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When Mentoring in Manufacturing Backfires

Frustrated Worker 1

Most manufacturers are familiar with the many benefits of implementing a mentoring program.

A solid, well-executed program significantly shortens the time it takes for new hires to become fully productive while ensuring their long-term success. 

Mentoring also improves retention by creating strong bonds with workgroups and promotes a culture of learning.

However, as you would expect, the success of any mentoring program is based on the quality and quantity of training, as mentoring involves much more than pairing new or struggling employees with those who are experienced and competent in particular sets of skills.

To be effective, mentors also need a high degree of people skills, such as:

  1. Having a genuine interest in teaching and helping mentees succeed
  2. Being a good active listener
  3. Being a good facilitator of learning and problem-solving
  4. Having an abundance of patience
  5. Having a knack for motivating people to always give their best
  6. Making themselves available, especially in times of stress or chaos
  7. Being an advocate for their company

When you consider the investment of time and money you’ve made in finding each one of your hires, you’ll want to make sure to set them on the smoothest path to becoming productive, valuable team members who will meet or exceed the requirements of their jobs. Most importantly, you’ll want to make sure they build strong relationships with other valued employees along the way.

Pairing an employee with an untrained or underqualified mentor will surely backfire, causing more harm than good not only to the mentee but also to your company and its culture in two dangerous ways:

  1. The mentor may unintentionally teach the mentee his or her bad habits, resulting in substandard work quality, excessive waste, or even serious injury.
  2. If a mentor role was forced onto an employee, s/he will not go into the mentor/mentee relationship with a healthy or helpful mindset. The mentee will feel this resentment, become frustrated, and may not last long.

CASES IN POINT

Sam was a plant employee I interviewed for one of my culture assessments. Sam shared with me the time he was assigned a mentor named Phil who had more than 30 years on the job. On Sam’s third day, Phil seemed especially frustrated and angrily asked Sam if he had rocks in his head when he wasn’t able to grasp certain aspects of his new job. Sam claimed his mentor was oftentimes unapproachable, and at one time was heard to mumble under his breath that Sam was a typical millennial who “doesn’t know shit.”

When Sam explained the situation to his supervisor, he was told that Phil had always been a grump but didn’t mean any harm. Sam’s supervisor also said that Phil was one of the most skilled employees he’d ever had and that Sam needed to tough it out and not take Phil’s comments personally because he could learn a lot from him.

Sam left after three and a half months on the job, and he wasn’t the only short-timer at the company.

Conversely, in similar assessment interviews at another company, where mentors were given just a modest amount of training, several employees shared with me that one of their mentors, Bob, was always encouraging and patient.  Each mentee stated that Bob would’ve made a great teacher. Another mentor, Sara, also came up in conversation. Sara’s best trait was that she always did her best to make herself available, and always followed up with her mentees to make sure things were going okay. This particular company was known as a “best place to work” in the area.

When other mentors at the company witnessed the relationships Bob and Sara were building with their mentees and the results they were achieving, they became better mentors themselves.  Over time, the company became more successful at retaining its employees, and productivity measurably increased.

Unfortunately for their own bottom lines, it seems as if many manufacturers will move mountains to find the money for technical/skills-based training, but resist investing in equally important soft-skills (people) training.

Give serious thought to creating a mentoring program, or to enhancing –the one you have.  It’s just something to think about as you try to attract and retain a quality workforce.

If you would like support or guidance with establishing or enhancing a mentoring program for your company, let’s talk.

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