CSD: Who Was Your Mentor?

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Dec 16, 2011
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Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of an article from Convenience Store Decisions magazine.

Way back when I entered the oil industry as a bookkeeper in 1968, I did not have a clue how fortunate I was to have not one, but two great mentors.

Both have had an enormous impact on me and my family, as I have enjoyed a lifelong lift from being in their presence during the early part of my career.

I thought I was being ‘trained,’ but mentoring goes far beyond training. I would surmise that mentoring starts where training ends. Training is an obligation, where mentoring is passion.

The most concise description of mentoring that I have come across is that a mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself. Don’t we all really need that?

It is my sincere opinion that a would-be mentor is looking for candidates who have the potential, desire and determination that evokes memories of one’s own younger years and thus stimulates the desire to assist.

For those of us who have had the good fortune to receive outstanding leadership and guidance in our careers, there is an obligation to ‘pay it forward.’ While researching the role of a mentor in business, I found that there is actually a Pay it Forward organization based on the book and movie bearing the same name.

Paying it forward is to act without the expectation of being paid back, but with the hope that the recipient pays the favor forward by helping someone else.

The c-store industry has an unmatched record in sharing information and encouraging employees. We can be proud of that track record, but as you look around at many of our leaders, there is quite a bit of gray showing. For the industry to continue to flourish, the leadership torch must continually be passed on to a new generation. In short, the time is now to impart your wisdom.

There is more than an implied obligation to continue mentoring and paying it forward. Seek out those in your organization who might need that extra push and you just might find a diamond in the rough.

Mentoring also affords employees an opportunity to start anew with an improved attitude.

The c-store industry remains under constant attack by drug stores, supermarkets and big box operators that want to steal our business. Now more than ever we need to expand and improve our mentoring efforts if we are to continue the growth and profits that we count on to sustain our future. Remember that old saying, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

Discussion questions: Is mentoring becoming a lost tradition at retail? How can retail organizations, down to the store manager level, create better environments to encourage mentoring?

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13 Comments on "CSD: Who Was Your Mentor?"


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Joan Treistman
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Mentoring requires the mentors of course and an environment where those mentored can feel the advantage of their personal growth. When company cultures reinforce a philosophy of indentured servitude, mentoring doesn’t have a chance, and that includes no chance for the company to benefit from the personal growth and passion of their staff.

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

So much of what I do for a living has to do with mentoring future leaders of new brands, CPG companies, industry managers and executives, and clients of many different types within the retail CPG space. Admittedly, I do a great job with this part of my business, but there would be no way I could be this effective, without having had outstanding mentors of my own as I grew up in the business in companies like Smith Kline Beecham, Gillette, and P&G. Entrepreneurs that try to go at it in this business without proper training should find a mentor and hire that person at the very start before making costly mistakes and before overlooking the many slippery slopes in this business. Know what you don’t know and get a mentor!

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I agree that mentoring is becoming a lost tradition across all industries, including retail. Part of the difficulty in providing sound mentoring is the lack of longevity these days in any organization. The mantra for professional growth is via organizations rather than within organizations. Lacking senior or experienced managers, there is little in the way of mentor talent.

I suggest that organizations of all class and type reach out to their local universities for help. Universities have senior business faculty in all disciplines that reflect the functional areas of the corporation, e.g., marketing, finance, accounting, etc.

Faculty mentors can help today’s harried managers and potential leaders to see the hope inside themselves. Everyone could win by developing such relationships.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
9 years 4 months ago

I don’t think store-level mentoring has ever been a retail tradition, at least in the past 30-40 years, due to high turnover and increasing demands on the time of managers. Retailers will need to probably put more managers on the floor to effectively allow time for mentoring, which will create upfront costs but hopefully pay off down the road with improved customer experience and lower turnover.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Well … that all depends.

No question “negative” mentoring occurs. If you don’t believe that, take a look at internal shrink numbers. People teach each other both how to steal and why it is alright.

On the positive side of mentoring, I agree with David. It’s been multiple decades since positive mentoring worked in other than the tightest of retail communities.

Why?

Most people aren’t encouraged to think of retailing as a career so they don’t bother to teach or learn.

Want to increase mentoring? Make people feel like being a retail worker is a profession.

