Expert Advice of the Month: The power of mentoring: strong values, accelerated training, increased staff retention

This month we talk with Walter Pranke, vice president, human resources at Lee Valley Tools, a national chain of tool and gift stores headquartered in Ottawa.

Hiring—and keeping—good people is proving to be a difficult process as we emerge from the lockdowns of COVID. “How do we get our employees back on track? How do we support them post-COVID?” asks Walter Pranke, who oversees HR for Lee Valley Tools. He says mentoring can support this process.

For smaller retail operations, the practice of shadowing a new hire right in the aisles can serve a similar purpose.

As government subsidies for workers decrease or end altogether after the summer, he expects hiring efforts to get a little easier. But hiring is only the first step. Retention, especially of star employees, is a longer-term challenge for any business. Mentoring, says Pranke, can play an important role in this. “It can contribute to strengthening the company’s culture. A good mentor can really serve as the link between an organization’s needs and the individual’s needs.”

With the guidance early on that a mentor can provide, an employee’s level of engagement increases. “From there one could expect to see an increase in effort and productivity with employees often willing to do more with discretionary effort for the company,” he says. “That enhances the entire organization.”

So just what is a mentor? Pranke says a mentor acts as an advocate for the employee long-term. In that role, a more seasoned staffer can provide wisdom and insights into the new person’s role that would not necessarily have been part of their formal education.

He recommends putting a formal process in place to assign mentors. A good mentor, he notes, should have strong communication skills, be a motivating influence, and a thought leader. They need to be unbiased and reflect the company’s culture and values.

For sales staff in a store, the practice of “shadowing” is popular for helping new hires get the hang of the store’s systems and products. This process can likewise use the best practices of a more formal mentoring role to make it worthwhile. Assigning a “buddy” on the sales floor provides an opportunity for a new hire to get acquainted with the store and fellow workers more quickly. “That’s the start of a mentoring relationship,” Pranke says.