Bank of America embraces the social benefits of mentoring

Nurturing the Future

In 2011, Michelle Obama called on private-sector businesses to support mentoring programs as a way to help curb the nation’s dropout rate through the launch of the Corporate Mentoring Challenge. Bank of America (BofA) answered the first lady’s call, and three years later in January, the National Mentoring Conference recognized the company for having the highest volume of employees participating in some form of mentoring. In one year, BofA had more than 25,000 volunteers with 210,000 hours of service. To date, it has given more than $22 million in grants to mentoring and education programs and matched 100,000 young people with mentors. Partnering with other companies and foundations “[BofA’s] mentoring efforts are part of our broader work to connect young people to the skills needed for long-term success,” says Kerry Sullivan, president of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation. “We're preparing youth for 21st-century jobs, and sometimes these might be at our company, but not necessarily—it's about the bigger picture of investing in their employability.” Through partnerships with organizations like the YMCA; the Bridging the Gap program, which helps Hispanic part-time employees transition to full-time employment; and the Cherie Blair Foundation’s Mentoring Women in Business Programme, matching women in developing countries with mentors, the company has made it clear that it believes mentoring is important for business, as well as the communities it serves. The benefits run both ways Mentoring is a mutually beneficial relationship for both the mentor and mentee, offering mentees access to a trusted adviser and mentors experiences that can help them in their own careers. Businesses likes BofA see a return on their mentoring investment in the form of increased morale, productivity and employee retention. “When people commit to taking time to help pull someone else up the ladder, or reach their goals, or overcome an obstacle, they are developing their leadership, communication, teamwork and management skills,” Kerry says. “These skills can translate into enhanced skill sets in the workplace, and increasingly, we're seeing volunteer opportunities as important ways to build the skills of current and future employees.” Investing in the future The sense of accomplishment, the good feelings we receive from giving and developing meaningful relationships all contribute to our overall wellbeing. The promise of a great future is not always guaranteed, especially for young people who don’t have access to positive role models. But when we get to know each other, when we understand each other, when we are empathic and more willing to help people help themselves, we can create a ripple effect, helping make the world a happier place. “Mentoring is more than an investment in someone else's success—it's an opportunity to create connections, expand perspectives and find common ground, no matter how different the mentee and mentor are,” Kerry says. “It also strengthens relationships by breaking down barriers, encouraging mutually beneficial and productive conversations—sometimes tough conversations—and allows people to participate in their community, be it a workplace or the community at large.”
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Happy Staff Illustration

The Good Guys Win

Having happy, healthy-minded employees really does matter to a company’s overall performance and profitability, according to research conducted by the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. More companies are turning to compassion as a way to improve the bottom line. In 2004, Prudential Financial paid $2.1 billion to acquire the full-service retirement operations of CIGNA, a global health services company based in Hartford, Conn. This acquisition, says Dr. Kim Cameron, a professor of management at the University of Michigan, “was like merging the Red Sox and the Yankees”—a severe mash-up of different cultures and different systems on a massive scale. The merger came with the usual announcement of job attrition, and Hartford expected to lose one-fourth of the jobs associated with CIGNA’s retirement business. John Y. Kim, a former CIGNA executive who was tapped to lead the merger for the newly formed Prudential Retirement, did his best to pacify concerns with improved workforce forecasts and civic pledges to the city of Hartford—charitable contributions, economic development promises and so on. Prudential also provided temporary retention bonuses for employees who stuck around. These are standard steps that companies take to stem the disgruntled tide, but John wanted to do something more. He had been down this road before, having managed a merger between the ING Group and Aetna Financial Services. He was acutely aware that combining companies involves not just the “hard facets” of work and product systems, but also the “soft facets” of company culture. When culture goes bad, he says, companies might get the hard facets right and still lose customers and create miserable employees. Can big, complex corporate mergers actually be good not just for business, but for people, too? That’s the question John faced as he took a trip to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, about a year into the merger. While there, he learned