Job Embeddedness – Employees’ Connections and Workplace Turnover

January 20, 2011

In the last few blogs, we have written about the high level of dissatisfaction in today’s workplace.  The most recent Manpower survey found that 84% of workers hope to find a new job in 2011, more than a doubling from expression of dissatisfaction in late 2008.

This was followed with some contemporary ideas about social networks and how they overlap and potentially enhance the spread of innovation in the workplace.  WisdomShare™, the software for the administration of mentor programs from Mentor Resources, produces great matches for Mentor-Mentee pairing and enhances the development of social networks for the benefit of companies.

This led us directly to Brooks Holtom, the Georgetown Professor who specializes in how organizations acquire, develop and retain human and social capital.  Two of his papers, “Why people stay: Using job embeddedness to predict voluntary turnover,” andHow to keep your best employees: The development of an effective retention policy received a great deal of attention from the Academy of Management and were finalists for awards.

Notes from an interview with Professor Holtom will be posted here in a few days, but we thought we’d start with a quick overview of his research.  Professor Holtom is a key developer of the concept of Job Embeddness, which is a way to describe an employee’s links (to other people, teams and groups), their fit (into the corporate culture and community) and what they would have to sacrifice to leave their job.  Job Embeddedness is much more than a network described in Christakis and Fowler’s Connected, and can be used to predict both intent to leave and voluntary turnover. It offers a key factor in understanding why people stay on their jobs.

Job Embeddedness is a broad constellation of influences in three areas: Links, Fit and Sacrifice.  It is much broader than the older measures of job satisfaction, organizational commitment and job alternatives. It has been known for over a decade that work attitudes alone play a relatively small role in employee retention and leaving.  Even in periods like today, with high unemployment, perceptions of support, justice and burnout will cause breakage in the links which keep employees at their desks. Embedded employees are immersed in their “background” and find it hard to separate.  It is as if they are stuck in a perception of life where many aspects are connected usually in many different ways. 

Links: Their links to their co-workers include outside activities, or shared experiences and values.  They may be connected through a BRG/ERG, or their church.  They may share a passion for the outdoors, or travel, or their children’s sports teams. The links are social, psychological and financial and includes work and non-work friends, groups, hobbies, schools, etc. Since the links are built over time, highly linked employees tend to be older, married, have more tenure and have children.

Fit: An employee’s perceived compatibility or comfort with an organization is described as his or her fit with the corporate culture.  Again, it is well known that companies with a strong corporate culture “spit out” those who don’t fit, usually at about 18 months.  The better the fit, the higher the likelihood the employee will feel professionally and personally tied to the organization.  If they can identify the culture, potential employees will self-select on value congruence.  Job Embeddedness includes a community dimension to fit as well – outdoor activities, cultural opportunities, food and wine, colleges, population density and so on, vary by region and influence the community fit.

Sacrifice: Sacrifice is a label for the material or psychological benefits which may be forfeit in leaving one’s job.  Compensation is included, but this aspect of Job Embeddedness also attempts to capture the intangibles.  Possible non-portable aspects of a job include apparent job stability, anticipated advancement, status among peers, opportunities for interesting projects, sabbaticals and other accrued advantages. There may also be community sacrifices if one has to relocate.

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In our next blog, Brooks Holtom will discuss how Job Embeddedness can help managers think about the specific on-the-job and off-the-job factors that influence employee retention.  It is our hope that these ideas will help you find more effective ways to manage through this challenging employment environment.


Mentoring for New Hires (On-Boarding): Part 1

January 10, 2011

There are seven types of formal mentoring programs. 

Mentor Resources is one of the leading providers of software for managing mentoring programs with a few dozen pairs to thousands of particpants.  Our software can be tailored to nearly all of these.  Most of our customers run several mentoring programs with different objectives and participants, and our software has considerable flexibility to help you reach your mentoring goals.

By way of review, the seven types of mentoring programs we see with our clients are:

  • Mentoring for Succession Planning
  • Mentoring for Communities of Practice  
  • Reverse Mentoring
  • Mentoring for Career Development
  • Mentoring within Employee Resource Groups
  • Mentoring for Skills Transfer
  • Mentoring for On-boarding

On-boarding or Mentoring for New Hires may be the single most effective way to integrate new employees into an existing corporate culture.  A new employee is assigned a Mentor who is a peer.  The Mentor is there to explain the unwritten rules of the workplace and to shorten the learning curve of the new employee.

