An Army of Mentors

 -  11/6/10

The U.S. Army formalized mentoring among its 300,000 civilian workers with a battle plan to match up the right people and get them the best resources.

Many talent management leaders today may feel like they work in a war zone. Like the U.S. Armed Forces, talent managers are waging battles on multiple fronts, managing a workforce stretched nearly beyond its limits and wondering how to develop the next generation of strong leaders. So what can talent management leaders learn from the U.S. Army? Groundbreaking new mentoring programs for Army civilians demonstrate the value of taking a long view of talent management and investing in high-potential leaders now for the sake of the future.

Many organizations have some form of mentoring program or have taken steps to create a mentoring culture. And, much like the U.S. Army, when pressed to describe the structure, goals and outcomes of those mentoring endeavors, leaders would recount a highly variable set of results. Too often, mentoring programs — despite being well-intended — are loosely structured and informally administered. They may lack the curriculum, matching, training and engagement required to achieve real return on investment.

Tapping Into Leadership Potential

The U.S. Army employs a large corps of civilian leaders who work alongside and in support of the Army’s active leadership. The U.S. Army Civilian Corps is comprised of 300,000 civilian workers who lead key initiatives and manage staffs to sustain the Army’s active-duty forces at home and abroad. The Army’s leadership initiatives for developing active-duty forces are world-renowned, but the organization has recently placed new and unprecedented emphasis on the professional development of its civilian workforce. Mentoring is seen as a significant part of that effort.

One such program is inside the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and its Senior Leader Development Program (SLDP). The SLDP equips participants with the tools and skills required to lead and manage change, think strategically and represent the Army across organizations. The program is an overlay to the participants’ full-time roles, and it combines executive education with unique experiences and exposure in short- and long-term developmental assignments over a period of two years. Mentoring was always integral to the program, but it relied on leaders within the various positional assignments to provide mentoring in a less formal way.

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