about the Ross School of Business’s new Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS), which had been founded in 2002 as the home of a new field of study that analyzes how organizations foster and achieve positive outcomes. POS was the brainchild of Kim, Dr. Jane Dutton, and Dr. Robert Quinn, three scholars at Ross who decided to take seriously some questions that no organizational studies scholars had ever quite taken seriously before, such as what good human behavior and “positive deviance” (exceptional, aberrational successes) have to do with businesses that prosper. In other words, Jane explains, POS is “about trying to reinvent professional practice in a way that’s ‘life-giving’ for both employees and the companies they work for.” Ten minutes into learning about the group’s research, John “decided to inject it into his organization,” Kim says. With the help of Kim and Robert, John and his team began to introduce positive organizational principles into Prudential Retirement—including institutionalizing forgiveness, resilience, supportive communication and employee empowerment—with the goal of creating sustainable culture change and meeting business goals. “Over the next four to five years, they had a lot of sessions with the senior team and salespeople. A lot of interventions occurred in which John was the champion for implementing these principles,” explains Kim. Over a period of time, there was a systemic change at the firm—a culture change, built around positivity, which had a remarkable business impact. Prudential Retirement executives feared they could lose 50 percent of their customers during the transition, but they retained 95 percent. “Bottom-line revenues,” Kim says, “increased by 5 or 6 percent.” The Virtues of Victorious Companies Kim’s area of expertise is the importance of “virtuousness” in organizations, and what he’s found since the emergence of POS is that the good guys really do win. Companies have a role to play in employee wellbeing beyond “up with people” motivational slogans—and even beyond compensation. Companies can structure themselves around the promotion and practice of good habits that engender spirits of genuine goodwill, and when they do, they’re more likely to flourish alongside their employees. The term “virtuousness” is intentionally broad. It is inclusive of several individual virtues, including kindness, compassion, forgiveness, humility, generosity, empathy and patience. In other words, “the best of the human condition.” Kim has conducted studies that attempt to determine “if one particular virtue or cluster of virtues is especially accountable for good performance. As it turns out, none of these virtues operate independently of each other. It’s the aggregation of virtue that’s more important than any single thing.” Kim stresses that a virtuous organization is more than just a collection of virtuous people. Businesses and other kinds of collectives possess a particular character just as an individual possesses a particular character. “You can have a whole bunch of virtuous people, and they can get into an organization where the culture or practices or routines drive out any opportunity to display virtues. The dynamics of organizations often supersede any individual attributes.” Practicing virtues, Kim has found, can turn organizations around. “Virtuousness is its own reward,” he says. “Of course, CEOs say, ‘Show me how it will pay off.’ And unequivocally, after a dozen years of research, we can see that bottom-line performance is significantly affected by these sorts of things.”Compassionate Companies Like Kim and all POS scholars, Jane agrees that positivity-driven success emerges from a braid of several good behaviors, but she has made compassion in the workplace her specialty. “There is so much human suffering at work,” she says. Other scholarly fields have long studied compassion, but “up until 10 or 15 years ago, we weren’t even thinking it had a place at work. But because people are at work, and people inherently suffer, there is always a place for compassion.” Jane has come to see compassion as “essential for sustainable economic performance.” The reason is simple: People who are grieving from pain are not as productive or successful as people who are healthy and whole, people whose most urgent emotional needs are being met. One study estimates that gaps in performance caused by grief cost U.S. firms an average of $75 billion annually. Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, one of the major social networking success stories of the last decade, is an outspoken advocate of compassionate leadership. Jeff has said that the practice of compassion is the single most important management principle he has ever adopted. Jane says that while “you hear a lot of leaders spinning this stuff,” she’s also seen recent evidence that Jeff means it. Earlier this year, a graduate student in Jane’s program applied for a summer internship with LinkedIn. One of the application questions asked the prospective intern to imagine that she was a manager who received a phone call from an employee whose baby had been put into a special incubator that was an hour away from the office. What would you do? “Most MBA internship questions are not about what you should do in response to human suffering,” Jane says. “Weiner is screening people for their compassion values. In