Team Mentoring: Boosts Employee Development

By Dockery, Kenneth L.; Sahl, Robert J. | Workforce, August 1998 | Go to article overview

Team Mentoring: Boosts Employee Development


Dockery, Kenneth L., Sahl, Robert J., Workforce


Despite a long history of being a good employer, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based Fuller Company began seeing high turnover among its most strategically important human resources. In the early '90s, young men and women who had been with the company for only two or three years, including high-potential managers and engineers, were leaving at rates that reached 20 percent per year, taking with them skills, talents and experience that represented a lost investment to Fuller.

In effect, the company had become a training ground for its competitors, just at a time when global growth was putting new demands on the company for technical and managerial excellence.

Fuller is an engineering firm that supplies everything from complete plants and machines to parts and services for the cement, mineral processing and chemical industries. Thus, retention and development of technically skilled managers are critical priorities. (The company was founded in 1926, and net sales reached $529 million in 1996.) Fuller operates as an autonomous company within the F.L. Smith-Fuller Engineering Group, and employs nearly a quarter of the Group's 3,900 employees worldwide, with a high concentration of specialized engineering professionals. Therefore, senior management was forced to take a serious look at how they were building our employee pipeline.

From this came the Targeted Employee Development Program (TEDP). Announced in 1995 by Fuller CEO Ib Jacobsen, it's a human resources strategy developed by the King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based WMS and Company Inc., a management consulting firm. This mentor-team program assures the cultivation of key managers and technical leaders required for the future of our company. Its name describes the process: Potential leaders are targeted by management and coached through the development of critical leadership and technical skills. Their progress is then carefully followed by senior management. An added benefit of the program is that participants recognize their importance to the future of the organization, and are more likely to remain with the company.

Within the last three years, we've faced less than a 2 percent turnover rate. At Fuller's Bethlehem-based U.S. headquarters and nearby manufacturing plants, a uniquely vigorous mentor-team approach has not only stopped the brain drain among high-potential professionals, but has turned professional development into a way of life in the organization.

As a side effect, the 30 or so participants in the program are themselves mentors for TEDP aspirants among the company's more than 1,000 employees in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, developing leadership skills that focus on HR development. During an intensive 12-week orientation program, TEDP participants meet on a regular basis with newly hired professionals and establish themselves as resources for continued guidance for the employees during their first two years with the company.

Individual development is a team effort. None of the specific characteristics of TEDP are necessarily new to human resources management, although their combination and the level of team participation in individual development are probably rare. These characteristics include:

Senior management's initial commitment and continuing involvement in the process-something much talked about in annual reports, but rarely practiced in most organizations. Each quarter, Fuller's senior management teams review the development program and progress of each TEDP participant. Senior managers often make suggestions for field assignments or job rotation to help broaden the experience base of a participant. Senior management's regular review of each candidate's profile results in our senior management team knowing each participant better, which allows our senior managers to encourage the development of the participants in day-to-day interactions with their managers.

A supportive team made up of department heads, HR professionals, an outside consultant and senior managers. …

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