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Contributions of Intelligent Mentoring

As we discuss in more detail throughout the book, the contribution of this diverse portfolio of mentoring initiatives is that it taps into different approaches and forms of mentoring in a way that helps to sustain the business impact. Early success is shown by worldwide requests to assist and guide in the development of local mentoring programs. Data was also collected from evaluations of mentoring panel discussions, webcasts, speaking engagements, and “jam sessions” and shows that high satisfaction levels are being sustained. Participant evaluations show that IBM’s mentoring initiative also has measurable human capital results. Employee feedback indicates that employees are expanding their search for mentoring outside of their business units and geographies to gain diverse skills, experience, perspectives, and knowledge. Mentoring is helping employees find new ways to connect and build their abilities and productivity. The mentoring program continues to receive unsolicited positive feedback. Hits to the Mentoring Web site are up 12% over last year, and the Explore Mentoring Web site has had nearly 132,000 discrete hits since its launch. Mentoring contributed to a 5% increase in 2006 over 2005 on favorable responses to an internal employee survey data question, “Do you have the opportunity to improve skills?” Lastly, a companywide formative evaluation survey was developed to determine the broader range of the mentoring initiative’s ongoing impact. All of these are positive early signs of the potential long-term impact that this mentoring portfolio will have on IBM’s global business enterprise.

However, as we discuss later, the most significant impact of the mentoring initiative is yet to be realized, as mentoring is helping employees practice and adopt their IBM Values through Collaboration by making learning a strategic priority. The long-term goal is for mentoring activities to instill a sense of value among employees that supports positive morale and excitement around learning and innovation. In addition, the goal of the mentoring initiatives throughout IBM is to develop and share what is known as deep smarts.30 Deep smarts are all about tacit qualities such as culture competence, emotional intelligence, and organizational competence, which are vital for leadership and innovation within the twenty-first century. One long-term goal of the mentoring relationships across IBM is to demonstrate that these types of deep smarts require that employees stay with a company to fully develop their expertise. The commitment to mentoring at IBM must be sustained over time to see the true benefits of this strategic approach in developing this type of knowledge. For IBM, mentoring is not a “quick fix.” It is part of an overall strategy to reshape and revitalize the organization for not only short-term recruitment and retention goals, but also for long-term learning and innovation priorities. Thus, we will see that an important long-term aspiration for IBM’s mentoring initiatives is to build organizational intelligence and a culture of collaboration.

In addition to developing the learning capacity and deep smarts throughout the organization, another critical long-term goal is to reshape the culture at IBM. In Why Innovation Matters to IBM, the “management and culture of innovation” is identified as necessary for creativity. “Advanced technology plus collaboration make it possible,” as it is stated in the document. The goal is to build a collaborative culture that helps employees and business partners to co-produce innovation. However, what must come first is an environment that actively promotes collaboration. And that’s exactly what knowledge management experts recommend to reverse the loss of deep smarts. They suggest that work must become a dual-purpose project that includes the opportunity for new employees to absorb the tacit knowledge and explicit skills that could easily exit a company forever, as well as for experienced employees to develop, utilize, and share their knowledge in diverse collaborations throughout the organization. As you will see from the best practice examples provided throughout the book, mentoring at IBM is being strategically used to assist the transfer of business skills, support ongoing leadership development, and create a collaborative culture. While traditional mentoring still holds enormous value, an essential end goal for IBM is the creation of this collaborative culture, which is being facilitated by a wide variety of different mentoring activities. The hope is that in the future IBM environment, the sentiment by a majority of employees will be that “I am responsible for your—and my—learning” as one indicator of this culture of collaboration.

When writing this book, we wanted to understand more about the complex nature of mentoring relationships and to strike a balance between mentoring research and real-world application. As Kathy Kram and Belle Ragins write, “Mentoring research needs to inform and be informed by mentoring practice.”31 Unfortunately, there is often a disconnection between the research on mentoring and the practice of mentoring. Frequently, books are published that offer a “practical guide” for mentoring without being informed by the state-of-the-art research that provides the evidence of how mentoring activities can be effectively designed, implemented, and evaluated. On the other hand, research on mentoring is often conducted outside of the industry, organizational, or cultural context that is known to have a profound impact on these types of efforts. Our goal and contribution of this book is to accomplish both without sacrifice to either research or practice.

Thus, the chapters within this book seek to address this critical gap. Research on mentoring must be shaped by the reality of mentoring practice, and practice must be grounded in rigorous research. Thus, we explore the various ways that IBM is leveraging existing knowledge and research on mentoring to shape and sustain its strategic efforts toward organizational intelligence, connecting people, and having a business impact. Our attempt is to focus on the interface between research and practice on mentoring, using the successes and challenges faced by IBM’s mentoring initiatives as one piece to solving its long-term strategic puzzle. By sharing the IBM experience, we provide an in-depth look into one organization’s journey from a large global enterprise trying to better connect “virtually dispersed” people who once felt isolated and disconnected and, at the same time, keep pace with a rapidly changing technology industry. We attempt to capture how IBM used mentoring to transform its organization from a place where employees referred to IBM as meaning “I’m By Myself” into IBM as meaning “I’m Being Mentored.” Our hope is that the story of the successes and challenges of IBM as outlined in the following chapters will provide a catalyst for all types of organizations to revitalize and expand their use of mentoring as a strategic tool for the recruitment, retention, and engagement of a diverse and talented workforce that continually adds value to the organization across its worldwide enterprise.

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