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The CEO as Mentor

Kathryn Mackenzie, for HealthLeaders Magazine, July 10, 2008
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A growing number of organizations are discovering that formal mentoring programs can help develop leadership talent and give employees a better understanding of the entire business.

Let's say you're the CEO of a large health system with hospitals scattered over hundreds of miles throughout your state. Now let's say you're searching for a way to develop leaders and promote integration among your facilities. You could schedule meetings for key executives to discuss ways to commingle your hospitals' operations. You might organize a weekend retreat. But even if you walk away with some fantastically innovative ideas, chances are you'll face the same challenge as many an organization before yours: creating a plan for implementing those ideas.

Enter the formal mentoring program. Over the past seven years, a growing number of organizations have created formal mentoring initiatives—that is, a well-planned program with clear goals for both mentor and mentee, says Jim Perrone, a cofounder and managing partner of Perrone-Ambrose Associates Inc., an organizational development consulting firm that helps organizations create mentoring programs. "You absolutely have to have an end result in mind for a mentoring program to work. It's not enough to just simply throw two people together," Perrone says. The more insightful organizations, Perrone says, have specific outcomes in mind—whether its succession planning or improved retention or career development.

A case study
Or, as in the case above, looking to promote integration. A hospital system in Chicago approached Perrone-Ambrose in search of ways to foster a better understanding among employees about how each of its member hospitals operates. That organization was able to implement an effective mentoring program, says Perrone, because leaders had clear goals about what the program should achieve. "At that time they were interested in two things: They wanted people moving into new leadership roles to get help as they adjusted to their new responsibilities, and they wanted to promote integration between a variety of hospitals in the system."

Perrone says supervisors in one of the system's hospitals acted as mentors to administrators in other hospitals. "So, for example, they had a new lab administrator being mentored by a lab supervisor in another hospital—that way they were able to integrate the two hospitals while at the same time a person in a new position was given the chance to work with someone more senior," he says. The end result, says Perrone, was a more integrated healthcare system that employed a staff with a better understanding of each other's roles and responsibilities.

Mentoring takes many forms
Executives are busy people who, by their very nature, eat, breathe, and sleep work. How can a healthcare system expect their executives to carve out time to effectively mentor a peer?

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