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Harnessing the Power of Mentorship

Companies can build a stronger, more inclusive workforce by investing in mentoring at every level.
Angela Hanson
TWIC Talk mentorship webinar

NATIONAL REPORT — In the convenience store industry and beyond, leadership isn't only something that happens at the top of the organizational chart. Mentorship builds connections throughout every level, helping organizations attract and retain talent, keep their team members engaged and help new employees hit the ground running, while bringing together people from different racial and cultural backgrounds, belief systems, orientations and age groups.

Four female leaders in the c-store industry came together to share their experiences with mentorship during the recent webinar, "TWIC Talk: Breaking Down Barriers Through Mentorship," presented by Convenience Store News and Altria Group Distribution Co.

The webinar was offered as part of CSNewsTop Women in Convenience (TWIC) program and The Convenience Inclusion Initiative, a CSNews platform that champions a modern-day convenience store industry where current and emerging leaders foster an inclusive work culture that celebrates differences, allows team members to bring their whole selves to work, and enables companies to benefit from diversity of thought and background.

"I believe mentoring is important because it empowers our employees. They feel supported and gain confidence in themselves — a confidence they may not have had in the past," said webinar participant Julie Beltran, COCO training specialist at Chevron USA Inc.

Several key aspects of mentorship make it "more important than ever before," according to Anne Cauthron, director of learning and development at El Dorado, Ark.-based Murphy USA Inc.: it fosters professional and personal growth; provides team members with guidance, support and insights to help develop their skills, enhance their knowledge and achieve career goals; and it supports the transfer of knowledge and experience.

"It is a critical component of succession planning and leadership development," she added.

The benefits of mentorship programs also can go both ways. Jessica Hendrickson, vice president of sales strategy and enablement for Altria Group Distribution Co., highlighted the benefits of "reverse mentorship," where a more seasoned leader has the opportunity to engage with rising leaders to better understand their perspective. "I think it's really important for everybody in the organization, not just rising talent, for all those reasons," she said. 

The Building Blocks of Mentorship 

The female leaders shared varied ways to structure mentorship programs, beyond just one-to-one pairings. Atlanta-based RaceTrac Inc. has a cohort learning pod called the New Leader Development Track, which provides opportunities for newly promoted leaders to come together and learn essential leadership and business skills through peer networking, self-awareness sessions, leadership assessments and even a book club.

"There's opportunity even for leaders who are new to RaceTrac but not to leading to participate," said Angela Pimenthal, executive director of compliance and safety at RaceTrac.

Meanwhile, Altria takes a two-pronged approach to mentorship — pairing employee resource groups across the enterprise with a formal mentorship program  in addition to leveraging external programs to foster mentorship within the industry, as well as within Altria.

One of Chevron's mentorship programs focuses on teaching managers and their team members how to conduct conversations that help achieve goals, improve communication and respond in ways that meet people's unique personal needs.

"A lot of times, we forget to give feedback or we don't ask for feedback," Beltran said. "In this class, we're actually teaching them to ask their supervisors for feedback more, rather than waiting for feedback."

Organizations may benefit from varying formality levels in mentorship. Murphy USA has a formal process that matches experienced mentors with newer mentees and takes a structured approach to ensure productivity and meaningfulness for both sides, along with an informal peer mentoring and buddy system that enables new team members to support and guide each other.

When it comes to the dos and don'ts of mentoring, Altria's Hendrickson recommends that mentors "invest in relationship building" and she underscored the importance of recognizing that each mentee is a unique individual; the experiences they need and the actions to take may differ from what works for another mentee.  

In situations where the goal isn't to find the fastest solution or even any solution, RaceTrac's Pimenthal advises mentors to focus on listening and understanding.

"Seek first to understand before being understood, and then help be the guide and not go to the easy," she said. "This is not the time for easy, right? This isn't the time to shout out the answer and move on. This is really the time to help guide and encourage that mentee to get there. So, I think the listening component is really, really essential."

Specifics and clarity are a big help to mentees, too, according to Cauthron.

"I feel that as a mentor, we should be prepared to demonstrate radical candor, of course being very respectful, but providing specific and actionable feedback to help the mentee grow and improve," she said, adding that mentors should avoid overstepping boundaries. "They should feel that we can be trusted to maintain confidentiality within the relationship."

Beltran believes in giving everybody equal opportunity to mentor or be mentored, which can reveal "hidden gems." She stressed, however, that mentors need to be ready for the commitment of such a role.

"If you're going to take on a mentee, make sure that you are going to be there for them because they're going to be looking for your support through their mentorship," she said.

A replay of "TWIC Talk: Breaking Down Barriers Through Mentorship" is available here.

About the Author

Angela Hanson

Angela Hanson

Angela Hanson is Senior Editor of Convenience Store News. She joined the brand in 2011. Angela spearheads most of CSNews’ industry awards programs and authors numerous special news reports. In 2016, she took over the foodservice beat, a critical category for the c-store industry. 

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