Every article and book about Millennials, the demographic group now in their 20’s, points out that these employees expect and seek a significant amount of feedback about their performance. Many managers (read this as “most Baby Boomers”) find this expectation draining.  This results in both the supervisor and the new employee frustrated and dissatisfied with the work environment. 

One effective solution is to pair the new employee with another, more experienced, Millennial as a Mentor.  Note, this experienced colleague is not the supervisor of the new employee, but someone who can give realistic feedback and temper the Millennial’s expectations to the organization’s norms. 

As a broad generality, Millennials view work as a central part of their life, not a separate activity that needs to be “balanced” against.   Therefore, finding work that’s personally fulfilling and socially connected is of paramount importance.

For these employees, mentoring can be a meaningful recruiting tool. Millennials assume work is a place to make new friends, learn new skills and connect to a larger purpose.  If an employer can offer the Millennial a clear path towards this, through a peer-mentor, the employer will be offering a compelling Employee Value Proposition. 

In plain English, your firm can get a better pool of candidates with peer-mentoring as part of the employment package and simulaniously take some of the burden off the line managers at the same time. Mentoring is one of the high priority factors Millennial strivers seek in an employer. 

Click here for a recent article from the Harvard Business Review on Millennials and mentoring.  Contact us directly for more information.


Who is Mentor Resources?

December 22, 2010

Mentor Resources is the second largest provider of mentoring software to Fortune 500 companies, non-profits and universities.  WisdomShare, our web-based application matches Mentors and Mentees, provides how to tools and training and follows up with the participants.  What makes  WisdomShareTM unique is our proprietary matching algorithm which uses job experience, work skills and over a dozen personality characteristics to create a match. 

 A Great Match creates better results from a Mentoring Program – measurable in higher retention, higher employee engagement, lower cost, faster promotions or whatever the goals of your organization’s mentoring program, WisdomShare is one-of-a-kind in delivering matches that work. 

Sharing What Works is our goal and motto.  Based upon a strengths-based learning model, we have built software which improves knowledge sharing, helps corporations reach diversity goals and enhances leadership development programs.

When Education and Training Aren’t Enough: IT Business Analysts

November 8, 2010

One area where Mentoring is critical to the development of Talent is the crossover between Technology Project Management and Business Analysts – employees who can keep the IT project on track to solve the business problem. This combination of skills goes by different job titles in different firms: Business Analyst, Business System Analyst, Business System Planner and Business Solutions Architect are among the most common.  Regardless of the title, this is an experienced manager, who is able to keep the IT project on track as a solution to a business problem.

The person may come out of the Operations or IT.  Their role is to bridge the chasm and facilitate communication between the two sides. As with any other leadership role, competency comes from acquiring the technical skills (education and training) and experience, which is facilitated by mentoring from someone more experienced.

At minimum, Business Analysts need education in Project Management, Business Administration, plus Computing and Management Information Systems. 

These managers are challenged by: 

1)     A temptation to overanalyze.  Seeking feedback from both sides is essential, but can lead to analysis paralysis.

2)     Business Analyst move into a generalist role with both the business and technical arenas.  One risk is the loss of credibility if the Analyst doesn’t stay current with technology and business trends

3)     Business Analysts can sometimes dominate the conversation.  Often, this causes them to become a barrier rather than a facilitator of the conversation.

But probably the biggest challenge is the lack of skill.  IT departments tend to assign employees with strong technology skills the role of Business Analyst.  They often lack the management skills and business skills.  They get caught up in the projects specifications, and lose track of the larger business problem which the specifications attempted to address.

We just read a very interesting article on Business Analysts – and almost every page of the white paper made reference to the challenge of developing this talent and the role of mentoring.  Please click here to go to Business Analyst: The Pivotal IT Role of The Future by Kathleen B Hass, PMP for Management Concepts 

Management Concepts offers a number of training offerings for the development of Business Analysts. But even with offerings focused on “leadership and facilitation skills, rich in lean-thinking, agile tool sets … and a real world IT situations including outsourcing challenges” their printed material continues to discuss the importance of mentoring for both the individual’s career and as a tool for managers advancing the organization’s IT Business Analyst capability.

Mentor Resources is the second largest provider of tools for formal mentoring programs.  WisdomShare™ has been designed to find a great match between the mentor and the mentee, so that they are both engaged and thus, a faster transfer of knowledge and experience.

Seven Types of Mentoring

November 5, 2010

The word Mentor goes back to Greek mythology.  Mentor was the son of Alcumus. In his old age, Mentor was a friend of Odysseus who placed Mentor and Odysseus’ foster-brother Eumaeus in charge of his son Telemachus when Odysseus left for the Trojan War.  Because of Mentor’s and Eumaeus’ near-paternal relationship with Telemachus, the personal name Mentor came to be used in the 18th century as a term meaning a father-like teacher.

