Higher-Ed Procurement

Mentoring: An Effective Component of Talent Development

Higher-Ed Procurement


Organizations know they must have the best talent in order to be successful. A shortage of qualified staff is one the greatest challenges facing all employers today. Therefore, many organizations are focusing on talent management to improve their overall performance. Talent management means that employers are strategic and deliberate in sourcing, attracting, selecting, training and retaining talented employees to meet current and future organizational priorities. It also plays a major role in organizational succession planning.

It is important to hire the right people for the right positions. Identifying the necessary skills is a first step. Developing appropriate and strategic job descriptions is the next step. Lastly, a clear career path should be created which offers talented new employees opportunities to grow and incentive to perform. Hiring the right people for the right job requires skills. Any hiring supervisor can benefit from the expertise of human resource professionals.

Developing Talent

It is not enough to hire the right talent; an organization must develop that talent. That can be a costly endeavor. The Association for Talent Development (ATD) reported that on average in 2011, organizations invested $1,034 per employee in training and development and the BEST awardwinning organizations spent $1,272 per employee. According to the 2012 CIPS and NIGP Principles & Practices of Public Procurement, organizations should include the amount of spending per FTE for professional development and training in their performance metrics.

Talent development has been called training and development or professional development. However, talent development is a targeted approach for narrowing the skills gap for employees. It can take many forms. Organizations may provide internal development opportunities for common skills and external opportunities for more technical or profession-specific skills. Technology has provided more options for professional development through online webinars and interactive training. Face-to-face workshops and seminars are still valuable as they offer expertise from the facilitator as well as the sharing of information and experience of other participants. Face-to-face programs may provide the opportunity to delve deeper into a subject matter creating more value. However, these talent development methods come with a cost.

An Eye to the Environment

The challenge in higher education is developing talent with the competencies to meet the constantly changing environment. The national discussion of the high cost of higher education appears to overshadow the need to attract, develop and retain the best talent. Developing employees with increasingly leaner budgets is a challenge we all face in higher education. In most jobs, the tasks, responsibilities and skills are dramatically different from ten years ago. In the procurement profession, the skills needed to be successful and provide value to the organization are changing constantly.

Mentoring is one component of talent development that can be an effective method of transferring skills in a cost-effective manner. What does it mean to mentor? To mentor is to teach or give advice or guidance to someone less experienced. Mentoring can be highly effective in professions that require a considerable amount of soft skills. Higher education procurement is an area that should rely heavily on mentoring, as technical skill preparation cannot address all the needs of procurement professionals.

The Role of Mentoring

Some skills necessary for success in procurement are not easily taught in a classroom or from a book. The tasks and responsibilities of a procurement professional include communicating effectively and appropriately, negotiating, influencing decisions, achieving compliance and maintaining neutrality and professionalism. Developing these skills is difficult without experience. Experience is a great teacher, but the time for each employee to experience every situation and learn from mistakes is not efficient. So, mentoring less-experienced employees is the logical method to impart knowledge and develop certain skills.

Mentoring can be effectively provided in a number of ways. It is not exclusively the responsibility of the senior leader to be the mentor. Peer mentoring is very effective and often less intimidating for new employees. Peer mentoring also enhances the leadership skills of the mentor that prepare individuals for the next steps in their career path. Opportunities to mentor include the following:

  • Share experiences. We all learn from making mistakes. Sharing our experiences, including our missteps or failures, provides valuable insight and knowledge so others can avoid making the same mistakes. Sharing experiences is designed to help other learn. Mentoring is not suited for those who cannot share their failures as well as their successes.
  • Invite less-experienced staff members to meetings. Even if the meeting involves issues above their responsibility level, the opportunity to observe how to handle issues and witness how conflict is handled is invaluable. It is an opportunity to learn how to influence decisions and gain consensus. Observation of behavior is a powerful learning tool, and mentoring can provide the opportunity.
  • Include a new staff member in a negotiation. The traditional form of negotiating is not an effective strategy. Creating a “win-win” solution for both parties not only ensures good performance, but also a trusting relationship. These types of negotiations are difficult to teach without observing.
  • Provide insight into the structure of the organization as a whole. Institutions of higher education are complex organizations. It is difficult for new staff members to grasp the entire picture, yet they need to know how the organization works. Those with more experience can impart institutional knowledge about the structure, hierarchy, and various operations.
Higher-Ed Procurement


University policies and procedures are documented and can be learned by reading them. This helps new employees understand the “what to do.” Mentoring can help employees understand the “how to do” and how to do it successfully. The most successful mentoring program is informal and includes peer mentoring. Creating a formal process distracts from the benefits of sharing experiences as it focuses more on process than substance.

The Human Factor

Talent development is essential in today’s environment and requires a financial investment. Workshops, courses, webinars, etc. have significant benefits, which have a cost associated with them. Mentoring, on the other hand, is not a line item on the budget. It does take time and commitment, but it can provide a significant return on investment. That return comes in the form of inspired employees, acquisition of important skills and trust in the organization. It provides employees with the sense that the organization cares about their success and development. An investment of time through mentoring can return amazing outcomes. It can provide the organization with a pool of talent to ensure the ongoing success of the organization. Mentoring makes a difference.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Nancy Brooks is director of Purchasing at Iowa State University (ISU) and has been with ISU Purchasing since 1989. She is active in the National Association of Educational Procurement (NAEP), serving on many national and regional NAEP committees, and is a regional and national past president. She has presented workshops at NAEP annual meetings, NAEP regional meetings, national EDUCAUSE conferences and numerous workshops at Iowa conferences for historically underutilized businesses. She is faculty for the NAEP Professional Academy and RFP Institute. She received the 2012 NAEP Mentor of Year Award.

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