recruitment, he’s favoring people who are compassionate.” Alongside the POS field in general, Jane’s attention to compassion in the workplace was kick-started by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. She had already been studying compassion for a few years, having become interested in it during a time of personal trauma in her own life when two different organizations responded to her needs in different ways—one caring, one not. Earlier in 2001, Jane and some colleagues proposed an article to the Harvard Business Review on workplace compassion, and “they had just canned it” in the days before 9/11. “On Sept. 14, I called the editor and said, ‘We know from what we’re seeing all around us that there needs to be an article’ ” on compassionate leadership and managing people through trauma. The Harvard editor agreed, and the journal “produced the fastest article they had ever done.” Jane’s research has grown ever since, and she’s replete with examples of the power of compassion in the workplace. One favorite is the story of “Ari,” a low-level district sales manager for the multinational corporation Cisco Systems. Not long after a regional office hired him, Ari was involved in a serious bicycle accident. John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO, had been working to instill a culture of employee care, and from the top down, Ari and his family were cared for generously during his long recovery period. Employees contributed unused vacation time, which was converted to cash. Cisco matched all donated funds, but it didn’t stop there. Ari and his family were given cell phones so they could stay in touch. He received regular emails from management, both local and global. Cisco even changed the description of Ari’s job, which had required extensive travel, so that he could return to work when he was ready. Inshort, Cisco and its employees took care of Ari—in a variety of ways, and for an extended period of time. “Imagine a wound in a body,” Jane says. “You’ve got lots of different systems that are emerging and coordinating in response to the need. That’s what compassion is like.” “Compassion is not a separate thing,” Jane says. “It’s an indicator of a healthy community. If you have an organization that is learning to flourish that is deeply alive, the compassion is just part of the soil. It’s just part of the competence of the collective. They care for each other in a way that allows them to do extraordinary things.” A more humble but no less compassionately powerful place that Jane and her colleagues studied was a 30-employee billing department at Jackson Community Hospital in Jackson, Mich. A medical billing department might be the last place you’d expect to be thriving in goodwill. “They do tough work,” Jane says. “Their job is to call people and chew them out for not paying their bills.” Many of the women who work there have tough lives outside of work. “These are single parents, or people who have had significant trauma in their lives,” Jane says. “Some normal suffering, but also some people who were experiencing domestic violence.” But throughout Jackson’s health system, the billing department is hailed as a dynamic, delightful place to work. Jane and her colleagues discovered that the reason for the department’s reputation is that it is a place that excels at compassion. “These employees would say they loved going to work,” Jane says, “because at work they were learning to love.” While the medical billing industry averages a staff turnover rate of 25 percent, the Jackson unit’s turnover rate is just 2 percent. One staffer, Korinna, lost her mother unexpectedly soon after she was hired, and her new billing department colleagues supported her for weeks on end. Korinna eventually needed a leave of absence to deal with her grief. “I was never made to feel guilty,” she told Jane. I knew that I was in everyone’s prayers and I knew that when I did come back, that I would be in a condition that I could give back what I had received—the compassion and theprofessionalism.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jackson’s billing department wears its good mood on its sleeve. It is located in “this pretty vanilla office building,” says Jane. “Vanilla walls. Vanilla everything. But you get off on the next floor and walk into the billing department and it’s like walking into that one classroom when you were a kid—that classroom that everyone wanted to be in. It’s vibrant, colorful. Nothing that costs a lot of money, but the rooms have all these beautiful construction paper cutouts and creative expression on the walls. It’s like play—they play a lot together.” In this compassionate climate, Jackson’s accounts receivable achieved a formidable accounts receivable record. In one five-year stretch, the department reduced the average number of days to collect monies from 160 to 60. As of the last study in 2011, that number is closer to 50 days, which rivals the industry average. Jane’s files are becoming packed with these stories. “We started this work thinking that the major story was going to be the absence of compassion” in the workplace, Jane says. “And there are huge absences of compassion. But the big surprise is that compassion is everywhere.” Patton Dodd’s work has been featured in Newsweek, Slate and Christianity Today. He has authored two books, The Tebow Mystique and My Faith So Far.