The modern use of the word, mentor, is derived from this.  A mentor is a trusted friend or a counselor with more experience who shares insights. Mentors provide expertise to less experienced individuals, known as a mentees (or protégés), to help them advance their careers, enhance their education, and build their networks.

By definition, mentoring involves communication and is relationship based. In the organizational setting, mentoring can take many forms.  But generally, mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development. Mentoring entails informal communication, over a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the Mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the Mentee). (From Wikipedia)

In the modern workplace, there are seven types of formal mentoring programs. Mentor Resources has tools for all of these.

  1. New Hires – This is sometimes referred to as on-boarding.  A new employee is assigned a Mentor who is a peer.  The Mentor is there to explain the unwritten rules of the workplace and to shorten the learning curve of the new employee.
  2. Skill Transfer – This is frequently used by corporations with a commitment to cross training or trying to build “hives” of expertise.
  3. Employee Resource Groups – Employee Affinity Groups often have desire for a formal mentoring program to enhance their employee’s career advancement.  Often these diversity groups want their members to be able to connect and share information about how to succeed in the organization and handling stressful situations.
  4. Career Development – The mentoring programs are generally set up by Human Resources under the name Talent Management.  Their goal is to make sure High Potential employees and “Emerging” High Potential employees acquire the right set of experiences and visibility to move up the organization.
  5. Reverse Mentoring – Is one of the newer areas of mentoring.  One of the side effects of a well matched Mentor-Mentee pair, is a broadening of perspective on both sides.  This has become an important part of the development of Senior Managers.
  6. Communities of Practice – Similar to Skill Transfer Mentoring, but longer-term programs for participants in Tech Clubs and other matrix management type organizational structures.  These mentoring programs are geared towards encouraging the development of advanced professional skills.
  7. Succession Planning – Mentoring for the transition into the “C-suite” is, but definition, done with very small numbers of hand-selected people.  This is the only type of Mentoring where WisdomShareTM and Mentor Resources’ software tools are inapplicable.

Each of these types of Mentoring Programs improves employee retention and engagement, if there is a good match and the Mentor-Mentee “click”.   WisdomShareTM, our matching algorithm is based upon skills, job experience and personality traits.

Preparation for a Community of Practice

November 3, 2010

Formal Mentor Programs almost always have to goal of managing and transferring knowledge.  Well-run companies recognize that knowledge (or intellectual capital) is the source of their value creation, and that these assets need to be shared and expanded within the firm.

In this context, we have been thinking about the classic, Cultivating Communities of Practice, by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder. Communities of Practice come together around their shared interest and expertise.  If the community is thriving, it increases the intellectual capital of the individuals and the organization. The book focuses on “aliveness,” a key characteristic of successful Communities of Practice, and how to encourage its development.  Aliveness is driven by the personal interactions of the participants. 

It can be challenging to get a  Community of Practice started, as a “community” is a human institution that, by definition, is spontaneous, self-directed and usually evolves naturally. Communities, unlike project teams or matrix reporting structures, need to invite the interaction – as this creates “aliveness”. 

According to the authors, creating a Community of Practice in your organization means thinking along the lines of life-long learning, rather than traditional organizational design.  The first step is to draw in potential members and to have them extend the community to their personal and professional network.  

Creating the right environment to encourage the development of a Community of Practice, involves first building a robust culture of sharing knowledge across multiple locations and departments.  This would describe most of the firms who believe they have strong mentoring cultures. 

If your organization is thinking about how to create or improve its mentoring culture, we would like to talk to you. Mentor Resources is the second largest provider of software tools for formal Mentoring Programs.

IBM’s War for Talent

October 17, 2010

I know several women who tell the same story. 

They graduated from a top-tier college in the early 1960’s.  Near their graduation date, they were offered an opportunity to sit for an IQ test and, based upon the results, they were immediately hired by a large insurance company to be trained as a computer programmer. (This was in the era when a “computer bug” was a moth that flew into the vacuum tubes and shut down the computer.)

To us, in 2010, The War for Talent is a term McKinsey coined and promoted in the late 1990’s and is also the title of a book by Ed Michaels, Helen Handfield-Jones and Beth Axelrod.  Published by Harvard Business School Press in 2001, the book has become a classic.  The authors argued that coming demographic shifts would make it harder to replace leaders in the future.  For business to succeed, they would need to

  1.  expand their understanding of the pool of potential leaders to include women and minorities, and
  2. actively develop the leadership skills of their existing and future employees.

