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How to Develop High Potential Employees and Maintain Future Competitive Advantage

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By: Denise Bolden Coley

Technical Report #148 Abstract

This article reviews the design and implementation of a 360 career development program (curriculum, assessment, mentoring, development planning) to develop high potential employees. This is a program to develop employees as professionals and leaders. The Mentoring Program augments the mentoring relationship of the manager with course work and related educational training. The program is tailored to the needs of the employee and the corporation. The mentoring program consists of a mentoring relationship, career development assessment (360 feedback), an individual development plan, an applied project and program curriculum. The program benefits both the employee and the organization in ensuring their future competitive advantage.

"It was the single most valuable and eye-opening experience, during my professional career."
- Program Participant

To remain competitive in a dynamic and competitive computer industry, Apple Computer, Inc. is leading the way through employee mentoring. Rick LeFaivre, Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group wants Apple to be a creative, supportive, nurturing environment for employees. He states "Mentoring our employees is extremely important to our success."
- Rick LeFaivre


The Advanced Technology Group (ATG) is a research division chartered to develop knowledge, technology, products and people for the present and the future. As the Strategic Programs Business Manager, I am responsible for providing information, initiatives and programs that will encourage workforce diversity and provide career development programs that will be available to all employees within the division.

I worked with a task force to develop the Mentoring Program. The first step in development of the Mentoring Program is to align the program with the strategic plan of the division. Second, the task force made sure that the mission statement included language that the participants understand that they are nominated by senior management to participate and that the program must be fully supported by senior management.

The following provides further descriptive information about the ATG Mentoring Program.

The mentoring program consists of a formal mentoring relationship, a career development assessment for the protégé (mentee), an individual developmental plan for the protégé, an applied project (project based on development needs), and program curriculum. These activities take place in addition to their current job duties.


Mentoring Program

The Mentoring Program began three years ago with six protégés and six mentors. The objectives of the mentoring program are as follows:

To improve technology transfer into the product divisions by including mentors in the product organizations. (This leads to cross functional networking.)
To develop talent and technological skills for the future within the organization.
To facilitate the development of employees through a mentoring relationship with an experienced and more senior manager.

Sometimes, managers have difficulty mentoring employees because performance goals and measurement get in the way. In some corporate environments mentoring relationships occur naturally and spontaneously. ATG has augmented its manager's mentoring responsibilities via the Mentoring Program.

The Program Manager holds a series of meetings with the managers and senior management staff of the division prior to the kick-off of the program to promote understanding, involvement and commitment. In these meetings, everyone is briefed regarding the components of the program: mentoring relationship, core curriculum and career development.

During the briefing, each manager receives a commitment form that explains the expectations of the employees time commitment. The program consists of a mentoring triad approach (Mentor, Protégé, Manager).


The protégé reports to a manager who is responsible for the protégé's position responsibilities and career development. The manager (supervisor) works with the protégé on the development plan, applied project and acts as a coach during the year. The mentor is a senior manager who works with the protégé in a mentoring relationship during the year. This person shares his breadth of knowledge and experience with the protégé.

All mentors are encouraged to meet with the manager prior to their first meeting with the protégé to review the managers goals and objectives for the protégé.

Each protégé who participates in the program is informed they will participate in program measurements throughout the year. It is important they give the Program Manager honest and genuine feedback on the program. As the Program Manager, I use this feedback to make changes in the program that enhances its value to all participants.

Selection Process

The senior management staff nominates high potential employees based on criteria established by the Mentoring Program Task Force and Senior Management. These employees are regarded by senior management as strong candidates for promotional opportunities and/or added job responsibilities in the future. At the same time, the senior management staff is requested to nominate possible mentors for each potential participant. The potential mentors are senior managers who volunteer their time and meet the mentor requirements as established by the Mentoring Program Task Force and Senior Management.

The mentor will assist the protégé in the following areas:

  • Advise the protégé about organizational issues
  • Identify contacts and resources
  • Identify goals
  • Set expectations for development
  • Share experiences
  • Work with protégé to define an applied project and work on implementation of the project

The selection committee consists of the Vice President of ATG, senior management staff, human resources representatives and the Mentor Program Manager. The committee selects the potential protégés and recommends possible mentors. The Mentor Program Manager

  • meets with each potential protégé,
  • verifies their commitment to participate in the program, and
  • reviews the list of available mentors.

