Mention corporate mentoring programs and most people immediately assume you're talking about programs set up to groom recent college graduates for jobs in the executive wing. But there's no reason that mentoring has to be limited to those bound for the executive suite. Mentoring can make a significant difference to employees working in the warehouse and distribution center as well.
A mentor, after all, is simply a person with experience who provides support and guidance to a less experienced person. Warehouse and DC employees are just as likely as any other employee to benefit from help navigating the corporate culture, from some encouragement and confidence building, or even from assistance balancing work/life issues. Being paired with someone who knows the ropes and can provide guidance can help them perform to the best of their ability.
Think about the employee in the warehouse who's been driving a forklift for 10 years and doesn't believe he can do anything else. Or that stockperson who's a great asset to the operation but never applies for a promotion because he doesn't think he's supervisor material. (You know he'd be a great supervisor. He just doesn't know it.) Or that employee who doesn't get much out of seminars or learn much from written manuals, but could easily learn new skills with a little one-on-one coaching.
Why risk losing a valuable staff member who could never quite summon up the confidence to take that forklift certification exam or was defeated by the challenge of balancing a difficult home life with work responsibilities? When offered help in the form of a mentor, that person might easily improve his or her technical skills, interpersonal skills or time management skills. Or maybe the worker simply needs motivation and support. Many staff members could do significantly more for the organization with special, individualized attention. That's exactly what mentoring can provide.
There are a number of ways to set up a mentoring program. You can do it completely within the logistics and supply chain sector of your organization. You can hand over the responsibility to the human resources department. Or you can join forces with human resources to develop a customized program especially for your warehouse staff. If the human resources department balks at the prospect of establishing a second mentoring program, you can reassure them that this doesn't mean doubling their workload. Whether it's intended to be a vertical mentoring program for up-and-comers—those headed for the boardroom—or a more horizontal program for cross-training and job diversity within a single operational area, the program's primary structure will remain the same for the most part.
One of the first decisions will be choosing the people to participate. Carefully evaluate all of your staff members and divide them into three groups: potential mentors, potential mentees, and those who shouldn't be involved at all. This type of program isn't for everyone. Participation should never be forced; one of the primary purposes of the program should be to foster a positive attitude and good will. As you go through the selection process, ask the potential mentors to specify what strengths they have that they wish to share. Someone who's a skilled forklift operator may not be any good at explaining how to drive a lift truck to someone else. However, this same individual might be an excellent coach when it comes to safety procedures on the loading dock.
Setting up a mentoring program may sound like a lot of work, but the potential payoff is huge. Once the program is in place, you're virtually certain to find that it improves the performance of all concerned.
Editor's note: This is the first in a multi-part series on mentoring. Next month's column will discuss ground rules for mentoring programs.