester was forced to resign in two and a half years, thanks to a serious slide in the company’s share price, some bad public-relations moves, and the poor handling of a product contamination scare in Europe. Or consider Mattel’s Jill Barad, whose winning track record in marketing catapulted her into the top job—but didn’t give her insight into the financial and strategic aspects of running a large corporation.  These examples are strongly contrasted with General Electric, who had a strong leader for many years in the person of Mr Jack Welch, who was followed by Mr. Jeffrey Immelt.  He was, in his own words, groomed and mentored by Mr Welch for a significant time that led to Mr Immelt taking GE to all-time record highs on all levels of the business.

When it comes to business priorities, survival and success, the importance of leadership training cannot be underestimated. The managers, supervisors and entire personnel are the major determining factors that directly impact the company’s productivity and success.

Demands of empowerment, diversification and transfer of ownership to previously disadvantaged individuals have compounded succession planning in South Africa to one of the most critical success and survival strategies in any size of company.

Identifying and developing internal employees to fulfil key roles within the company is a strategic imperative if you want to ensure that your company fully lives up to its mission statement.  Recruiting top level managers externally is always an option. However, this will hinder the stability of the business and negatively affect the sense of direction that the company is moving towards, creating uncertainty on all levels.

On the other hand, a clearly defined and well-communicated succession plan allows employees to know that there is opportunity for career growth internally. Aligning their career development with the hierarchy of the business not only creates a motivated workforce, but also creates a highly skilled and capable group of employees.

Numerous studies have concluded that mentoring relationships are a significant factor in succession planning, career development, skill development, as well as adding value to the implementation of equity plans. It is therefore not surprising that South African companies are slowly but surely becoming more committed to people development.

Mentoring is particularly useful within the context of employment equity, race diversity and gender diversity. Due to the inequality of the South African managerial profile, the reality is that the majority of managers are white and the majority of employees are black. In order to change this profile, transfers of skills and leadership are essential and this is exactly where mentoring can excel the transformation.  In fact, without effective mentoring, most companies will struggle to achieve their employment equity targets.  The value of mentoring lies in the fact that mentoring is the quickest way of transferring skills, and thereby accelerating empowerment in the workplace. No amount of formal training and informal courses can achieve what mentoring can do. With mentoring a member of a designated group targeted for a higher-level position can work with a mentor to acquire the skills needed to function at a more senior level.  Even more important is the fact that the value system and culture within a company can be transferred and instilled in a mentee that guarantees successful succession like no other training.

The appeal of mentoring is that it brings individuals together on a one-to-one basis, bypassing bureaucracy and institutions. Mentoring assumes committed people engaging in a lasting and meaningful relationship that will produce far-reaching benefits.  Mentorship implies that a more experienced person will have skills or knowledge from which a less experienced person might benefit through guidance and sincere interest. A mentor is someone who lends guidance and support to enable the less experienced person to become whoever he or she chooses to be.

Implementing an effective mentoring programme in any size company is often underestimated and can be disruptive and even destructive if not managed by a specialist.  Focussed training and guidance is required for the mentors prior to implementing such a programme.  It is also required that a well structured mentoring programme is provided to mentors that includes the relevant topics to discuss, combined with worksheets and practical projects for mentees to establish skills transfer and opportunities for mentors to provide focussed guidance.  PA Consulting Inc. has developed a comprehensive Leadership Mentoring Programme for implementation (and customisation) in small, medium and large companies.  Please contact Pieter Albertyn for more details.

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