Each protégé is given up to three potential mentor choices. The Mentor Program Manager assists senior management in matching the protégés and mentors. The final matching depends on mentor preferences, protégé preferences, availability, objectives, supervisor recommendations and divisional goals.

During, the first year each protégé is assigned one mentor external to the division. In subsequent years, the protégés participate in the mentor selection. They work with the Mentoring Program Manager to select two mentors. The Mentoring Program Manager matches the protégé with one of their choices. The characteristics of the mentoring relationships are the following:

  • male to male
  • female to female
  • male to female and vice versa

The protégé and mentor matches are diverse (ethnic, gender, and age).

However, there are some cases where a protégé requests two mentors. A protégé might decide based on developmental needs and goals that they need two mentors.

  • Protégé's goals require a mentor both within and external to the division.
  • Protégé's goals require a mentor with both technical expertise and a business management background.

Every protégé is matched with a mentor prior to beginning the mentoring program.

Kick Off

The Kick Off is the initial group meeting of protégés, mentors and managers. This meeting covers the objectives of the program, roles, curriculum, skills assessment, program measurements, expectations and program milestones. Each participant is notified that the program does not provide a guarantee of a promotion or continued employment with Apple.

Each participant receives a notebook that outlines the program and the activities during the program year. The kick off is presented by the Program Manager, human resource professionals and consultants that will provide the training during the year.


Many participants come with questions regarding the mentoring relationship. During the kick off, a panel of past participants (mentors and protégés) come and discuss their mentoring experiences. They address some of the following issues:

  • What experiences have provided you the most opportunity for development as a mentor/protégé?
  • What was the most significant accomplishment of your mentor/protégé relationship?
  • What do you consider to be the greatest challenge for a successful mentoring relationship?
  • What advice do you have for the class as they enter their mentoring relationship?

Mentors and Protégés state that during the year, the mentor and protégé may reverse roles. One protégé said: "I went to meet with my mentor and decided to give my mentor feedback on some information that I had learned earlier in the day. It was at that time, I realized that I was not the only one being mentored."

The mentoring relationship is an opportunity for both the mentor and protégé to learn, grow and share experiences. At the end of the kick off each protégé and mentor is instructed to check out the Apple videotape on mentoring relationships. The videotape provides more examples and suggestions for a successful mentoring relationship.

Career Development


Each protégé undergoes a thorough skills assessment using a management survey tool. The tool utilizes feedback from select direct reports, peers and managers and provides information about the protégés skill sets and needs for future development. This information is used as input for the individual development plan that is produced by each protégé. The protégé targets areas of development based on the protégé's development needs in relationship to the organization's business requirements and critical capabilities.

The protégés are responsible for turning the development plan into results. The development experience reflects the goals and objectives based on the assessment and the development plan.

Each protégé participates in an applied project that provides multifunctional or cross functional opportunities and experiences. The project is a development activity that provides an opportunity for the protégé to make a contribution and receive broader exposure in Apple. The manager and protégé will work together to identify and develop the project. The project should have visibility, manageable risks, and measurable results.

Mentoring Relationship


The mentoring relationship is an opportunity for the protégé to meet with a senior manager to learn from their personal experiences and to work on their career development needs. It is highly unlikely that the mentor alone will meet all of the development needs of the individual protégé. Many of the protégé-to-mentor matches are based on meeting development needs that fall in the area of leadership, but the protégé may have identified a need for enhanced technical skills, as well. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the protégé and mentor to determine what kind of mentoring will be provided, which specific issues will be addressed, and how often the protégé and mentor will meet for development discussions.

Although the mentor and manager have distinct roles in the mentoring process, they need to work together to ensure that the protégé's prioritized developmental needs are addressed. The mentor and manager are encouraged to meet prior to the formal beginning of the mentoring relationship. At this meeting the manager discusses the protégés development needs, interests and skills. The mentor will then use the feedback from the manager and protégé to determine what type of mentoring relationship to establish and what will be the focus of the mentoring relationship.

The initial role of the mentor is primarily one of a personal coach. Therefore at the initial meeting, the mentor should take time to get to know the protégé on a personal level and should provide the protégé with candid feedback about his or her potential, career path, strengths, and areas for development. Each quarter the protégé and mentor will review the progress of their mentoring relationships and progress toward their development goals. This information is given to the Program Manager. At this time, the protégé and mentor can elect to continue with the relationship or elect a no fault conclusion of their mentoring relationship.

