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A Business Tip From a Country Boy: Invest in People

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Former President Bill Clinton, in his already-famous speech at the Democratic National Convention, said:

"We know that investments in education and infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase growth. They increase good jobs, and they create new wealth for all the rest of us."

Plant Corn, and You Get Corn

Finally, someone said what white- and blue-collar workers have known for 30 years: you need to invest in people to have an innovative and productive economy. Billy Pratt, my riding coach, used to say "you get corn, if you plant corn." In other words, if you plant the seeds of winning by practicing every day, you win, if you don't, you lose. Neither in government nor in business have we been planting corn. We quit planting it almost 30 years ago when we got rid of middle management in government and the private sector, and as the economy reveals, we are losing.

"If I Give You 10 People, You Need to Return 12 to Me"

That's one of my client's favorite directives to his team. When he was asked about this, his answer was simple: To be competitive, you need to have talented staff. You can have the best consumer product, but if your people aren't developed in your culture, they won't sell it to your advantage. You can't just develop the people that currently work for you, you also need to mine for the people you will need.

Mentoring as Risk Insurance

How do you do that? How do you train people in your culture while training them to do their jobs? You invest in them and educate them. My clients use mentoring as one of the tools in their chest to help replace the cultural transference that was the role of middle management in bygone years. When you are mentoring, you are turning information into knowledge that helps employees develop. You are also mitigating your hiring and retention risks. Mentoring acts as risk insurance, because through cultural transference that takes place during conversations, mentoring works to prevent employees from being disconnected and discontent.

Mentoring is also risk-management for promotion and hiring because it weeds out employees who aren't right for their positions. During our tenure with companies, we have seen people exit who were not right for the company -- one gentleman even left to become a Catholic priest.

Mining -- an Example of a Culture that Needs Transference

Mining is an industry that needs to rethink how it develops and sources its biggest resource: its people. Thirty years ago, the Canadian government used to fund the Geological Surveys in northern Canada. Today, they don't. Thirty years ago, students were plucked from university, moved up north and given work that innovated today's mining industry. Thirty years later, our mining companies are facing the fact that engineers in their 50s and 60s are getting ready to leave, and there are very few people who are training to replace them. How do you transfer the culture and knowledge of these engineers to young people? How do you increase productivity and the ability to innovate while you are transferring culture -- mentor.

Mentoring Is Planting Corn

Mentoring increases an employee's ability to innovate and be more productive because the mentor helps the mentee understand how to move from better to best, which is what middle management and training programs used to do.

Our research demonstrates that if you can move a mentee from better to best, he or she will trust the organization more, stay with the organization longer, and believe in and understand the value of the organization.

When President Clinton was talking about investing, rather than divesting, he was really talking not just to Republicans, he was inspiring business leaders who want to build a sustainable and profitable culture. Imagine that: a boy from Arkansas, telling people to plant corn.