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Businessman standing looking upward

A Positive Approach to Problems

When facing an obstacle in your work or personal life, you likely start by looking for what’s not working. That’s a problem-solving skill that comes so naturally it’s nearly instinctive. You identify the problem, find root causes, brainstorm solutions, choose the best solution and implement it.But what if you focused on what’s going right and then replicated those best practices in other areas? What if there were a different approach that would complement and add to your instinct to fix what’s broken? Well, there is. We call it the strengths-based approach.Imagine that you’re an architect who designs bridges. How would you learn about the best bridges to build? Would you study all the bridges that have collapsed or all the bridges that have withstood the test of time? You probably would study both. However, too often we focus only on the bridges that havecollapsed.In contrast, strengths-based leaders focus more of their attention on what’s going right and then replicate those best practices in other areas. They don’t ignore problems; rather, they recognize that solving problems and shoring up weaknesses are only part of the resultsequation.Let’s look at a consultant who specializes in project management—we’ll call her Elizabeth. When Elizabeth first approaches a client, she asks: “What’s the problem?” She finds out what hasn’t been working so that she can propose various solutions and help the client implement the most promising one.There is nothing wrong with this approach. People like Elizabeth traditionally improve results by removing one problem after another. This is crucial for companies todo—and do well.Now imagine another version of Elizabeth. The client starts telling her about the product problems. She then asks: “Where in the company is this not a problem? In what department is it working extremely well?” Elizabeth is focused on what is already going right, and she is looking for ways to replicatesuccesses.We don’t apply the same rigor to studying and capitalizing on what’s going right. We don’t often study the exceptional results to see what we can learn and apply them elsewhere in our business. And even if we do, when we try to implement these best practices, we are often met with resistance or what we call the “that won’t work here” syndrome.We are certain there are some areas of your life that are going really well. Study those and see whether you can repeat it in other parts of your life. You may be extremely proactive about setting up meetings, but you may be not so good at organizing projects.Consider why you do well at being proactive about meetings. You may say that you like to set up a meeting as soon as you believe it is needed, without hesitation. What if you applied that same attitude toward organizing your projects? As soon as you decide that you need to organize some projects, what if you jump right in with a small organizational step? What makes us successful in one arena can be studied and incorporated into another arena.Becoming a strengths-based leader isn’t about implementing some program du jour. It’s a way of being—a way of leading. Leaders must first acknowledge and model their own strengths. Only then can a leader truly appreciate and leverage the strengths of others.Margaret H. GreenbergandSeniaMaymin, Ph.D.​are organizational consultants and executive coaches. You can find more information new book isProfit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business(McGraw-Hill Professional, 2013).
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People Cheering at a Baseball Game.

