Few CIOs would argue that one element of a truly successful tenure is the degree to which direct reports have been prepared for the next level of management — in short, for the top IT slot, either at their current organization or another.
That begs the question: what are the best methods of mentoring employees? What is the most efficient means of transferring your knowledge to them? Right off the bat, we can dispense with a, “Do as I say, not as I do,” approach, as any parent well knows its futility. We can also advise against merely telling employees how a given situation should be handled.
What’s needed is a combination of The Toyota Production System’s “Going to Gemba” technique with the Roman method of preparing young men to enter adult life.
TPS’s Gemba concept teaches that problems are best solved by direct observation at the source, by not just taking anyone’s word for it or reviewing statistics, but seeing firsthand. As I learned recently from “Augustus: The Life of Rome’s First Emperor,” upper class Roman teens were readied for public life by spending a number of years at their fathers’ side, while both political and economic business was being conducted. In short, they were the beneficiaries of education by (largely silent) observation. During this phase, they learned how a Roman man should conduct himself — how he should dress, talk, even walk, how he should react, such as when to be silent versus when to express an opinion.
In a recent interview with Charles Colander, VP/CIO, Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare, this concept was echoed when he described the value of consulting days spent in the boardroom.
“I think the exposure I received during those eight years with Ernst & Young and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young allowed me to develop an executive presence that just accelerated that development process. When I was in the director level at a number of different institutions, I did receive some level of exposure to the board level and to the executive management level. But in those eight years of consulting I did, all of my exposure was at the C-level suite and board level, and it really gave me the opportunity to see the direction of the industry—how those folks think, what’s important to them.”
During those valuable years, Colander was able to watch and learn from executives whose mannerisms and practices he could then mimic or eschew.
And if you should endorse this method of mentoring — perhaps best called shadowing — fear not winding up with a permanent appendage. Reports can be selectively brought into important meetings, either recurring or one-off, or summoned when an emergency call is arranged. Their actual participation in these meetings is not necessary (often not even desired), but the subsequent education by osmosis will be invaluable.
A further point should be made to your reports during this process. While you obviously believe your strategies and tactics to be optimal, they need not do so. They should observe, absorb, and then reflect. Your message, either stated or implied should be:
“Based on my experience, character and personality, you have seen how I handled this situation. You have seen the results of my efforts. Take all this in, then think how you would act in the future. If the same, why? If different, why?”
This approach will avoid a pedantic and sometimes condescending, “watch and learn” aspect to the exercise, instead fostering a, “watch and think” environment.
Your reports work hard for you, and any tranquility you’re able to enjoy away from the office is largely due to their efforts. While increases in pay and promotions may be somewhat out of your hands (HR often has excessive veto power), sharing your best practices with employees is not. In fact, it is one of the most valuable gifts you can give.
When tackling a thorny issue, bring them along, when visiting Gemba, take a traveling companion. In doing this, both their experience and yours will be greatly enriched.