The protégé is expected to take the initiative to contact the mentor and set up regularly scheduled meetings. They are encouraged to be creative on how to offer creative meetings (eg. face to face, electronic mail, dinner, breakfast, shadowing, observe at staff meetings).

At the end of the year, the mentor and protégé can elect to continue the relationship informally or end the relationship at the completion of the mentoring program.


Each protégé will participate in a half day of core curriculum training each month. All classes are held internally and instructed by external consultants. The classes are created to address the skills necessary to make the protégés competitive in the present and into the future. The courses covered the following areas:



The program concludes with a graduation. The graduation consists of a panel discussing leadership at Apple, the class project, awards and recognition of the participants.


The panel consists of Apple Executives discussing Leadership at Apple and facilitated by one of the class instructors. At the conclusion of the panel, the panelists are available for questions from the participants.

The class project consists of a videotape. Each year the protégés are requested to prepare a videotape describing their experiences and what was learned during the year. The length of the videotape is a maximum length of 17 minutes. This videotape is played at the graduation in the presence of the participants and Apple executives.

The final part of the graduation is the acknowledgment and recognition of the participants. The participant's mangers and peers are invited to the graduation. Each protégé and mentor is recognized for their contribution and is awarded a certificate of completion.

What was Learned?

A necessary component of any mentoring program is a meaningful way to measure both the quantitative and qualitative results of the mentoring relationships. Meaningful program measurements identify program strengths and weaknesses from the participants' perspectives as well as from the division's or company's perspective, and help shape the development and ultimate success of the mentoring program.

Integrated into the Mentoring Program is a diverse set of program measurements designed to measure the individual progress of each protégé at various stages during the 12 month program. I used several evaluation methods to help us determine how successful the mentoring program was in meeting our goals. A Director of Training might be interested in the two primary measurements used to ascertain progress. Each method informed us of what changes needed to be made:

  • Required confidential, one-on-one interviews are held with protégés, managers and mentors at various stages in the program. The interviews are initiated and conducted by a third party consultant to obtain participants' feedback on their individual mentoring relationships and experiences.

  • Informal Feedback. All participants are strongly encouraged to approach the Program Manager with concerns, issues or developments that may arise. This type of feedback provides the program with real time input for measurement and intervention purposes.

The program has been very well received with protégés. They cited some of the following benefits:

  • Established a relationship with mentor
  • Used the mentor as a "sounding board"
  • Got practical advice and support from mentor
  • Developed close ties with other protégés
  • Provided access to people in other groups
  • Learned how to manage people and solve problems
  • Increased understanding of challenges faced by those in leadership positions
  • Learned about the technical and business aspects of the business

Some of the mentoring relationships will be different in the future. The protégés would like to see the following changes:

  • More contact with mentor
  • Make a commitment to meet with the protégé
  • Support in switching to a new mentor, if not a good fit.


One mentor indicated the mentoring relationship was a priority and made sure he was always available to meet or talk with his protégé. In the initial meeting, he made sure to set clear expectations. He gives his protégé constructive feedback, challenges, motivation and encouragement. The protégé's manager found the career development goals initially discussed with the protégé's mentor are reinforced in the mentor's meeting with the protégé. The protégé found that the mentor summarized his perceptions of the protégé's strengths and weaknesses, and discussed how to be more successful at Apple. He found this feedback valuable because he knew the mentor's objective was to help him become more successful in his position and enhance his job performance.

The protégés that participated in the program indicated that they are happy to meet and network with other high potential employees and enjoyed the camaraderie they shared in the classes. Many of the protégés enjoyed their mentoring relationships and still continue them today. Some of the protégés became formal or informal mentors as a result of their participation in the program.

Many of the people are also glad to have the opportunity to take classes geared to their needs. Normally, they are so busy that they do not take time to take classes. Since the program includes classes, they use this opportunity to attend a diverse set of classes geared to meet their needs.

Ultimately, the employees are glad to know that senior management considers employee development important and made a decision to invest in them.

The program has been successful and continues to be successful because we have one person (Program Manager) managing the vision and expectations of the program. The program stays aligned with the objectives of the organization and the needs of the employees. The Program Manager receives all feedback and makes real time changes to the program as needed. The program will remain successful as long as it remains evolutionary and meets the continued needs and challenges of the employee and the organization.

The ultimate goal of our corporation is to make the mentoring program a part of the corporate culture, now and into the future. An organization that invests in a mentoring program and yields a productive workforce will help the corporation remain competitive in the future.

See Also