Mentors are Masters of Maintenance

May 26, 2013
Coaches are good at getting players back on their feet and salvaging the season. Mentors help talent stay vertical for a career’s duration.

It’s not easy finding stars in the logistics firmament these days. Talent isn’t always drawn to a career track that starts in a warehouse and, after a few years, with luck and a little help, might end up in management.

In such an environment, it’s in management’s best interest to make stars if they can’t find them. The best star makers are stars themselves. They recognize potential and take it upon themselves to nurture it. Another name for this is mentorship.

Chip Scholz posted an interesting commentary on the distinctions between a mentor and a job coach on his website. Scholz is actually a coach himself. His title at Scholz and Associates, Inc. is Head Coach. His bio says he is a Certified Business Coach, so the distinction he makes is interesting:

  • Coaching is specifically aimed at nurturing and sustaining performance.
  • Mentoring focuses on learning; its primary outcome should be competence, proficiency, skill, know-how and/or wisdom.

The way I read that, a mentor has more skin in the game. He or she may spot someone with talent and take him or her under his or her wing. That relationship might go beyond business hours and even beyond job competency, building to something that mom and/or dad may have skipped: character development.

Some star mentors have made names for themselves in logistics. One that comes to my mind immediately is Randy Lewis. He was Walgreens' senior vice president of supply chain and logistics before retiring earlier this year. Because of him, people with disabilities are given an opportunity to show their character on the job, not just by processing warehouse transactions, but by how they do it. Very often they do it by coming in early or on weekends to master a job, and once they do, they take pride in raising their own performance bar. These are often people who would never be given a chance in the work world. Thanks to Lewis, Walgreens has applied one man’s mentorship into its corporate culture.

There’s another universe of potential stars that’s even less charted than that of the disabled, and it’s found among those with criminal records. Many of these people are familiar with warehouses because they’ve become part of a system designed to warehouse them. Don’t get me wrong, many of these people put themselves there and may even belong there. But there are also many young people who made a dumb mistake and got caught in a vortex they couldn’t escape. That’s where mentors really earn their star status.

Ainsley Muller is a mentor facilitator. He’s an expert in the barricades criminal records raise for people trying to get on with their lives after a self-imposed setback. He is business development director at Express Pardons, a Canada-based company that works with the National Parole Board on a client’s behalf to petition for a pardon.

In an article he wrote for MH&L a couple years ago, he answered the question, “What should you do if an otherwise promising job candidate indicates he or she has a criminal record?” Here’s what he suggested:

• Check the paper trail. Reference letters and length of employment at a company prove loyalty and employee trust.

• Get the particulars from the candidate. Often a crime involves a minor offense committed when the person was young and not clearly thinking about the consequences of their actions.

• Consider work experience. Many with a minor offense in their background also have years of experience in industry and require zero to little training. Such candidates could not only be less costly but could start making an immediate contribution to the company’s productivity upon hiring.

If mentoring someone with a troublesome background is not for you, that’s a legitimate choice, but it should be made legitimately. As Ann Christopher, vice president and legal counsel for Kenco, a logistics service provider, reminds us in MH&L’s May issue, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is paying attention to how employers screen job candidates with a past. Its Strategic Enforcement Plan for Fiscal Years 2013-2016 lays out the following priorities:

  • Eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring;
  • Protecting vulnerable workers, including immigrants and migrants;
  • Addressing emerging and developing issues;
  • Enforcing equal pay laws;
  • Preserving access to the legal system;
  • Preventing harassment through systematic enforcement and targeted outreach.

Christopher recommends that in your employment applications you avoid asking for details about past criminal activity.

“The EEOC’s position is based on the premise that an arrest does not necessarily establish that criminal conduct has occurred,” she writes. “An employer should be prepared to defend any denial of employment based on an applicant’s arrest record on the basis that such decision is ‘job related and consistent with business necessity.’ A conviction record is generally sufficient evidence that an individual engaged in certain conduct; however, there may be exceptions to this premise as well.”

You have a lot of things to weigh in your star search. Where someone with a past is concerned you should consider the nature of the crime, the time elapsed from the time the crime occurred and the nature of the job. Then there are intangibles to consider—that feeling you get about someone that tells you this person might be worth pressing the reset button for—and sticking around to ensure the results. All star mentors know the value of maintenance in supporting faithful performance.

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