Career Mentoring Program Snapshot: Bridgestone Americas

Recently, Vince Reardon featured Bridgestone Americas, a Chronus customer, and their successful career mentoring program on his Mentoring Today podcast. We’ve provided a condensed and edited transcript of the interview for your convenience.

Vince Reardon: Some employees go back to college to get advanced degrees. Others seek out challenging, high-profile work assignments. While these are sensible career moves, they aren’t open to all employees. Fortunately, more companies today are identifying promising, ambitious employees and offering them career mentoring programs to promote their development.

Today I’m discussing this topic with Elliott Forsythe, a talent development consultant at Bridgestone Americas. Elliott and his team manage the talent development process at Bridgestone and Elliott specifically supports the finance organization, a group of almost a thousand teammates spread across the US, Canada, and Latin America. Welcome to Mentoring Today, Elliot.

Elliott Forsythe: Thank you for inviting me, Vince.

The Importance of Career Mentoring

Vince Reardon: My pleasure. First off, why does Bridgestone care so much about career mentoring?

Elliott Forsythe: That’s an excellent question, Vince. Mentoring was really part of our DNA in caring about our people. You know, some of our core values are things like inclusiveness and collaboration, integrity, and teamwork. The mentoring program really helps us implement that behavior in tactical ways.

When we started this program, we really focused on doing it for our employees. We didn’t set out to do this specifically because we’d get financial gain from it. It was really the right thing to do although we certainly do believe that we can show some financial return.

On Cross-Cultural Exchanges

Vince Reardon: I understand that the mentoring program began in the finance department and it includes employees from Costa Rica. How many of those employees are currently enrolled in the program, and what’s it like having employees from a different culture take part in it?

Elliott Forsythe: We have about 180 teammates who are active in the program and that includes both mentors and mentees. As you mentioned, we did include folks from Costa Rica and it was very deliberate that we included these individuals. We really have a diverse group of people who are part of our organization and many of them are in Latin American countries. Including those teammates is a decision designed to make sure we didn’t have any us-vs.-them relationships.

Managing the Career Mentoring Program

Vince Reardon: Interesting. Enrolling employees, matching them, managing them, and measuring these mentor-mentee activities – that’s a big job. Have you developed your own homegrown software or program to do that, or are you relying upon a third party?

Elliott Forsythe: Both. We started this about three years ago with a very homegrown platform. And we learned a lot from that in terms of:

  • How do we make matches work?
  • How do we connect people?
  • How do we manage the administrative side of these mentoring connections?

But as the program grew, it became clear that we needed to get a platform that could really take this to the next level and scale. Now obviously, with that kind of homegrown organic platform we struggled scaling, particularly as you start talking about international scale. So we partnered with a company named Chronus that has really helped us evolve our mentoring program and make it into something that’s scalable very quickly and scalable internationally. We’ve been very fortunate to partner with Chronus.

Matching People & Gathering Metrics

Vince Reardon: What is it like using their software and how do you use it?

Elliott Forsythe: We use the Chronus platform for an end-to-end solution for our program. It really helps us manage every stage of our program. We use it of course for enrolling teammates into the actual program.

We also use it for the matching component. We realized it was very important that we got the matches right because a mentoring relationship is really dependent on how well two individuals are matched. Chronus has really allowed us to go to a much more metrics-based matching. And it really allows us to look at a relationship before it starts and estimate the likelihood of success for that pair. And ultimately, we use it for managing the relationships to make sure certain key touchpoints are occurring.

We also use it for gathering metrics about the relationships. Are these relationships compatible? Are we showing progress towards mentoring goals? The software really gives us the metrics that we need to be able to show the value of this kind of program. And certainly as we consider scaling this program more broadly outside of the current group, having that type of information is invaluable.

Vince Reardon: It’s interesting that this can all be written into a software program and yet be very successful in meeting your needs.

Elliott Forsythe: Yeah, it’s been a really successful partnership and what I really like about the Chronus platform is that it’s almost completely customizable. We’ve been able to create a program that’s unique to Bridgestone, that’s special, that speaks our language, while having the common architecture that Chronus provides. We’ve been very happy and very fortunate to partner with them.

Goals of Bridgestone Tires’ Mentoring Program

Vince Reardon: Going down a little deeper, can you give us a picture into what goes into a mentoring relationship? For example, how long is the commitment between the mentor or the mentee? What does the junior employee get out of being mentored with a senior employee?

Elliott Forsythe: We want growth from both individuals – the mentor and the mentee. So the typical relationship in our program focuses around the goals of the mentee. What are the growth opportunities, what do they hope to learn, etc. and that’s really driven by the mentee. It really depends on what he or she is looking for. Face-to-face interaction is really valuable when possible. So we emphasize that a lot.

Vince Reardon: If you’ve read anything by Daniel Goleman about emotional intelligence, you’ll know that’s absolutely critical in today’s business. The ability to connect with other people, understand, let the mentee share his or her world with you and even from time to time challenge the mentee to the next level.

Elliott Forsythe: Another great benefit of these relationships is that we specifically match people who aren’t in the same job group. So we really try to build cross-functional relationships. And this is one of the very important ways the mentor and mentee both can learn about other sides of the business they may not have exposure to. They can learn about talent in other sides of the business.

The Successes of Bridgestone’s Mentoring Program

Vince Reardon: As you mentioned, when you’re fostering a collaborative community, you’re building bridges across barriers like departments, job category, to say nothing of gender and race, age, nationality. Is there one success story you might be able to share about the mentoring program that specially fosters this type of collaborative community within Bridgestone?

Elliott Forsythe: I certainly could point to one success story but I think it’s more beneficial and does more justice to the program to point to the 160 relationships that have grown as a result of this. They’re all success stories. They’re all phenomenal examples of cross-functional, cross-boundary relationships being built. When I look around the organization here in the finance team, we see connections being made and connections continuing long past the mentoring relationship.

Plans for the Future

Vince Reardon: That’s great. Are there any plans to broaden this within the company within the year or two or three?

Elliott Forsythe: Absolutely. We’ve been having some very robust and very mature conversations about how we can take this solution that we’ve put together and how we can expand this to the company so all of our teammates have access to this amazing opportunity. And we’ve had some very robust and mature conversations that I think will result in very real changes through 2016.

Vince Reardon: Well, today we’ve been speaking with Elliot Forsythe, a talent development consultant at Bridgestone Americas. By the way, they’re headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Elliot, thank you so much for talking to us today about mentoring. I really enjoyed our conversation.

Elliott Forsythe: Thank you for the opportunity.

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