Expertise is Walking out the Doors of Your Business

Mentoring: Passing on Knowledge to Future Generations

by Craig Pendleton

“Seasoned executives are retiring every year without passing along their wealth of knowledge.”

Mentoring has been in existence from the beginning of man. It has historical precedence with families and clan elders passing along history, knowledge and lessons to younger generations. Mentoring originally took on the role of instilling life skills and journaling of history prior to written records.

As the tribal gaming industry has matured over the past 24 years so have the members of staff, supervision and ownership. The business continues to operate while people leave and people retire. Some operators understand the power of mentoring and have developed formalized mentoring programs while others have tried to simply hire, train, manage and maintain staff in the process of operating their daily business.

Two critical areas are facing operators today:

1) The exit of experienced senior staff members who are not leaving their knowledge behind with other staff members

2) The evolving dynamic of new and different generations of workers who enter the workplace with different priorities and perspectives.

Rarely does the process of staffing casinos get easier over time. The costs continue to escalate contributing to more pressure on operators to find creative ways to provide outstanding personalized service to customers while using less staffing hours and simultaneously combating increasing costs of wages and benefits.

Many senior staff members have worked in the casino industry in some position or specialization for 20, 30, 40 or more years. The majority of casino senior executives have worked for multiple employers to develop a vast level of experience. Much of this knowledge is lost when they leave. They work their shifts, inspire and do great work but do not pass along most of their knowledge without a formalized process to share this information with the next generation of leaders.

The Differences Between Training, Coaching and Mentoring

The terms training, coaching and mentoring are frequently used interchangeably, but are in fact very different. Training involves the process of teaching staff how to perform their job functions. Coaching teaches the “how” of these job skills and provides feedback regarding success as the new skills are applied.

Mentoring teaches “why.” Coaching can be an important part of the mentoring process, but mentoring offers bigger, broader thinking and focuses on providing guidance on “the why” of operations, decision making, how things get done, and the practice of determining what to do when things don’t work.

The Benefits of a Formal Mentoring Program

Mentoring programs can offer a variety of benefits to organizations and employees. Organizations may see a link between mentoring and increased employee productivity, enhanced organizational commitment, and lower levels of staff turnover due to individual attention, purpose and personal growth.

Businesses can use mentoring programs as a tool for educating or socializing new employees to the organization’s values. Mentoring programs can also serve as a key resource for developing the business culture and future supervision talent.

Types of Mentoring

Job Skills – mentors have undoubtedly been around long enough to have already done things “the wrong way” or “the hard way” and have figured out the best way. Often they have inherited challenging situations and have had to create solutions. Mentoring teaches the thought process behind finding solutions and recognizing business dangers prior to committing these errors.

People Skills – Mentors are a great resource in teaching new supervisors the elements of people skills, communication and how people think/act that are not necessarily included in text books.

Supervision Skills – Mentors have the experience to understand and teach the process managers use to achieve results, as well as how to build engagement and ownership by their staff.

Technical Skills – Mentors in this area have a different way of seeing things and use technology to organize and solve problems. Systems, controls and technology make performance of job duties easier, more efficient and less prone to error, allowing supervisors to concentrate more of their time on customer interaction.

School of Hard Knocks – Industry veterans have accumulated lessons that new supervisors can benefit from by not having to experience these challenges themselves through the knowledge and past history of mentors who have already endured these trials during their careers.

Reverse Generational Mentoring – A powerful form of information exchange and learning between generations. The new staff including “Millennials” mentor the senior staff members to help them understand how the younger staff members think, what creates fulfillment for them at work and how their perspective integrates with social media and the expected flexibility that comes with technology. Let the new folks teach the “old dogs” new tricks. This creates an amazing opportunity to bond and a crossover opportunity between generations in the workplace

Reasons to Mentor

Lost Knowledge with Retirement – No business can afford to lose the knowledge of veteran staff members to retirement by allowing them to take it with them when they leave. The business paid for this knowledge and must not allow their investment to leave the property unshared.

Retain Staff – it’s been shown that retention of staff does not simply lie within pay rates and benefits. Work environment, culture, personal acknowledgement, sense of growth, purpose and development are the less tangible differentiators. Recognition and personalized experience are critical for retention and the long term loyalty ofstaff members as well as of the casino customers. When the staff learns not only the “how and what” but also the “why” through mentoring, they can better understand the business. Mentors learn quickly which staff members have the attitude and aptitude for development. Engaging staff in the culture, vision and mission of the business either extends their tenure or quickly sends them down the road towards other opportunities, saving the business’ resources for training other new staff members.

Development of Future Leaders – Mentors teach the foundation of business success above and beyond specific job skills, systems and procedures. Innovation, flexibility and nimble thinking are developed along with the skills to rapidly solve problems and create new business opportunities.

“Managing the mentoring process must include task assignments with timetables
and goals for achievement.”

Tribal Ownership Development – Mentoring is one of the best methods for development of a tribal member’s in-depth knowledge of all areas of casino operations and will assist in developing and matriculating as future senior business executives or ambassadors of ownership within the casino.

Critical Elements to Formalized Mentoring

• Identify leaders who are capable of being good mentors and identify their most admirable traits that are valuable to extend within the business. There can be multiple mentors developing each staff member. Each mentor will have special skills that can cross lines between departments.

• Mentor the mentors. Mentoring only comes natural to a few people. The rest must be taught how to share their knowledge through mentoring. A formalized system must be in place to teach the mentors how to mentor, what they should teach, how best to teach it, and the process of documenting and tracking what each student is taught including their progress over time.

• Identify the junior members who need mentoring and specifically match their needs with the mentor who has those strengths.

• Determine the measure of effectiveness, or how it will be decided that mentoring is effectively taking place. Managing the mentoring process must include task assignments with timetables and goals for achievement.

• Recognize successes. Acknowledge and celebrate the successes of both the trainees and the mentors at mileposts along the process.

• Mentoring programs must be “top management driven” by the CEO, COO or General Manager. Without their support and personal demands on the success of the program, it will gradually fade away. Top management should participate in the mentoring process. This creates excellent connections with those being developed and helps personalize the senior management with the staff.

Who Runs the Program?

Typically formalized mentoring programs are run by the human resources department, personnel or the employee services department. At times mentoring may also be run by a specific department for specialized mentoring. Leadership must come from above to provide consistent continuity of program.

Tools Available

Much has been written about mentoring programs. General standards can be established from these materials but will need to be customized for each business and department. There are a considerable amount of software programs also available
that support mentoring. Pick what best fits your property and programs.

Exceptional knowledge is leaving businesses at an alarming rate. Failure to capture this knowledge via formalized mentoring programs will unnecessarily continue to escalate the challenges of new supervisors and the business as a whole. The time is to act now.

Craig Pendleton is President of National Foodservice Consulting, Inc. He has consulted with tribal casinos for the past 24 years. He can be reached by email at or visit

Article originally published in Indian Gaming Magazine January 2018 Buyer’s Guide Edition:

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