In the business world, mentoring has traditionally been an informal and in-house arrangement—an opportunity for an experienced executive to serve as a guide and sounding board for an associate. But companies are increasingly turning to external mentoring resources, both to gain access to expertise they might not have internally and for the objective neutrality an outsider brings.
When Christian Mitchell received a large promotion and became vice president of corporate planning at Northwestern Mutual, he embraced the idea of working with a mentor. "I wanted someone I could bring my problems to and talk through my development areas in a very candid way. I thought it would be better if that person came from outside the company."
Patina recommended John Nelson, a business-savvy professional with nearly three decades of experience. Nelson brought an extensive background in change management and development and, like all Patina mentors, had been through the company's in-depth mentor certification process. "Each member of this group has a strong affinity for mentoring," said Jean Stevens, a Patina managing director. "When companies assign internal staff as a mentor they might not have the time, skill or desire to play this role, plus there can be issues of favoritism and confidentiality. Many of our clients have found a Patina mentor to be an invaluable alternative."
Mitchell initially found Nelson to be a great "gut check." "As I started in my new position, my general instincts about how to address both operational and people challenges were good, but I was questioning myself quite a bit. John reinforced my instinct and gave me greater confidence."
As the relationship evolved, so did Nelson's role. "Our discussions helped sharpen my thinking on how to build relationships with my new peers," Mitchell said. "John has also been a great source of strategic expertise, plus he's incredibly flexible and intuitive. He was able to quickly grasp the dynamics of my situation as well as my overall company. John's mix of coaching and content expertise was invaluable and he was effective in drawing out how to connect culture to strategy in a way that felt natural and enriched the discussion of both."
The Patina relationship continues to this day and extends past Mitchell's relationship with Nelson. "I view Patina and Jean Stevens as key advisors," Mitchell said. "I can bring a range of problems and questions to them and count on their thoughtful response. Sometimes the response results in an engagement, but other times Patina helps connect me to someone else in the business community. Sometimes, the response is simply good advice."