In the past, I have written in this column about companies having a mentoring program for those who will be good candidates to guide and train other employees. The purpose is twofold:
- Maintain a high quality staff, and
- Continuously produce a high quality product through leadership.
I can say that over the years I have had a select few really good mentors, and I have also been able to mentor others in this business, so I speak with a sense of confidence based on personal experience that mentoring works. Whenever I indulge myself and reminisce about my career in HVAC, I recall mentors who guided me to first understand HVAC design, managing engineering projects, and then managing engineering groups, business, etc., all of which help me round out my background in the HVAC industry. I can reflect back and remember individuals in departments I have managed who have grown in this business with some structure provided by how I managed these people. Based on my experience being mentored and mentoring others, I wanted to raise awareness and/or remind you of mentoring and to suggest how to get started or how to jump-start a mentoring program that has gone dormant.
To begin this educational venture, I strongly recommend you do so by first refreshing your quality control problemsolving knowledge. I believe all quality control processes begin with data collection. In other words, don’t jump right to the answer which, in this case, is begin to outline your mentoring process (not program). The problemsolving approach I would recommend can be found via a web search; it is “Quality Process Improvement Tools and Techniques, By Shoji Shiba and David Walden, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Center for Quality of Management.”
I’d recommend a steering committee be formed with an odd number of participants (you don’t want a tie in the voting). Each of the members should be initially proficient in and believe in problemsolving via time-tested quality control tools. This alone may require your team to invest time learning and/or refreshing yourselves on the process selected and its associated problemsolving tools. I’d suggest a timeline that requires scheduled classes/meetings to prepare the steering committee in advance to developing the company’s mentoring process. Of course, meeting minutes need to be taken and distributed within 24 hours following the meeting. Don’t wait and hand out meeting minutes at the next meeting allowing others to say, “Oh was I supposed to do that before this meeting?” Gosh, does that bug me, but I digress!
Now, armed with a knowledge of problemsolving and a means to convey this knowledge to others, it is time to bring the steering committee together for the next assignment — creating a mentoring process using the quality control format that they have chosen. This, too, will require regularly scheduled meetings to develop the mentoring process. Thinking back to some of the mentoring influence I had, your process may include the following.
- Blend practical experience with theoretical experience.
- Blend design, fabrication, installation, commission, and operation into the process.
- Blend time management, communication, documentation, and client retention into the process.
- Blend finances into the process.
This mentoring approach can begin with an entry-level engineer to help guide this engineer for years to come, because it takes years to be knowledgeable and proficient with each step along the way.
Pre-selecting candidates will most likely influence, as well as compromise, the mentoring process. This process should be company-specific but still generic so that candidates are chosen based on the process and not the other way around. In the end, it is the HVAC firm looking to improve its product, whether it is consulting engineering, construction management, etc. And at the same time, it is looking to reinforce the company’s commitment to employees to ensure that this company will continuously be perceived as a leader in the HVAC industry for years to come.