All Articles Leadership Management Developing employees through mentoring at Cardinal Health

Developing employees through mentoring at Cardinal Health

Here's how Cardinal Health incorpoarates mentoring as part of a global talent management strategy.

7 min read



This post was adapted from APQC’s “Workplace Mentoring” best practices report. View an overview of the study findings or download the full report.

This post was written by Lauren Trees, a research program manager at member-based nonprofit APQC, the world’s foremost authority in benchmarking, best practices, process and performance improvement, and knowledge management.

As organizations jockey to attract and retain in-demand talent, an increasing number are looking to workplace mentoring programs to decrease time-to-competency and boost employee satisfaction and engagement. Last month, I shared highlights from APQC’s recent mentoring research, including 4 reasons to support workplace mentoring and how mentoring helps prepare new hires at Praxair. This post highlights another organization featured in the research: Cardinal Health, a health care services company with more than 36,000 employees headquartered in Dublin, Ohio.

Mentoring program overview

Cardinal Health uses mentoring as one element of its global talent management strategy to offer meaningful experiences, coaching, and tools so that employees can build great careers. In addition to encouraging informal mentoring within and across teams, the organization reimagined and improved its formal mentoring initiative in early 2015. The initiative encompasses nine mentoring programs, some enterprise-wide and some limited to specific business segments and functions. Goals vary by program, with some focused on employees facing specific challenges or career milestones and others enabling more open-ended learning and development.

The most expansive of Cardinal Health’s mentoring programs is its open mentoring initiative, which is open to any employee wishing to reach out across fields, regions, or functional areas to support their individual development goals or gain a better grasp of the firm’s operations. This program enables employees to learn almost anything they believe would help them on the job, from specific knowledge and skills to more general strategies for career management and personal effectiveness.

Other mentoring programs are tied to business initiatives, such as leadership development or embracing diversity. For example, a group peer-mentoring program enables participants in Cardinal Health’s four leadership development programs to cross-pollinate. Through 35 peer groups of five participants each, new leaders are exposed to colleagues at various levels of the organization and encouraged to exchange ideas on applying leadership techniques to their own day-to-day jobs. The organization also has mentoring programs to support minority and women talent pipelines, as well as function-specific programs that help participants build technical expertise and learn about career opportunities.

Of Cardinal Health’s nine mentoring programs, five are led by their own program managers, whereas the remaining four are monitored through the enterprise-wide mentoring program within the HR function. However, all the programs leverage a common software platform, and the enterprise-wide mentoring program manager oversees and supports all programs at a high level.

Created with PixTeller

Selecting and pairing participants

Cardinal Health’s mentoring programs are open to any employee, regardless of rank or location, who meets certain minimum requirements. For the open mentoring initiative, employees may participate as mentees after six months of employment and as mentors after one year and acceptable performance ratings. Before engaging, participants in all participants must make an explicit commitment to complete the program, attend training, and gain approval from their immediate supervisors.

Once mentees commit to the program, they complete an enrollment survey where they select up to three of five broad focus areas to pursue through mentorship:

  • business acumen,
  • career management,
  • leadership development,
  • personal effectiveness,
  • organizational savvy.

The enrollment process also includes a two-minute personality survey to help determine whether mentees and mentors will get along and work well together. Based on the survey results and special requests (such as mentors from a specific region), an algorithm in Cardinal Health’s mentoring software platform provides mentees with profiles of suitable mentors in rank order.

Applicants use the pairing algorithm to sort through potential mentors and select their top three choices. “The rankings may show you a mentor with a 95% similarity to you. It’s up to you to decide if you want someone very similar or more different,” said Susan Moss, manager of Cardinal Health’s enterprise-wide mentoring program. “As long as I can accommodate it, I match pairs based on one of [the mentee’s] first three preferences. If not, I follow up with the individual for more preferences.”

There are few rules limiting the mentee’s selections, but Moss tries to avoid pairing people who are more than two hierarchical levels apart.

The mentoring process

Across most of Cardinal Health’s programs, formal mentoring relationships last six months. However, each program manager can choose the appropriate duration based on the goals and structure of his or her program.

For the open mentoring initiative, six-month relationships are initiated quarterly at set intervals following events that help applicants learn how to set objectives and identify potential mentors. Once a pair is officially matched, they collaborate on a simple mentoring agreement that lays out the basics of the relationship, including the start and end date, the learning goals the pair will pursue, when and how the pair will meet, and who will set up the meetings.

Program participants are expected to meet for at least one hour a month, although most meet more frequently. Meetings may occur in person or over the phone, depending on the participants’ locations and preferences. “Long-distance relationships can work just as well as in-person relationships if the mentee and mentor commit the time to make it work,” Moss said. The specifics of the interactions vary greatly based on the areas in which the mentee wants assistance and the expectations set out in the mentoring agreement.

During their mentorships, participants are sent monthly assessments that require less than 10 seconds to complete. These quick assessments make sure that pairs are completing certain milestones, monitor what they are working on and how much time they spend on mentoring each month, and allow them to provide qualitative feedback as needed. Longer mid-cycle and final surveys allow pairs to reflect on the experience and what they learned and recommend improvements to the program.

Measuring success

Cardinal Health tracks participation, activities and value to gauge the success of its mentoring efforts.

Participation measures look at the number of pairings as well as the genders, ethnicities, functional affiliations, and organizational levels of participants. This ensures that mentoring is accessible to everyone and providing value evenly across the organization.

Activity measures assess engagement in the programs, including time volunteered and regularity of meetings. From December 2014 to August 2015, for example, 500 pairs of mentors and mentees logged in 3,000 hours of time.

Moss sees the number of hours dedicated to mentoring as a particularly important measure. “It’s powerful to look at the commitment our employees are making, not only to each other but to their development,” she said.

She also compares the hours mentees spend learning from volunteer mentors to the cost of comparable development options — such as classroom training and executive coaching — to estimate the return on investment generated by the mentoring program.

To gauge value, the program tracks satisfaction levels through its mid-point and end-point surveys, along with reported achievements and progress. In the surveys, participants provide examples of mentoring activities in the open comments section. Moss compiles these activities to show the organization at large what mentoring helps accomplish. Mentees are also encouraged to thank mentors through the corporate recognition program, which helps Cardinal Health gauge the impact of such efforts.


If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader.