As IBM Corp. expands its operations in growth markets, it's also working to enhance the skills of employees in its law department by pairing up seasoned leaders with newcomers to the ranks.
The mentoring program focused on U.S.-based employees when it launched in 2006, but now involves 800 pairs around the globe, says Jessica Lorden, vice president and associate general counsel leading the program.
One of the challenges for Armonk, New York-based IBM, which has a presence in 170 countries, is "how geographically dispersed we are," Lorden says. But through the program, "we're able to share knowledge in an informal way."
The entire department is involved, including general lawyers, intellectual property lawyers, contracts experts and legal assistants.
Among the goals of the mentoring programs are: addressing employees' skill gaps; ensuring the knowledge of pertinent laws in a particular country; easing the transition for new employees; ensuring that employees feel connected, regardless of where they're located in the world; and guaranteeing consistency in understanding the company's vision and approach to problems.
Whenever a new employee joins the law department, Lorden is notified.
If the newcomer is located outside the U.S., Lorden asks someone in that region to find them a mentor. With U.S.-based employees, Lorden herself will contact their manager to learn something about them, such as their areas of interest, and then try to match them up with the right mentor. Many mentors have several mentees, including Lorden, who has two in the Asia-Pacific region. Learning is a two-way street, she says. She'll help employees with honing their presentation skills and handling clients effectively. "They absolutely help me understand the challenges of a growth market."
There may be issues such as differences in ethics that are common in a developing country and those practiced by IBM. Or, mentees may have few peers to turn to for support and insight in their home country, or have to deal with higher-level executives at a client company earlier in their career than a U.S.-based employee would, Lorden says.
The program allows mentees to discuss professional matters in a safe environment, Lorden says. Those matters may include identifying areas where they need to improve and developing career goals.
Mentors in the program volunteer their time. For them, "it's a pay-it-forward concept," Lorden says.
For its efforts to hone the skills of its law department employees throughout the world, IBM is the 2011 winner of the Optimas Award for Global Outlook.