Cultural Change and Moral Power

Sometimes I will ask a group, “Did you know that organizations are political?” This always brings a knowing laugh. The laugh suggests a question, Why would I ever ask about something so obvious? The laugh also demonstrates a fact. People have a natural understanding of hierarchy and political power in organizations. They know that people have self-interests, and they use expertise, position and authority to pursue those self-interests. One has to understand this to survive.Moral PowerI spend much of my time teaching executives and MBAs about something they find difficult to accomplish. If they want to move from survival to flourishing, that is, if they want to make positive change, they must change the culture, and cultural change requires a kind of power that seems foreign to normal organizational assumptions. Cultural change requires leadership based on moral power.So I delight when I find a grounded observation I can use to help them understand my strange notion. I went to a movie called 42. It is about the life of Jackie Robinson. The movie is the story of a baseball player; it is also a story about the transformation of culture in America. At the heart of the movie is the exercise of moral power.(Note: Spoiler alert! This discussion describes several pivotal scenes in detail. If you prefer, go and see the movie, then return to this blog entry for a transformational perspective.)In 42, Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, recruits Jackie Robinson as the first black player. In one of the opening scenes, Rickey lays out the abusive behavior that Robinson will face and wants to know if Robinson will be able to handle it. Robinson asks if Rickey wants a man with enough courage to fight, and Rickey says he wants a man with enough courage not to fight.It is clear that Rickey has a deep understanding of the moral power that will be necessary. Moral means good, ethical and principled. Power means capacity. Moral power is the capacity that comes when we choose to live by a higher ethical principle.When we are offended, nature seems to provide two choices: fight or flight. Yet there is a third option. A person can choose to be purpose-driven. Such a person can choose to move forward without reacting to an injustice. Such a person is seen as different. This difference attracts attention and requires people to think and to make choices of their own. In the process of observing, thinking and choosing, some people change. The change can become contagious, and it may spread in a viral manner.Two IllustrationsTransformational change is usually a function of transformational leadership or moral power. In the movie there are many scenes in which people are transformed. I recount just two.Initially the Dodgers players are, like most everyone else, against Robinson. But over time they watch him absorb brutal abuse. At one point an opposing manager stands outside the dugout and pours continuous hateful statements on Robinson. As this continues the Dodger players seem to change. One player who was not particularly welcoming to Robinson finally stands up, walks across the field, and threatens to attack the manager if he says another word.Later Branch Rickey wisely notes that the opposing manager was actually helping the cause. He explained that when someone is abusive like the opposing manager and the recipient does not respond, people feel sympathy for that person. He says sympathy means “to suffer with.” The opposing manager caused the Dodger players to feel for and suffer with Jackie Robinson. In this suffering (or love) the assumptions and then the behavior of Robinson’s fellow players began to change. Moral power brought a transformation.In another scene the Dodgers are about to play in Cincinnati. Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers’ star shortstop, is from nearby Kentucky. Reese enters the office of Branch Rickey with a sense of indignation. He shows Rickey a letter. Someone in Kentucky has called Reese a carpetbagger and offers a threat. Reese is incensed. Rickey pulls out three thick files of hate mail sent to Robinson. The letters are filled with vicious threats. Reese is stunned by what he reads.The next scene is in the ballpark in Cincinnati. A father and young son are talking. The son is a Reese fan and says he hopes Reese performs well. The father responds tenderly and tells a story of when he was a boy and watched his favorite player do well. At that moment the Dodgers take the field, and the tender father suddenly yells viciously at Robinson. The boy watches with curiosity and then does the same.Here there are two jolting moments. First, we discover that a man capable of being a tender father can also be a racist. Second, we watch a relatively innocent boy observe the father he loves and then adopt his hateful behavior. It is one small illustration of the mix of nobility and frailty in all of us, and of the fact that we are all shaped by the cultures we live in.As the scene continues, the entire stadium vilifies Robinson. Pee Wee Reese observes this, and then does something shocking. He stops what he is doing, runs over to Robinson, and puts his arm around him. Robinson asks Reese what he is doing. Reese says, “I want these people to see who I really am.”The crowd grows quieter. A few begin to clap. The small boy watches. Then he slowly begins to clap.The once-incensed Reese makes a choice, behaves in a new way. The new behavior draws attention and requires a choice by others. New behaviors emerge. We witness another illustration of transformational influence.Cultural change occurs when people make new assumptions and then willingly engage in new behaviors. The new behaviors spread, not in a linear fashion but in a viral fashion. The contagious new way eventually results in a new culture. Transformational leaders use moral power to change assumptions and behavior. Since we assume organizations are political systems, it is difficult to see that they are also moral systems. The moral system is in constant need of attention.
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