Magazine article Workforce Management

Looking for a Mentor? Technology Can Help Make the Right Match

Magazine article Workforce Management

Looking for a Mentor? Technology Can Help Make the Right Match

Article excerpt

Web services remove guesswork by letting workers choose advisers

MICHAEL WITT was products stewardship specialist at Dow formally connected with mentors over the years in hopes of learning more about how his company operates. But he couldn't find the right individual or structure he needed to broaden his scope until he clicked around on his computer last year and found a mentor via the firm's Web-matching software system.

Similar to a Google search or an online dating service, Witt input the qualities he wanted in a mentor and out came a list of names with the closest match at the top. The top mentor candidate surprised Witt. It was Dow CIO David Kepler, someone he had never met. "I hadn't even been to the executive offices," Witt says. But the match turned out to be perfect. Since February 2003, the two have been meeting every six to eight weeks to discuss career development, and today Witt is part of a team that oversees product development for two of the firm's units-and he believes he's on track to lead a Dow function someday.

The use of technology in mentor matching is a natural progression for U.S. businesses that are hungry to implement or expand such programs but want to do it at the lowest cost possible during lean times. "Everyone has seen the demographics-the majority of companies will lose half their senior management teams by 2010," says Albert Vicere, professor of strategic leadership at Smeal College of Business Administration at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. "As a result, companies are asking, 'Do we have the talent to deal with all this transition at the top?' "

Many studies on corporate leadership put mentoring high on the list of how companies can shape potential managers. It's also key to retaining top talent, Vicere adds.

Companies that have implemented formal programs are finding their employees are increasingly using e-mail and the Internet to connect with their mentors and mentees, so why not hand over the mentor matching process to computers? "The technology is there, and people are beginning to accept it. I refer to it as the e-dimension to mentoring," says Florence Stone, author of The Mentoring Advantage. Because the industry is still in its infancy, it's hard to say how big it is. Few, if any, analysts who follow management software products have looked at Web-based mentoring offerings specifically. But Tony White, senior analyst for the Boston-based Yankee Group, says the segment is growing and he suspects, based on anecdotal information, "more and more companies are adopting it."

Dow was one of the early adopters of Web-based matching and uses it primarily to broaden the mentoring process. In 1997, the chemical firm went through some changes that made online mentoring essential, says Frank Morgan, global director of executive development and leadership for the Midland, Michigan-based firm. "We did away with all our field sales offices and at the same time we became a truly global organization. We now have offices in 167 countries, 45,000 workers. If we were going to do mentoring, we really needed to do it online."

THE MATCH GAME

The system appears to be working. The previous mentoring system permitted employees to go on the company's intranet and use a tool to find mentoring that would help them fulfill certain job competencies. The only problem was that at the end of the process, a screen popped up that said, "Go find a mentor."

"Not very helpful unless you knew one," Morgan says.

In 2000, Dow Chemical selected Triple Creek Associates Inc. in Greenwood Village, Colorado, because of its "smart matching system" and paid $90,000 for installation and $30,000 in annual lees, compared with the $100,000 annually the firm was paying for the old system. Morgan estimates it would have cost him about $500,000 to install and maintain a similar Web matching system in-house.

Dow Chemical currently has 1,500 mentoring pairs throughout the company and estimates that 2,500-plus employees have used it over the four years. …

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