Providing guidance and support to younger colleagues
benefits both mentors as well as organizations
By Maura C. Ciccarelli
Thinking back, Laura Henderson sees the positive impact a few industry leaders had on her own career when they took the time to help with her development goals, inspiring her to do the same for the next generation.
“My current and past professional positions allowed me to really reap the benefits from a few amazing mentors,” says Henderson, vice president of Insurance Portfolio Management for SIAA, an alliance of independent insurance agencies headquartered in Hampton, New Hampshire.
“One was a prior manager, who was a true mentor and leader. He guided me along the way with questions that I had to help me navigate,” says Henderson, who was one of the founders of SIAA’s mentorship program. “Now I understand just how important that was in shaping my life and career. I believe it’s important to pay it forward and [a mentorship program is] a truly important thing to have in any organization.”
Henderson, who says she loves teaching and helping people in general, says mentorship programs deliver multifaceted benefits. She explains that while such programs have long been seen as an integral part of professional development for mentees and their employers, what’s not talked about as often is the additional benefits mentors gain. Mentors gain not only the satisfaction of helping others, but also develop strong connections to younger workers and bolster their own leadership skills.
In surveys, SIAA mentors said they wanted to share what they’ve learned, help others learn from their mistakes, and enjoyed sharing their career experiences. One noted that “mentorship is a great way to interact with other employees, be exposed to different areas of expertise, and develop new professional relationships. It’s also a great way to learn about others’ approaches to problem-solving as they have encountered issues and hurdles in their professional lives.”
“If you have one long-term
employee who is the only person
who knows how to do a lot of things, what
happens when that person leaves? An organization
needs to confront the knowledge gap.”
Vice President, Insurance Portfolio Management
Henderson, other women managers, and vice presidents at SIAA created the program to share industry knowledge from one generation to the next. “We thought, there’s a lot of talent and tribal knowledge here in this building,” she says. “If we don’t capture it, it’s just going to go to waste.”
Henderson describes tribal know-ledge as any information that is not widely known by other employees within a company, particularly when it comes to culture and norms. It’s often undocumented and exists only in the memories of certain people. Losing such knowledge is “a big problem in rapidly growing companies,” she notes.
“If you have one long-term employee who is the only person who knows how to do a lot of things, what happens when that person leaves? An organization needs to confront the knowledge gap. A lot of the tribal knowledge will [become] training resources that can help your newer employees be more efficient and knowledgeable about their job,” says Henderson, who also is director of the Essex/Middlesex Chapter of the Massachusetts Association of Insurance Women (MAIW).
The SIAA program, which focuses on the SIAA corporate workforce rather than the independent agencies allied with the organization, is being updated after a hiatus following the pandemic. To match mentors to mentees, mentors provide an overview of their career and skills and mentees share their career experience and goals. Mentees choose a mentor and work with that person for about three months. After completing an evaluation, they begin a new session with another mentor.
The mentoring program meshes well with SIAA’s ongoing focus on the three C’s of culture, career and collaboration, she adds. Mentees work with their mentors to create goals that are measurable, attainable, and timeline-based. This creates a strong bond between mentor and mentee.
“Young insurance professionals are really looking for feedback,” notes Henderson, who mentored several SIAA employees prior to the pandemic and now uses the mentorship approach with her department’s team of eight, as well as members of the MAIW. “They ask, ‘How can I do better? What do I need to do to improve and move up in the company? How can a mentor assist with all those goals?’”
The mentorship approach for her team involves annually setting short- and long-term goals that are revisited each quarter. Part of those include stretch goals as well as finding ways to work smarter, not harder.
“It’s been a game-changer,” she says. “Many of them have completed designations, degree programs, signed up for leadership certifications and more. In retrospect, I wish I had that form of accountability and mentorship when I was very young in the insurance industry. The number one thing I get out of the SIAA mentorship pro-gram is when my mentees say to me, ‘You made a difference in my life.’”
Henderson says it’s important for insurance organizations to support up-and-coming professionals as older leaders retire.
“You need a pipeline and succession plan to fill those roles,” she notes. “Unfortunately, insurance isn’t typically a profession that’s promoted in college or high school. A lot of young people don’t think insurance is sexy or even appealing.
“If we can start attracting young talent, the seasoned professional canshare his or her many years of know-ledge and tribal knowledge with his orher mentee. The organization benefitsgreatly from this transfer of know-ledge. Mentoring is a really positive young professional development strategy. It supports the individual’s growth and helps companies retain their valued workforce.”
Such engagement has been one of the most important outcomes, Henderson says.
“Those who meet regularly with their mentors are much more likely than their peers to find positive and creative ways to effectively deal with challenges,” she adds. Also, middle managers can engage with someone in the C-suite, because of the mentorship relationship, who they may not have engaged with ordinarily.
“Probably the most consistent outcome for young mentees is a happier work engagement and possibly a faster rise up through the corporate ranks,” she says, noting that she’s seen many young mentees get onto the path toward career advancement. That translates to people staying longer at their company because they feel valued.
Tips for a successful program
Henderson has a few final suggestions for mentors, mentees, and insurance organizations alike.
“Make sure all parties are engaged [in the process]. If they sign up for something like this, they have to follow through with it. We wouldn’t want a mentor to say, ‘Let’s set up a meeting,’ and not show up or not be engaged.
It’s very much about being there, being present and wanting the mentee to succeed. It’s about getting to know the person you’re working with on their level and working to help them with what their outcome is intended to be,” she says.
“It’s really imperative for every organization, small or large, to embrace a mentorship program of some type,” Henderson concludes. “It doesn’t have to be formal and can be very flexible. Employees really thirst for this type of interaction within the organization. Learning and growing should never stop, no matter what the age. Mentorship just helps reinforce that.”
Maura Ciccarelli is a freelance journalist originally from Philadelphia who now writes about business and more from the road full-time.