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4 Do's and Don'ts of Mentoring

It Takes a Real Leader to Groom a New One
4 Do's and Don'ts of Mentoring
Craig Blackbourn, a former audit manager at Intel Corp, felt stuck within finance and wanted to broaden his career options. So, he participated in a structured mentoring program for two years with Malcolm Harkins, chief information security officer at the company. As a mentor, Harkins helped Blackbourn take control of his career and shared his own experiences and career transition from finance into an IT security leader.

"Giving me that insight and breadth of what he (Harkins) did personally was immensely helpful," Blackbourn adds. Today, he is managing the controls group within IT security, and feels his career opening into better and broader roles. "Now, sky is the limit," Blackbourn says.

Harkins engages in structured mentoring via the company's internal website dedicated to mentoring employees. Using the intranet site, mentees and mentors at Intel connect with each other based on their requirements, areas of interest and leadership profile.

"For me mentoring begins with very honest and open conversations about expectations," Harkins says. "What mentees expect to get out of this relationship is important to establish."

Formally, Harkins mentors about three employees over the course of a year or more, and informally meets with at least 15-20 individuals that want his help to either figure out how to navigate a large company, obtain leadership skills or act as a sounding board for career progression strategies.

"Biggest thing I mention to protégés is to make sure they are transparent, authentic and committed," Harkins says. "They should know what they know and what they don't know."

Building a Mentoring Program

A mentor, in practice, serves as a counselor or guide. "Mentoring is critical because it addresses the need for change and agility, which is key in helping people today," says Lisa Roen, a senior HR executive within Crowe Horwath's learning and talent development group. "An organization that values its employees and is committed to providing opportunities for them to grow is an ideal candidate for initiating a mentoring program." Roen, a human resource specialist for over a decade. has helped companies like Crowe develop mentoring programs. She finds that organizations generally initiate such programs to boost employee productivity, encourage retention or groom the next generation of leaders for an effective succession plan. Here she suggests the following three considerations for organizations looking to initiate a mentoring program:

  • Mission - Identify the needs of the organization and philosophy about mentoring (the why's). Organizations have to set clear objectives for this program - is mentoring targeted to orient employees on how to navigate the company, or is it aimed at enhancing employees' jobs and leadership skills? It is important for management to understand what the program will accomplish and what outcomes will result for the participants, Roen says. "For many organizations, simply creating more engaged employees is reason enough to initiate mentoring programs, because they know this leads to higher profits."
  • Organization's Culture - The second step after determining the objectives is to align this program with the culture of the organization. This will need organizations to delve deeper into issues such as defining the structure, nature and type of the mentoring program. Will this be a structured or informal approach, will it be a stand-alone program or part of the employee development and performance review? "It is critical to consider an organization's culture and how mentoring does or does not fit," Roen says. "At Crowe, ongoing mentoring includes discussion of professional goals, training needs and encouraging questions with an open door policy."
  • Core Areas - Specific areas to consider in program development include the roles (who), the process (how), and the resources/tools available to support each. The ownership of such programs is usually with human resources in an organization. Therefore, it is critical that HR understand their role, involvement, time commitment and funding issues needed to build a successful mentoring program.

    The process includes identifying the leaders within the firm and providing them with adequate training and support. Determine program parameters and criteria on how to match mentors and mentees based on skills, career objectives or training needs. HR also needs to get details on successful tracking and evaluation of the program. "Such relationships do not just happen; they need ongoing support and monitoring from the organization," Roen says.

How Mentoring Begins

When Devon Bryan discusses what legacy he left behind as a Deputy CISO for a decade at the Internal Revenue Service, he does not focus on his management of FISMA compliance or his initiatives in establishing sound cybersecurity policies. But he is proud of his role as a mentor in developing three IT employees from the trenches.

For over 100,000 employees at IRS, there are only 300 executives, "So my biggest accomplishment is the ability to positively impact the careers of three employees and groom them into future executives," says Bryan, currently the director of client services for enterprise security at ADP, a payroll service and human resource management company. "Mentoring to me is a core part of leadership and a necessary attribute to what makes a good leader."

At IRS, Bryan adopted both formal and informal ways of mentoring his protégés. Informally, professionals throughout the organization approached him to seek his advice on career path guidance or promotion tips to attain leadership positions within the company. Formally, either the organization assigned him professionals to coach, or he often picked candidates himself.

"Occasionally I have looked for diamonds in the rough, so to speak," he says. "I like looking for people that have the necessary leadership attribute, but need little bit of polish to round up their portfolio."

In the case of the three individuals he mentored, all had a broad IT background and were front-line system folks that were looking for career growth. He spent about two-to-three hours every month for a period of five years to help them reach their goal. During this period, Bryan assigned them recommended books to read, encouraged them to acquire appropriate business management and security credentials and participate in leading seminars. In addition, he got them enrolled in the IRS personality development program.

Patrick Howard, CISO at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, adopts an informal approach to mentoring and believes in an open door policy. He mentors 8-10 individuals by meeting with them a couple times in the course of a year. "I always make myself available," he says. "I am willing to let people hear my story, to see if it fits for them or not in its entirety."

Benefits of Mentoring

However, not everyone makes a good mentor. The biggest challenge with mentoring is "to find the time to do it right," says Howard. But the benefits of mentoring easily outweigh the challenges, and CISOs largely recognize the significance of developing the next generation of leaders for succession planning programs within their organizations.

"It's really about looking around to see who we have in our current workforce that we should be grooming so we have someone to fill our positions when we move on," Bryan says.

For Howard, the benefit lies in changing people to be more effective professionally. "It is a rewarding experience when people prepare position papers that are a lot more understandable or deal with an incident or situation far better than they did before."

In addition, mentoring helps leaders professionally earn bonus points on their own performance reviews, paving their way for further senior positions within their firms.

The 4 Do's and Don'ts

Keys to remember about mentoring:

  1. Be Approachable and open in your discussions with protégés. "People need to feel comfortable about asking questions and benefit from your advice," says Howard. CISOs need to follow an open-door policy when it comes to mentoring others and have the desire to sit and meaningfully discuss their careers with them.
  2. Don't Favor your Protégé if a position opens up in the IT security department or elsewhere within the organization. Leaders need to practice equal opportunity for all; they should not engage in pre-selection for job openings or be upset if their mentees do not get a raise. They need to act with "integrity and fairness at all times, even though they are mentoring that individual," Bryan says.
  3. Be Genuine and express a true interest in the person. Understand what their needs are and where they are coming from in order to give them the best advice. In addition, leaders need to provide honest feedback, for instance, about the time it will take them to attain their goals. Often mentors need to stress "what protégés don't want to hear at times," Bryan says.
  4. Don't Limit Yourself by just engaging in one-to-one mentoring sessions. Establish a diverse mentoring program and initiate social learning and leadership discussions that can influence a group of people. "Go deeper and engage with employees at the organization to see things from a more complete view," Harkins says.
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About the Author

Upasana Gupta

Upasana Gupta

Contributing Editor, CareersInfoSecurity

Upasana Gupta oversees CareersInfoSecurity and shepherds career and leadership coverage for all Information Security Media Group's media properties. She regularly writes on career topics and speaks to senior executives on a wide-range of subjects, including security leadership, privacy, risk management, application security and fraud. She also helps produce podcasts and is instrumental in the global expansion of ISMG websites by recruiting international information security and risk experts to contribute content, including blogs. Upasana previously served as a resource manager focusing on hiring, recruiting and human resources at Icons Inc., an IT security advisory firm affiliated with ISMG. She holds an MBA in human resources from Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa.