Teaming up can yield
By Harvey Meyer
CEO GEOFFREY DESMOULIN often
unleashes a secret weapon to address vexing
questions for his small firm: his mentor, a business consultant who has confronted countless
challenges during his own decades-long career.
This mentor not only aids Desmoulin on specific business-development strategies for GTD
Engineering, which examines human injuries
for litigation support and research purposes,
but, perhaps as important, offers a fresh, confi-dence-boosting perspective.
“A mentor can literally help make or break
a business,” contends Desmoulin, a Costco
member, who instituted a mentoring program
for his 13-employee Vancouver, British
Columbia, firm in 2014.
As many small businesses have found out,
mentors can yield competitive advantages, says
Anita Ramachandran, director of MicroMentor
( micromentor.org). A program of Portland,
Oregon–based nonprofit Mercy Corps,
MicroMentor facilitates more than 10,000 free
online connections annually between small-business mentees and volunteer business mentors. A yearly MicroMentor survey consistently
reveals that mentees’ companies that embrace
mentoring are demonstrably better off.
“There is definitely a significant correlation between businesses that receive mentoring and their survival rate, revenue growth and
job creation,” says Ramachandran.
Finding a match
Business mentoring has proved fruitful
for eons, but it’s now easier because of online
services that enable local, national and even
global matches. At MicroMentor, algorithms
and other factors help connect mentees who
complete business profiles with suitable men-
tors. Some mentees pursue two or more
MicroMentor-facilitated mentors, effectively
producing a virtual advisory board.
More research and best-practices informa-
tion is available on the value of mentoring as
attitudes about the mentor-mentee relation-
ship evolve. Ramachandran, a Costco member,
hopes to shatter notions that mentoring
requires a years-long commitment between
two parties. At MicroMentor, the average men-
tee communicates with a mentor for a total of
about 12 hours, often seeking advice online, by
phone or in person on specific business topics.
“It doesn’t have to be this huge commit-
ment,” she says. “There are no rules or defini-
tions as to what mentoring is. Mentoring can
take many forms, and it can be accessible to
anybody within a company.”
Ramachandran says MicroMentor surveys indicate the most popular topics involve
strategy, marketing, finance and business
development. But personal issues—for
instance, how much time you allot for family
or nonbusiness matters—often naturally arise.
At Ervin & Smith, an Omaha, Nebraska,
digital marketing agency and Costco business
member, mentoring is firmly entrenched. It
occurs informally and formally with all 35
employees, in programs such as Mentorship
Meetings, Issues Management Mentoring,
Lunch with a Leader and monthly one-on-ones with managers and a professional coach.
Heidi Mausbach, the firm’s president and
CEO, and GTD’s Desmoulin witness multiple
benefits with their mentoring programs.
Improved recruiting and retention.
Mausbach launched mentoring 10 years ago, in part
to boost retention, a major consideration in the
BEFORE LAUNCHING A mentoring
program for your small business, get
educated about what mentoring
entails and what you want to accomplish with it, advises David Shapiro,
president and CEO of MENTOR
( mentoring.org), a national nonprofit
offering resources on mentoring.
Fortunately, many mentoring resources are available to help guide you
(see “Resources” on page 31). As with
other business issues, examine best
practices, what to seek in mentors and
expected roles for mentors and mentees. Think through whether you’d be
more comfortable with in-house mentoring, connecting with outside parties or some combination of both.
It should be clear from the outset
that mentoring is a priority and a
serious enterprise. That means buy-in from top executives, says Shapiro.
“The most effective mentoring programs have senior leadership walking
the walk and doing mentoring as
well,” he says.
Shapiro suggests that a designated
person communicate about company
mentoring opportunities and monitor
their effectiveness. Without proper
oversight, a program could dissolve. He
also says small firms should be realistic
about expectations for mentoring.
“People sometimes make really
small commitments and expect really
great results,” he says. As with most
things, you get out of it what you put
high-turnover marketing industry. She says the
company’s mentoring programs significantly
contribute to better recruiting and retention.
Employee engagement hike. Mentoring
arrangements may spark appreciative workers
to put extra time and effort into their jobs.
Whether she’s a mentor or mentee, Megan
Belt, public relations director at Ervin &
The Costco Connection
Costco offers a variety of services to help
small businesses. For information, go to
Costco.com and click “Services.”