Ever wonder why cricketers and other sportsmen have career-related jobs lined up when they retire from active playing? Not all of them, of course; some of the stories we read about heroes of yesteryear serving as ball boys or part of the forgotten furniture are indeed true. But a good number of them become commentators and scribes, if they have the talent. Others become administrators, if they have the pocket-politicians mindset. But a large number of them become coaches, handing down the skills they have acquired to a new generation. Why doesnt it happen in industry where the need for such knowledge-and-experience disseminators is much more?
There are some very obvious reasons. First, whether it is at the level of the CEO or divisional head, the same principle applies: the new boss doesnt want the old man looking over his shoulder, says Mumbai-based HR consultant Shashi Rao. Second, people in India do not know when and how to retire gracefully. Even when you are kicked upstairs as chairman, you tend to meddle in day-to-day affairs.
Rao suggests something that she admits will be impossible to implement given the huge egos that exist at the CEO level. She feels that all CEOs should retire at 55 or, at the latest, 60. But they shouldnt leave the organisation — instead, they should become mentors. This is a far more important role than that of a coach (see box). Unfortunately, it is not seen that way.
Mentors exist today in various guises. You have people like N.R. Narayana Murthy who is now the chief mentor at Infosys. Subroto Bagchi took on a similar gardening role at MindTree — his official designation was co-founder and gardener — though critics question both his motives and success. He is more into writing books these days.
Lower down the line, several companies have a policy of appointing mentors to guide newbies when they first join the organisation. Says ABB on its website: Each trainee will be assigned a mentor from the very beginning of the programme. This person will act as a coach and guide you through your early professional life. This is a temporary hand-holding role.
Other companies identify people with CEO potential early on and appoint a very senior person to mentor them. This works when it is on an informal basis. Otherwise, you are seen within the organisation as an acolyte of your mentor. This does no good for your interpersonal relationships with those who have not been so favoured.
Then you have mentors at a much lower level such as those appointed to guide summer interns. But dont scoff at them. Its their job to familiarise trainees with the corporate culture. In an environment short of talent (even in these depressed times), interns need to be wooed to join the company. What better way than to give them a taste of the organisation that they will treasure? Besides, they go back to their campuses and talk about where they have worked. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth.
There are other varieties of mentoring. The Global Wharton India Mentoring Network was started with the aim of connecting Wharton students and alumni from all over the world to India. It has established various committees by industry (private equity, hedge funds, investment banking, consulting, entrepreneurship, non-profit and so on) and handpicked Wharton Alums in India to serve as industry captains for each committee. This is essentially a networking organisation. And it works.
But the most valuable form of mentoring should come after retirement and involve a transfer of knowledge. Unfortunately, Indian CEOs — particularly in business families — never retire. They just fade away into senility while still in the saddle.
ARE MENTORS SLOW COACHES?
Why mentoring takes more time and means much more than coaching
Managers coach their staff as a required part of the job
Coaching takes place within the confines of a formal manager-employee relationship
The focus is to develop individuals within their current job
The interest of the relationship is functional, arising out of the need for individuals to perform the tasks required to the best of their ability
Managers tend to initiate and drive the relationship
The relationship is finite, ending when an individual has learned what the coach is teaching.
It occurs outside of a line manager-employee relationship, at the mutual consent of a mentor and mentoree
It is career-focused or focused on professional development that may be outside a mentorees area of work
Relationships are personal — a mentor provides both professional and personal support
Relationships may be initiated by mentors or created through matches initiated by the organisation
Relationships cross job boundaries
Relationships last for a specific period of time (nine months to a year) in a formal programme, at which point the pair may continue in an informal mentoring relationship.
Source: Management Mentors