Other than that … keep an eye out for those sweethearts.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

The retail business is not at all like it was during the twentieth century. And I suspect that the next ten years will see many more new and as of now unknown methods of operation. People of all generations are seeing the way they must do their jobs change over and over again. These facts make mentoring as we knew it a thing of the past. I see the modern mentor spending more time developing the pupil’s market directional finding skills. This is a unique moment in history where we find there is no king of the hill in the world markets. The people that are successful finding how this economy will evolve into another boom market will no doubt do well and owe much to their guide coaches.

David Zahn
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Mentoring is a terrific gift that senior executives or experienced personnel can provide to the less tenured or seasoned employees — but it is also a two-way street. Mentees need to also seek out those that they can learn from (in an informal sense — the formal mentoring programs tend to become bureaucratic and once institutionalized, become something that MUST be done rather than something one WANTS to do).

When there is a connection between the person wanting to be mentored and a suitable mentor, the payoffs are quite worthwhile. The issue is trying to capture lightning in a bottle. Make it an HR initiative and it tends to lose impact. Allow it to occur organically and it is hard to manage and ensure it’s occurring.

However, once it exists — it goes a LONG way to increasing commitment to the company, productivity, morale, and all the things that HR is likely to want to measure and use in assessing their selection, retention, hiring, promotion, etc.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Mentoring has not been a factor in my years involved with the retail world. At least not at the store level. I have seen it be successful behind the scenes, especially in the stores facilities maintenance departments. Two who come to mind quickly are The Container Store and Ritz Camera.

Mentoring has been most successful to me in my past when sales was my dominant focus (still is). A strong compassionate mentor can make the difference in one’s professional career.

George Whalin
Guest
George Whalin
9 years 4 months ago

I was fortunate early in my retail career to have worked for a man who understood the importance of developing strong retail managers. For the first two years I worked for him he would spend three to four hours in the evening four or five days a week with me talking about what happened in the store that day. At that time he had spent more than 30 years in retail and made a significant investment in my education as a young man and budding retailer. Those lessons learned helped me understand what it takes to be highly successful in retail. He was an extraordinary mentor. If you or your company truly want to develop good people, mentoring is the best way to accomplish this goal.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

In this fast-moving world, it is difficult at best to stay in contact with people as you move through an organization, retail or otherwise. Additionally, with the average tenure of employees at each company on the decline, staying in contact with a consistent mentor is challenged even further.

I believe there is great value in working hard to keep in contact with a person whom had offered business insights to you so you can continue to learn from them as you progress through your career.

Mark Burr
Guest
9 years 4 months ago
Where mentoring exists, it is visible. Have you seen it? Based on comments so far, I would suspect not. It may not be as ubiquitous as we might hope, but it is visible. If you look for it, you can see it. Where will you see it? You will see it at those retailers that we frequently talk about it. You will see it at retail where those that do it have a stake in it. That is not to say that they wouldn’t do it as a result of their company culture, but I would suggest that a culture where a retail position has the potential of a career profession there is incentive enough that supports it as well. I would suggest it exists and is flourishing at all the regular named stores that we frequently discuss as examples of the exceptional. Do we really think the Apple stores would be doing as well as they are without mentoring? It may be known by another name, but it is mentoring. The most frequent retailer… Read more »
James Tenser
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Mentoring is an honorable and constructive pursuit in any profession, merchants included. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy its benefits in my career and believe it should be encouraged.

At its best, the experienced individual and the one seeking the benefit of that experience find each other of their own devices. The expansion and consolidation of our retail businesses tend to create bureaucratic structures and rules that may discourage informal mentoring. Attempts to institutionalize personal chemistry are challenged to succeed.

An ideal corporate mentoring policy will emphasize a stated goal of removing obstacles so as to promote talent development and job satisfaction. Mentoring should be more than coaching. It should result in a continuity of culture as well as skills.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
9 years 4 months ago
Some the comments show that confusion exists on what mentoring is. It is not coaching or teaching. Mentoring is a developmental, caring, sharing and helping relationship where one person invests time, know-how, and effort in enhancing another person’s growth, knowledge, and skills; and responds to critical needs in that person’s life in ways that prepare the individual for greater productivity or achievement in the future. Mentoring within an organization only occurs with consistency and effectiveness if the CEO or President believes in it, models the behavior, and encourages or even mandates mentoring. I believe this is a critical part of a holistic approach to talent development and retention. Beyond training or coaching, mentoring requires desire and intent from both mentor and mentee. As an individual, any of us can seek out mentors or as a potential mentor, seek out mentees. One of my mentors taught me years ago that ideally we should have one mentor for each decade of our life, and an obligation to mentor at least that many rising talents. Approaching 50, that… Read more »
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