But the War for Talent (in computer programming) was so fierce, in 1964, that my friends, with no experience with computers, were offered jobs that included training in programming.

 Which brings me full circle, to this video (click here), shown by IBM when the company won the Out & Equal Workplace Excellence Award.  The video is short and well worth your time.  A number of employees read Policy Letter #4, a half page memo signed by then IBM President, Thomas J. Watson Jr., in 1953.  The same employees then tell their name/origin and their years of employment with IBM.

So what was happening at IBM in 1953, that prompted the President of IBM write a memo which was radical for the times? Click here to read the full text, but in part it reads, “It is the policy of this organization to hire people who have the personality, talent and background necessary to fill a given job, regardless of race, color or creed.” 

What was happening in 1953?  IBM was experiencing talent acquisition challenges.  Ten years later, these same challenges to finding qualified programers would prompt large computer users (like insurance companies) to hire “people off the streets” in hopes that they could be trained in the role.  (IQ alone turned out to be a poor way to hire future computer programers. None of these friends lasted more than a month in their training program.) 

IBM has been fighting to get and keep the best people for over fifty-five years.  No wonder the company is a leader in diversity, in mentoring, in talent management and in sponsorship.  (See our September 22, 2010 blog.)

The original war for talent study was done in 1997.  The follow up study by McKinsey (War for Talent, Part Two), presented evidence that  “companies doing the best job of managing their talent deliver far better results for shareholders. Companies scoring in the top quintile of talent-management practices outperform their industry’s mean return to shareholders by a remarkable 22 percentage points.”

Mentor Resources is the premier provider of provides tools for mentoring to improve employee retention and engagement.  Because a Great Match results in a Better Mentoring Experience. 

Ask us how we can help your talent-management program.

Is your ERG measurably effective?

October 13, 2010

This is a follow up to the blog posted earlier in the week on the evolution of Business Resource Groups (ERGs or BRGs).  They migrate along a recognizable path from an Informal Affinity Group, to a Formal (but still inward-looking) Affinity Group, to an Employee Resource Group (with clear support and resources from the corporation) to the highest level of contribution to the firm, the Resource Business Group.

Business Resource Groups (BRGs) differ from Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) because they have explicit goals which are tied directly to objectives of the business.  Thus, the BRG will have goals for recruiting and business development – which are monitored and regularly reported.

Two partners from Deloitte’s Atlanta office gave a presentation on metrics for evaluating the maturity and effectiveness of ERGs/BRGs.

The full text of this blog has moved to

From Affinity Group to Business Resource Group

October 9, 2010

Thank you for visiting the Mentor Guru Blog. We have moved and this blog is now posted at:

Our goal is to share two decade of experience managing corporate mentor programs.

Good Boss: How to Be the Best

October 2, 2010

At Mentor Resources we believe in Strength-Based Learning.  We have built an entire company around the idea that a Great Match creates better results from a Mentoring Program.

But we recognize that most mentoring programs are part of a company’s leadership development or talent management program. So we read many of the newly published books on leadership and management development.

One that is worthy of you time is: Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best … and Learn from the Worst.

Written by Robert Sutton, Professor of Management and Engineering at Stanford University, the book blends the latest management and psychological research with stories derived from reaction to his prior book, The No Asshole Rule (a NY Times bestseller).

By contrasting examples of the best and worst bosses, Sutton builds a case for staying in attuned to how the people who work directly for you react to what you say and do.  The best bosses are self-aware and know that their success depends on accurately interpreting their impact on others, and having the self-control to make adjustments that spark effort, dignity, and drive among their people.

Most supervisors suffer from overestimating their intellectual and social skills, but the best bosses are keenly aware of their flaws and work to overcome them.  They constantly seek to change and improve the situation, sometimes calling in others to help. The best bosses devote significant effort to understanding how their moods and actions impact their followers’ performance.

A Summary of Useful Tricks for Taking Charge

Since the single most important thing bosses to is convince others that they are in charge, we will share with you Sutton’s seven steps for enhancing the perception of leadership:

1. Talk more than others, but not the whole time.

2. Interrupt occasionally—and don’t let others interrupt you too much.

3. Cross your arms when you talk.

4. Use positive self-talk

5. Try a flash of anger occasionally.

6. If you aren’t sure whether to sit or to stand, stand. Place yourself at the head of the table.

7. Surrender some power or status, but make sure everyone knows that you did so freely.

We are very interested in talking to organizations about their leadership development programs and the role of a formal mentoring program.