By Ed LopezFebruary 16, 2018
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- How do employees learn to navigate an organization's culture, or benefit from the experience of senior managers, or even glean valuable advice on how best to approach a delicate situation?
Likewise, how do senior leaders pass on their trove of valuable lessons acquired over many years, or their insights on career advancement? More broadly, how do they prepare younger employees to eventually take over the mission?
At Picatinny Arsenal, the Mentoring Program at the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC, enables employees to tap into the advice, experiences, leadership, guidance, and perspectives of senior employees within the organization.
With more than 300 participants, the ARDEC Mentoring Program provides a framework for promoting a mentoring culture through training, mentor selection, meetings, and social events. On Jan. 24, a panel discussion with a question-and-answer format was held to advance the mentoring culture.
Among those attending was Anthony Sebasto, Executive Director of the Enterprise & Systems Integration Center, who mentors four people himself.
Sebasto said a key function of mentoring is to help employees to "widen the aperture" of their perspectives and knowledge.
Sebasto also noted that the mentors and the organization also reap rewards from mentoring. "It's important for us as a community to share our experiences," he said.
"I find great enjoyment in doing it. I think it's important for me because I do care about the people that are going to take over. There is a responsibility, and I think that all of us that are senior (leaders) understand that. It's not about ourselves, it's about this institution known as ARDEC, and the job we do for the warfighter."
The mentoring panel consisted of Ross Benjamin, Deputy Director of the Munitions Engineering Technology Center; Susan Elias, Portfolio Management Office, ARDEC headquarters; William Booz, Lead Engineer, Crew Served Weapons Branch; and Leon Moreau, Manpower and Force Management, Human Capital Management Office, ARDEC headquarters.
Booz said that a mentor-protégé relationship is a way to expand beyond a narrow perspective that may develop at the lower rungs of a large organization.
"You only see what you do in your personal silo," he said. "By having a mentor at a higher level in varying degrees of seniority, they help you get a better view of the enterprise, to understand where your work fits in currently, where your work will fit in in the future, and how what you do on an everyday basis serves the ultimate goals of the organization."
Benjamin said a mentor can not only help a protégé navigate the culture, but also offer possible options on how certain situations might be approached.
"It's a nice, safe environment to talk through how you might address something, and what kind of repercussions could come from the way you go about it," he said.
Elias noted that a mentor can help a protégé build up the confidence to pursue jobs with additional authority or responsibility, especially when a protégé might have misgivings about their qualifications. She mentioned a former Garrison commander who served as her mentor.
"He actually pushed me very hard to take a job that I didn't think I really could do," she said. "And it was probably one of the best decisions that I ever made."
However, various speakers also cautioned about expecting a mentor to "champion" someone's career, or to take the lead when a protégé encounters some problem or obstacle.
Ultimately, while a mentor can be a good sounding board, the protégés are responsible for their own career decisions or charting what course to take when challenges arise.
"Understand that you are in charge of your own life," said Booz. "You are the person who is most invested in seeing your success, and so sometimes you have to make courageous decisions."
Also, while the ARDEC Mentorship Program can provide a general framework, the individual mentors and protégés should reach an understanding on what their expectations are of the relationship, and how much of a time commitment may be needed to gain maximum value from the relationship.
Elias said the time needed for a mentor-protégé relationship can add up.
"You have to say, 'I want to do this,' but I have to know that I can spend the time with the folks who are going to come to me, and be able to provide them guidance when it's timely for them."
One suggestion that emerged from the discussion was for protégés to consider seeking out more than one mentor.
"Get people across various leadership levels, whose perspectives and advice reflects where they are professionally," said Benjamin, who also suggested that a mentor should be selected from outside an employee's management chain.
The ARDEC Mentoring Program was initially established in 2013 by the Human Capital Management Office and the ARDEC Diversity Advisory Council after receiving feedback from several surveys requesting a mentoring program.
It has evolved into an independent volunteer committee. The next training for the program is scheduled for April 2018.