Lennox International Inc. is a provider of climate-control solutions for heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration markets in more than 100 countries. Based in Richardson, Texas, the company employs more than 15,000 people in four divisions: residential heating and cooling, commercial heating and cooling, service experts and refrigeration.
As part of its executive development program, Lennox initiated a mentoring program several years ago. Members of the senior staff paired off up-and-coming managers with leaders who had already achieved success within the organization.
The objectives of the program were to help the new executives become assimilated more deeply and quickly into the leadership, as well as help them understand how to get things done more effectively within the organization, said Dr. Harry Ashenhurst, executive vice president and chief administrative officer.
Through collaboration between Lennox leadership and RHR International consultants, the program gradually evolved into one that has become more organic in nature.
An organic mentoring program is based more on chemistry and relationships than assigning mentors in a more formal manner, based on seniority or who is available, said Dr. Terry Wilensky, an RHR Consultant based in Dallas.
“The advantages are that when the fit forms naturally, through a common interest or special knowledge or experience within the company, the partners buy into the relationship more deeply and are more likely to seek each other out for necessary conversations,” Wilensky said.
These informal conversations are the heart of the Lennox mentoring process. Mentors pass on lessons they’ve learned to assist other executives’ development. This can include insights on how to prosper in the culture, how to handle certain political or social situations unique to the organization and suggestions on development and learning.
Through Lenox’s coaching and mentoring program, instructions are now provided on how to identify the person who might make the best mentor. Those being coached are encouraged to identify and approach someone, regardless of the person’s level in the organization, and to explore the possibility for making a connection and developing some sort of contract, whereby the two would meet on a regular basis to exchange ideas or seek help in a particular area.
This more organic approach allows for a more natural level of trust to develop and promotes real-time feedback on the new executive’s performance based on observations in meetings and other workplace situations. Further, the feedback is more likely to be accepted and acted on when the relationship occurs more spontaneously.
Although the program was designed to help young executives evolve and grow alternative approaches to working within the organization, another benefit was the opportunity for management to have hands-on experiences with them and, through these in-depth conversations, make evaluations and assessments about their growth and potential to assume broader responsibilities.
“The mentoring program created a more intense set of relationships and a deeper level of involvement among the top layers of management,” Ashenhurst said. “An increased degree of intimacy developed between those at the C-level and those one and two levels down. Due to these relationships, decisions made on succession planning were greatly enhanced and accelerated.”
In the development of the mentoring program, Lennox determined the measurement of a mentoring program is almost always subjective. Although coaching implies the setting of goals that can be observed and measured, mentors provide advice, insight and knowledge about the organization or industry and not necessarily strategic or tactical recommendations.
Companies designing a mentoring program also should consider development and training of the mentors.
“If not done properly, mentoring may hinder or impair process,” Wilensky said. “A program that assesses, identifies and coaches potential mentors can be beneficial. Even in organic programs, there should be a mechanism in place that lets the mentor know what is expected and how to effectively meet the needs of those being mentored.”