Mentoring: an essential key to success

Since Northeast Delta Dental has won some national awards for best practices, including several Best Company to Work For awards, I get to serve on panels with other Best Company CEOs. Regardless of industry, I find that the CEOs of the best companies — the employers of choice — live by several common values. All of them are learned behaviors, not something we are born with. They are:• Trust respect and fairness: Employees are respected, both for their skills and abilities as employees and as human beings in general. There is an atmosphere of trust between management and employees in which each assumes that the other will do the right thing. • Open communication: There is open and honest communication within the organization — top-down, bottom-up and horizontally.• Recognition: Employees feel rewarded and recognized, in non-monetary ways, for their contributions and accomplishments.• Learning and development: There are opportunities for employees to learn and develop new skills and to progress and advance within the organization as their performance and desire dictates.• Teamwork and involvement: There is a sense of teamwork and collaboration with others and opportunities to contribute both to the organization’s success and the larger community.• Work/life balance: The organization’s policies, practices and culture respect the fact that employees have lives outside of work and affirmatively help them balance the competing demands of work and family. And it has to be more than policies — managers cannot say “no” through body language when employees request time off due to a family situation.

I have learned that when we do the right thing, everyone benefits. In all of the Best Companies, profits take care of themselves. As I have said many times, pay attention to people and the numbers follow. And paying attention to people involves mentoring and connecting with people.

I recently attended the graduation ceremonies of the Holderness School. The featured speaker, Dr. Pearl Kane of Columbia University, gave a terrific speech.In short, her major theme was that your success and leadership impacts are directly proportional to one’s efforts and hard work and connecting with people — not necessarily your native intelligence.

I know that if I’ve had any success in my life, it is related to working hard, connecting with people and cultivating relationships by expressing thanks when I’ve been helped or when a person has done a nice job. This is a form of mentoring.

Face-to-face connections

When I arrived in New Hampshire from Massachusetts in 1995, business leaders Dr. Sylvio Dupuis and attorney Bob Dastin became my mentors. They gave me advice and introduced me to others who have shaped my career and success at Northeast Delta Dental. They also introduced me to community organizations that in time benefited from a few of my leadership and governance skills.

I encourage students to actively seek out mentors. Both at college and in the work world, it will be important for you to seek the counsel of others who can help you reach your personal and professional goals. Mentoring is a team of two. Employers are looking for employees who are willing to work in teams to meet business objectives. Be involved with your mentors and other students to continue to enhance your ability to work collaboratively.

It’s important for students and businesspeople to connect live and in-person — not just on Facebook and LinkedIn. Connecting with people face-to-face has been a key to success for hundreds of years.

Education is the key that opens the door of opportunity. The world has changed in the last decade, and every state, including New Hampshire, is a participant in the global market. There is a sense in which we are competing with workers of other nations, and we need a highly educated workforce.Preparation for the workplace through doing the hard work of earning a college degree increases the likelihood that you will be hired for the job that interests you or that you have the tools you need to create such a job.

In a national survey, recent high school graduates were asked if they wished they had taken more challenging courses in high school. Seventy percent said they would have taken tougher courses if someone had asked them to do so, if they had had a mentor to encourage them.

As a CEO, I talk to people all of the time about the need we have in today’s workforce. What we hope to find in our job applicants are people who can think critically, problem-solve, work in teams and lead groups. These are the types of skills students learn from rigorous courses, encouraged by mentors.

Good companies don’t just hire you; they train you and keep developing you. At Northeast Delta Dental, we are looking for employees who are eager to learn, and that’s the kind of company they will want to work for.

I encourage students to build their careers in New Hampshire. We lose too many college graduates to other states, and we hope when you graduate you will establish yourselves in New Hampshire. We need you.
Tom Raffio, president and chief executive of Concord-based Northeast Delta Dental, is a member of the New Hampshire Board of Education. This article is excerpted from remarks he delivered at The NHHEAF Networks’ recent College Equals Opportunity awards ceremony.