Grow Your Own

By Heather Baldwin

Much has been written about the fact that your top salespeople won’t necessarily make the best managers. So how can you help ensure your company moves forward, and not backward, when someone takes over a sales management position? Know what you’re getting by creating a mentoring culture within your organization that encourages employees to continue learning, growing and developing toward leadership roles, says Lois Zachary, president of Phoenix-based consultancy Leadership Development Services and author of Creating a Mentoring Culture: The Organization’s Guide (Jossey-Bass, 2005).

Creating a mentoring culture is a time-consuming, complex process, but the paybacks are significant. Employee learning is accelerated and individuals find work more satisfying and meaningful, which in turn boosts retention figures. Also, mentees become more adept at risk taking, perform at higher levels and tend to become more visionary thinkers. Relationships also are strengthened throughout an organization. Thus mentees who eventually move into a sales management position are likely to know what they’re doing from day one and have the leadership skills to succeed and a deep-rooted commitment to the organization. In her book, Zachary outlines 15 action steps organizations must take when planning a mentoring implementation. Here are six of them.

1. Define the purpose, scope, target population, learning outcomes and benefits. Doing so creates a level of readiness and a set of expectations for everyone connected with the mentoring program. There must be no ambiguity here and the purpose and intent of the program must be crystal clear says Zachary.

2. Articulate roles and responsibilities of program participants. If ignored, this step can be a big stumbling block to success. “If roles and responsibilities are not defined, multiple (and often unrealistic) expectations are created,” Zachary cautions.

3. Establish mentee and mentor criteria. Clarify who is eligible to participate in mentoring and what is the ultimate basis for selection.

4. Ensure visible support from the top. Leaders must champion the mentoring effort and encourage other leaders to do the same by their example. They must talk about the value of mentoring and share their own mentoring stories, for example.

5. Plan rollout and full implementation. Start with a pilot program so you can learn your lessons on a small scale before doing a full implementation. Establish a timeline for both the pilot rollout and full implementation.

6. Gather and share stories and best practices. “Stories inspire. Best practices inform. One of the keys to selling, inspiring and galvanizing participation is being able to relate to the real-life mentoring experiences of peers, colleagues and role models,” says Zachary. So gather the success stories of great sales managers who were mentored and use them to galvanize support for a mentoring program. Then get your sales reps with promising leadership potential into the program.