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Working With A Mentor

MHEDA members use mentoring relationships as management development tool

Mentoring is one of those words that gets bandied about when business owners talk about training their employees. But what does it really mean? It’s the rare company that actually invests in a formalized mentoring program that pairs employees together and helps them grow personally and professionally. Some of MHEDA’s best examples are outlined below.


Mentoring Success Story: The Raymond Academy

With a history of hiring from within, Raymond Handling Concepts Corp. (Fremont, CA) has always had a lot of young managers filling positions in the company. But the training of those new managers was not as effective as it needed to be. It typically involved an off-site meeting with a speaker and seminars but not much else. “We were spending money, but we weren’t getting a return on that investment,” says President Stephen Raymond. “Our management training at that time can be best described as ‘Poof, you’re a manager now.’ Somebody would be selected to fill a management or supervisor position based on their leadership potential, but we didn’t put them through any development training. They would either figure it out or they wouldn’t.”

Raymond Academy

Veteran managers are paired up with new managers and potential managers. Trainees begin a year-long mentoring program with a three-day retreat.

In 2008, Raymond decided to change that approach. Together with Craig Martin, a consultant and executive coach, Raymond created an extensive mentoring program to help employees make the transition to management. Now in its third year, the Raymond Academy pairs up a veteran manager with a newer manager or potential manager, who participate in a yearlong dialogue designed to teach the new manager how to become a leader in the company.

The program begins in February each year with a three-day retreat that recognizes the outgoing class and welcomes the incoming class. “The new participants gets to learn what the graduating class experienced so they get an idea of what to expect in the coming year,” says Heidi Casey, director of human resources, who plays an integral role in planning the program.

A second off-site meeting is held about midway through the year, where participants talk about big-picture management issues such as cultural diversity, leadership skills, personality temperament and employee learning styles to make the mentees better communicators. “A facilitator comes to our second event each year and does a cultural inventory where people assess their comfort level with different cultures and then adapt those assessments to the business environment,” Casey says. Coupled with the soft skill development is some position-specific education such as financial training, parts training and sales training.

This year, participants are reading The Score Takes Care Of Itself by Bill Walsh and Helping People Win At Work by Ken Blanchard and Garry Ridge, and they discuss the books in GoToMeeting Web conferences every few weeks throughout the year. Each mentor-mentee pair schedules its own meetings as well. “It’s quite a time commitment, but everyone is entitled to competent management, and it’s our responsibility to give it to them. We were not fulfilling our part of the obligation until we developed the Raymond Academy,” Raymond says.

All indications are that the company is now living up to its end of the deal. Keary Sisco, parts supervisor of the company’s Stockton, California, branch, is currently involved in the Raymond Academy as a mentee and says, “Other forklift companies I’ve worked at just have basic training for a couple of weeks. You don’t hear of companies putting a year into an employee for management training. That goes to show that this company is looking at the long term. This program has helped my confidence to become a better manager.”


Mentoring Success Story: Grooming a Salesperson

Mid Middleton Benton Williams

Mid Middleton
President, Carolina Handling

Benton Williams
Upstate Regional Sales Manager

Over the years, Mid Middleton, president, Carolina Material Handling (Greensboro, NC), had tried hiring experienced outside salespeople with varying degrees of success. “Experienced salespeople already have ingrained habits. They are who they are, and you can’t change them,” he says. With that in mind, Middleton hired Benton Williams last fall as his first marketing manager, a role Middleton created as an internal stepping stone to an outside sales role in about 18 months. “When you hire a young person, they’re moldable and more open to listening to you if they want to succeed,” Middleton says.

Williams learned the industry by administrating the company website, developing entertaining presentations for sales meetings, performing inside sales duties and even selling to accounts not assigned to a territory. He had no industry experience when he started. “I couldn’t have told you what a pallet jack was,” he says. Less than a year later, Williams is the upstate regional sales manager at the company’s Greenville, South Carolina, location, more than six months ahead of schedule, and credits Middleton’s guidance for his success. “I can’t imagine making the transition into this industry without his formal product education and informal teaching and encouragement,” Williams says. “He really took it upon himself to give me all the tools and knowledge necessary to be successful.”

It’s a role Middleton loves to play, and, in fact, believes he must play. “I don’t care who it is, IBM or Fred’s Plumbing, a company’s culture is reflected in the leader. And I serve our people. My job is to develop a positive, encouraging atmosphere for people to succeed.”


