CHICAGO — Laundry and linen services, like most businesses in general, are still struggling to find employees after the past few years.
Many strategies have been suggested and put into practice, but one that might be prime for laundry operations today is the use of mentoring programs.
Yvette Lee, an HR knowledge advisor at the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), says that mentoring is used to help employees learn, grow and gain knowledge in their field.
“You see it more often when leadership wants to grow other potential leaders within the organization,” she points out.
“The leadership is seeing that somebody has high potential, and they want to have somebody mentor them so that they have a sounding board, somebody who’s had a little bit more experience in that particular position or industry, things of that nature.
“Usually that’s where you see mentoring utilized.”
Mentor programs can help laundry and linen services better train, promote and retain employees throughout the organization.
In July 2022, Prudential Overall Supply, a provider of work wear and safety uniforms, career apparel and casual wear, cleanroom garments and related services headquartered in Irvine, California, launched its Mentoring Achieves Pathways to Success (MAPS) program.
“It’s the structure that we’ve introduced,” says Michael Flores, vice president of human resources. “We launched it last year as a formal program, and we just completed our first cohort of this. Right now, we are kicking off cohort No. 2.
He says that, currently, it’s a limited program for a selection of the company’s employees.
“For the broader population, we have more of like a buddy system, and that’s pretty informal, but for any production employees, route drivers, we will give them an internal buddy for them to serve as an internal peer, who is not their manager, who will give some mentoring,” Flores points out.
“But for our formal mentoring, that’s really our MAPS program.”
STARTING A PROGRAM
Flores says that for Prudential to start its mentor program, the company had to come up with a concept and what it thought it would ultimately look like.
“As we did that, we went through a number of steps,” he says. “The first one was we wanted to get the company involved and make sure that the business had participation, and so we took a group of primarily general managers and asked them to help us construct this.
“And so we had this mentoring advisory council and we met, I think, every other week and we would get their input. We would go back, and we build a little bit more. Come back in the next session. Run it by everybody, get their thoughts and opinions. Go back, build some more and so on.”
Once the concept and structure were set by the mentoring advisory council, Flores says the next step was to roll out initial communication.
“We let the organization know, ‘This is what we’re working on, stay tuned,’ because the organization will then be asked for mentor nominations,” he shares.
“And that was step number three. We wanted folks to nominate people who they work with internally who could serve as mentors for others.”
The mentor applications were then reviewed by a regional director, Flores says, who would then determine if the nominee made sense to be involved as a mentor. Then they would be approved.
“Then we went out and we did the same thing but on the mentee side,” he says. “And for our mentees, we went through a mentee nomination process, and then ultimately we had a mentor-mentee matching process.”
“When you’re talking about selecting mentors, again, a lot of that is going to go back to what’s the reason for the program? What is the organization looking to get out of it?” Lee says.
“And when you’re looking at selecting mentors, you want people who are going to be enthusiastic but also have enough knowledge that they can, for lack of better phrasing, impart that on to someone else.
“You also want to look at individuals who are open-minded to hearing concerns from others or even being a cheerleader, if you will. Just like not every person can be a manager, not every person wants or can be a mentor.”
She cautions that it does take time to look at who in the organization could be a mentor. What are their skill sets? Can they be helpful in this process?
“When you’re looking at mentees, usually, you’re looking for individuals who are hungry for knowledge,” Lee says. “Usually, you’re looking at individuals who have really shown a desire to grow within an organization or even in their field, if you will. And usually, you’re looking at individuals that are willing to accept advice and absorb.”
EVALUATING, IMPROVING PROGRAMS
For mentoring programs to be beneficial, they need to be monitored, evaluated for success and to determine areas for improvement.
“Without knowing what the program already has in place, they may want to evaluate if the mentors and the mentees are communicating on a regular basis,” Lee shares. “If they’re not communicating on a regular basis, that could be why the program is not thriving because people aren’t committed.
“Could it be that the mentors and the mentees need more support in terms of making that connection? Sometimes it takes time to build relationships. So, having events that are specific to the mentors and mentees, maybe having somebody come in and be a guest speaker to give them tips on how we can improve this mentor-mentee relationship.”
Another key factor she points out is determining whether or not leadership is supportive of the program.
“Because if leadership isn’t supportive of the program, then those who are mentors may not see it as a priority, and that can also hurt a program,” Lee points out.
“It’s very similar to a lot of programs in that it has to come from the top down. If leadership is constantly saying put that to the side, then the mentors are going to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to put that to the side,’ and it doesn’t really foster success.
“But if leadership is saying, ‘I know we have this project that’s due next week, make sure that you’re still making time for your mentee, maybe move up the conversation or push back the conversation by a week,’ those types of things can be helpful so that mentors don’t feel like it’s not being understood what’s needed.
“And not only that but sometimes it’s great to hear from leadership that this program can work, again that cheerleader, this program really can work. We can definitely cultivate individuals in our organization.”
Lee says she’s even seen some leaders who will make the mentor program part of a regularly scheduled meeting.
“They have that as part of their monthly meetings, asking how the program going,” she shares. “Do you need anything from us? Do you see any tweaks that may be needed? Things of that nature can help.”
Flores says that after cohort No. 1, the company gathered testimonials from some of the mentors and mentees, and “they were all positive.”
One mentee wrote, “My mentor taught me very much about Prudential and becoming a successful employee. I have since been promoted. The MAPS program is a great way to help develop skills and knowledge on getting prepared for that next step in my career.”
And a mentor wrote, “To be honest, I was very nervous to do this. I wasn’t sure if I was actually qualified to be a mentor. I thought it took many years of experience, but I’m very glad that I accepted. These past few weeks, I’ve been working with my mentee and that’s really been rewarding.”
“We just graduated our first cohort, and I think we had 15 mentee-mentor relationships,” shares Flores.
“We celebrated that by building recognition certificates. We distributed those out to our different locations. And for those people who actually completed this program, it had my signature and I think the signature of their regional director.
“We asked that that be done very publicly so that we could kind of build momentum for the program. And heading into cohort No. 2, we would hope that we would be even more successful.”
Flores says the company is conducting more in-depth surveys to determine the success of the program and any needed changes.
“The measurement will have to come from surveys to find out,” he says. “This being our first, this will be our baseline to see exactly what kind of feedback we get. We’ll be asking those questions in terms of numerical values, ‘rate the following.’
“We’ll see on a one to five scale, did we measure in key areas at a 2.5 or 3 or 3.23 or whatever it is, but that is still in the works.”
To read Part 1 on mentoring programs in practice, click HERE. Check back Thursday for the conclusion on the effectiveness of these programs.
Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].