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News | Feb. 25, 2021

DLA Distribution Anniston kicks off mentorship program

By Army Lt. Col. Ayo AI. Oladipofaniyi, commander, DLA Distribution Anniston, Alabama

Defense Logistics Agency Distribution Anniston, Alabama, instituted a mentorship program four months ago as part of an enduring effort to get “To great.” The primary goal of the program is to leverage a proven approach to accelerate leadership and employee development, while increasing retention, employee engagement and buy-in, facilitating the transfer of knowledge and increasing productivity.

At the first huddle to initiate the program, DDAA leadership intelligently identified mentors willing to provide guidance to mentees. The objective was to select enthusiastic, good listening, respectful and subject-matter-expert mentors. Moving forward, leadership decided to match two mentees with each mentor to maintain the attributes and integrity of the mentorship program.

With mentors selected, the next challenge was determining the first cluster of mentees. Since this was a pilot program, the number of mentees was limited to ensure mentors weren’t overwhelmed. Mentorship program announcements were posted, sharing good reasons to participate in the program. The announcement was well-received and most of the responses were positive. However, employees did worry about the level of commitment and time they had to invest in the program. The leadership team eliminated most of these concerns by communicating the potential benefits of the mentoring program. Interested employees were informed that leadership sees potential in them and wants to help with career progression.

The next task, and the most arduous, was correctly matching mentees to mentors. During the matching process, the team was very cognitive of personality differences, personality conflicts and avoided preferentialism by recognizing the current chain of command for each participant. The team also considered the expertise and objectives of each mentee participating in the program and paid close attention to their learning styles and backgrounds — level and need for encouragement, teaching of concepts versus a more hands-on approach, etc.

The program got underway last fall with six volunteer mentors and thirteen mentees. The program is scaled and structured, but also agile and flexible. The mentee-mentor decides the 5Ws (who, what, why, when, and where) of the mentorship relationship.

The program is paced and tailored to the individual mentees’ goals and objectives. These goals and objectives are defined based on the mentees’ short-term and long-term aspiration in the agency and federal service. The mentor provides step-by step guidance on developing DDAA employees into mid-level and senior-level supervisors and managers.

The commander and deputy commander host frequent touchpoints with all program participants. The command team provides overarching direction, focus, structure and guidelines. They continue to ensure the program is both beneficial to the employee and the agency. One additional task of the command team is to ensure mentors and mentees stay focused on the program’s goals throughout the mentoring process.

As part of the program, mentees are coached in resume writing, mock interviews, interviewing techniques, supervisor/managerial dilemmas, scenario-based problem-solving exercises and leadership 101 training from other senior managers at DDAA.

Recently, the DDAA Mentorship Program employees toured a local FedEx Distribution Center to gain valuable insight and understand potential tactics, techniques and procedures that can be leveraged at DDAA. For the team, it was remarkable to witness how FedEx, the major distributor of the COVID-19 Vaccines, is utilizing innovative technology. For example, they’re using SenseAware ID, a Bluetooth low-energy sensor device, fingertip scanners and Priority Alert service to track vaccine shipments as they move through the FedEx distribution network.

Creative and positive mentoring is an excellent approach to improving the quality of our DDAA workforce. Like all worthwhile pursuits, it requires planning and follow-up. It’s not only a question of proper selection and matching of participants; it requires constant monitoring and training by the command team. Our mentor-mentee relationships are meaningful and constructive.

On a personal note, the driving force behind this program is the urgent need to develop a succession plan rather than a replacement plan for mid-level and senior-level supervisors and managers……we had to create and build our bench!