Mentoring in modern times
How technology advances in the industry and beyond affect mentoring relationships.
BakingBusiness.com, Dec. 20, 2011
by Lucy Sutton
With a baking career of more than 30 years, Doris Zelinsky has worked for family bakeries and international conglomerates, in operations and then as a consultant for businesses whose annual sales range from $25 million to billions. Having been introduced to the idea of mentoring in the first graduating class of women at Yale College, she offered her advice on the subject to Baking & Snack readers in this exclusive interview.

Baking & Snack: How have the advances in technology and the focus on lean management and efficiency affected mentoring in the industry?

Doris Zelinsky: Technological advances have made it seductive to communicate succinctly and electronically. In today’s world, we give new bakers few opportunities on the job to hone their social skills and to create a personalized toolbox of social capital. Our current bakery industry, shaped by the facility and speed of technology, makes mentoring an even more effective tool for guaranteeing a baker’s success in his career.

My roots are in operations, and I love the power of lean and its principles: details, corroboration, data-based testing and tuning, and a companywide focus to drive out waste and improve efficiency. I have experienced the power of lean to be a fundamental, grassroots reinvention of how work is performed.

For a bakery company, new to lean, or a baker who is a new recruit to a company that applies a lean approach, mentoring can provide the crucial skills that make lean effective. What types of skills are these? A baker needs to understand how to listen seriously with both words and more than words — his body language. He needs to know how to moderate conflict. He needs a keen sense about when to pull back and not insist with his lean project team, his peers or boss that a decision be made. And he needs to practice, with a mentor’s guidance, how to marry the data-driven lean approach to his own history and intuition, steering the optimal path for quality and efficiency in his bakery.

How have the Internet and social networking changed opportunities and effectiveness of mentorship? How do the old-fashioned ways of mentoring compare to new social mentoring ways?

I’d like to answer this question with an analogy.

First, remember not long ago when we would ask a bakery for instructions to its location when we called to confirm our visit on the phone? These instructions would frequently include advice like, “There’s a Taco Bell as soon as you have gone too far,” and, “Avoid the big potholes on the last four blocks of the route.”

Then came Mapquest, with no such advice. Today, we almost always use GPS, which includes landmarks and admonishes us as soon as we err but still cannot caution about the route’s potholes.

Social networking and Internet-based advice can be as good as our GPS. Face-to-face mentoring can guide around the potholes. Mentoring is a trust relationship between two human beings, and the best way to create and sustain that relationship is face to face.

With everyone being pulled in so many directions these days, how might a mentor find time to provide advice and tips? How can you make sure it’s worth the time it takes?

The Harvard Business Review article I mentioned earlier has a wonderful quote by Ed Gadsden, recalling his own conversation with the late legal scholar and federal judge Leon Higginbotham. When asked what he got out of being Ed’s mentor, Judge Higginbotham was remembered as replying, “You’re nothing like me. The people you’re around, the things you see, what you’re hearing — you provide a perspective I wouldn’t otherwise have.”

That gained knowledge provides a strong and tangible payback for a mentor on his time. Just this knowledge alone makes the time invested mutually beneficial for the seasoned mentor and her protégé.