Mentoring Success Story: Leadership vs. Management

In 2007, Terry Adkins was promoted from field service technician to branch service manager at the Stockton, California, branch of Raymond Handling Concepts (Fremont, CA). For two years, he did the best he could as a manager without any formal training. Then, he went through the first Raymond Academy class as a mentee in 2009.

Terry Adkins

Terry Adkins
Branch Operations Manager

“I thought being a good leader would make me a good manager. That’s not true,” he says. “It was very eye-opening to learn how to deal with people individually. Each person has a different motivation, and as a manager you have to find that. You can’t lump a group of people into one category and say this is the way we’re going to do it. If they aren’t interested, then they aren’t going to work.”

Now branch operations manager overseeing 22 people, Adkins is serving as a mentor for a new customer service manager in this year’s class. “The first time, I was just a sponge trying to soak up everything,” he says. “Now, I’m much more relaxed and can draw on my management experience. When my mentee comes to me, I lean back in my chair and I reflect on the things that I have learned and try to feed it to him the best possible way that I can.”


Mentoring Success Story: Learning to Fly at FSIP

Pam Jones (r) and Clare Hudson

Flight Systems Industrial Products Sales Manager Pam Jones (r) took Sales Assistant Clare Hudson under her wing to teach her how to manage a new product line.

New employees at Flight Systems Industrial Products (FSIP) spend time learning from different managers throughout the company. “We’re such a niche business that our employees need to be trained for more than just their position,” says Pam Jones, sales manager. “It’s rare for us to find someone with experience in what we do, so mentoring is a very big training tool at our company. The more that my employees learn to do, the more I can concentrate on other parts of the business.”

In addition to the standard mentoring program, Jones also spent a year as a mentor to Sales Assistant Clare Hudson to prepare her to take over a new product line. Jones took Hudson on sales calls and also involved her with customer and employee issues to expose her to as much as possible. “I knew she had the traits to take over a new market, so I wanted to train her properly and not just put her out there on her own,” Jones says. The approach worked, as Hudson is taking over the company’s new sweeper/scrubber line this summer. “Our customers and partners are really starting to get to know her, and that’s very rewarding for me,” Jones says. “I hear them call her and it makes me proud of the role I played in her and the company’s success.”


Mentoring Success Story: Helping Employees Help Themselves

Keary Sisco

Parts Supervisor Keary Sisco

Keary Sisco started as parts supervisor of Raymond Handling Concepts’ Stockton, California, branch in June 2010 after working as a field service technician for several years. He is currently participating in the Raymond Academy as a mentee. His mentor works at another location, but they get together every couple of weeks by phone. If any questions arise in the meantime, Sisco can call his mentor at any time.

He credits the Raymond Academy with being very helpful in making the transition to supervising a staff of three. “Because of the testing they put us through and the mentors that they pair us up with, it has really opened my eyes to different ways of looking at things. I have been able to see myself and see the reasons why I am the way I am and what goals I can meet to make myself a better manager,” he says. When he first became a manager, Sisco would fix paperwork mistakes because it was easy to correct. “Fixing the errors wasn’t helping my employees learn,” he says. “Now I bring it to them and we go through it together. I am learning how to help my employees help themselves.” 


Mentoring Is not Just For Individuals

Richard Kat

Richard Kat

Engineered Lifting Systems (ELS), based in Elmira, Ontario, Canada, manufacturers its own products and also distributes Gorbel products. After doing business with Gorbel for several years, the management at ELS decided to use Gorbel as a mentor. “We thought Gorbel was a very well-run company, so in 1998 we decided to model our company after theirs,” says Richard Kat, ELS vice president of sales and marketing. Many ELS processes, from the training of new employees to order acknowledgment procedures, have their roots at Gorbel. “Gorbel actually provided some of the PowerPoint slides that we use in our employee training sessions, and we put up a demo area in our facility similar to theirs,” Kat says. Although never a formalized relationship, Gorbel executives regularly include the ELS teams in strategic planning meetings. “They’ve always been very helpful and very open to making our business successful. Having access to them as a mentor has been immeasurably valuable to our company.”

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

One comment

  1. I really like the Raymond idea of a yearlong dialogue designed to teach the new manager how to become a leader in the company. Looks like it is working too!

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