Industry leaders gain from mentoring programs

December 4, 2017 By     0 Comments

Photo: iStock.com/Jirsak

In the spring of 2016, the National Propane Gas Association’s (NPGA) Women in Propane Council (WIP) launched the Knowledge Exchange network to serve as a mentorship program for members of NPGA.

According to Laurie Irish-Jones, chair of WIP, the program was developed after hearing conversations about what the industry might need as far as the next generation.

“There are so many people who have been in this industry for such a long time that they are experts,” Irish-Jones says. “Transferring that knowledge in a one-to-one situation would be invaluable.”

Irish-Jones sees the program as particularly important because it is a way to reach everyone. The partnerships and the knowledge gained from them are primarily based on what the mentee and mentor need from them.

There is also a benefit to working with someone who can look at the other person’s situation objectively. According to Irish-Jones, “You can get a clarity that you can’t get from inside your own business. Somebody can be totally objective and ask you questions that you wouldn’t even think to ask yourself.”

The program has about 20 mentor-mentee pairs who started working together last spring. Many of them are currently finishing up their six-month partnerships. The pairings are composed of individuals just out of college to those who have been in the industry for several decades. They come from companies of all sizes, in which they serve a variety of roles. Although the program was started by WIP, both men and women have participated in the Knowledge Exchange.

As their time working together ended, two of the pairs shared their thoughts about the program, as well as the insights they gained through working one-on-one.

Allison Platz is the marketing manager at Delta Liquid Energy in Paso Robles, California. She has been in the industry for just over a year. Her mentor, Felicia Houston, is a general manager at Ferrellgas in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Julie Johnson has been working at Ted Johnson Propane for 36 years, currently serving as president of the company. Her mentee, Jessica C. Johnson (no relation), is the member liaison at Alliance AutoGas, a position she has held for just over a year.

LP Gas: How did you get involved in the mentorship program?

Houston

Platz: I was introduced to the program last fall (2016) when I went to the NPGA fall board meeting and sat in on a WIP meeting. They were discussing the program and, since I was new to the industry, I thought, “This is a nice opportunity for me to learn more about the industry and get more perspective from someone who has years of experience.”

Houston: There were a couple of women that work at Ferrellgas that I’ve used in a mentor capacity since I started at the company and they had mentioned the program and suggested that it would be good for me to be involved.

Jessica C. Johnson: I’m new to an industry that historically has been dominated by men, and I wanted to become more connected and understand it as much as possible. Some of my colleagues mentioned WIP and I thought, “I need to be a part of that.” After joining the group and learning about the mentor program, I decided to get involved because I wanted to learn as much as I could, as quickly as I could.

Julie Johnson: I think as a member of WIP, I have to be proactive and pay attention to what’s happening in our industry. I’ve been pretty close with Nancy Coop (founding chair of WIP from Ferrellgas) and she suggested that I be a mentor. My daughter is also participating in the program. She is the mentee and has someone else as her mentor. We decided together that we could jump in and do it.

LP Gas: How have you benefited from the program?

Platz

Jessica C. Johnson: I have a long list. First, the program required us to identify goals. This was helpful because the last thing anyone wanted was a session where you complained or asked for endless advice. Each of our sessions led to the achievement of a goal. I’ve gained confidence in my public speaking and presentation skills, as well as my ability to help lead my team. Having little bits of advice from another woman in the industry has been just fantastic. Julie’s experience has offered me a different perspective. She really gave me the ability to step back and evaluate where I’ve been, how far I’ve come and where I want to end up.

Julie Johnson: I don’t know the right words to describe it yet, but I think that women really need a positive role model in other women. I think it’s good for women in business to have a good role model of a trailblazer or someone who has gone before them. I feel fortunate that I can give somebody else the knowledge I’ve gained.

Platz: It’s been a great opportunity to get another perspective on how to be a manager in the industry. We work collaboratively to come up with strategies on how I can improve personally and professionally. Our main focus is working together and being collaborative and that has really helped me grow. It’s important to learn from co-workers in your local organization, but more so to learn from professionals who have an outside perspective, those with an unbiased opinion. It’s been great to learn from somebody whose skill set differs from my own.

Houston: I mentor and coach people in my current position, but this mentoring program really outlines a step-by-step process to establish expectations, build a relationship and then develop the mentee. It’s been rewarding for me to just be able to ask questions and listen to someone and provide a bit of guidance in different ways. I’ve also benefited from getting to know somebody else in the industry who is from a different company and to answer questions and help in any way I can. It’s bringing a new light to the quality of coaching that can be provided within my own organization.

LP Gas: For the mentees – how has establishing specific goals helped you?

Julie Johnson

Jessica C. Johnson: Having goals not only gave me a sense of anticipation, but accomplishment after each of our calls. By ending each session with an assignment, or “personal homework,” this program gave me an element of personal accountability that has only to do with my personal success. There is something extremely rewarding about that, and without the mentor program I don’t think I would have it in my daily routine. It allows me time to reflect, but also to take small steps toward whatever it is I’ve decided to do.

Platz: My main goal in starting this program was to learn where I can move forward in the industry and how I can grow in my specific position. Given my job responsibilities and Felicia’s background in sales and management, we’ve talked a lot about building up my confidence and building a strong marketing strategy and team for future growth. Using skills and techniques that Felicia has shared with me has helped me improve as an individual as well as a team leader.

LP Gas: What are your biggest takeaways?

Platz: I think I would want to participate as a mentor at some point in my career. I believe this program is a valuable tool and being on either side of the coin you will learn something from the other person in your partnership. Coming into a mentoring relationship where I can learn from somebody who has walked down a path similar to mine in this industry has been very positive and if I can share my experience one day to help someone else grow and blossom in the industry, that would be great.

Jessica C. Johnson: Having a program that addresses that there aren’t a lot of women in our industry says a lot about the industry itself. Looking to the future and being inclusive is extremely valuable. Programs like this one provide an outside perspective to newcomers like me, and a level of support and insight that goes beyond the everyday work environment. From sharing her experiences, to recommending books, Julie has become someone I look up to as a leader in the industry as well as a friend. Another valuable theme that emerged from our sessions was being actively involved in reaching our goals – being intentional. Even setting the smallest goal can lead you to your big one and Julie has shown me the power in that. This practice creates such a great mix of accountability and achievement.

LP Gas: What is the most important thing you have learned from one another?

Jessica C. Johnson

Platz: I think the most important thing I’ve learned from Felicia has just been how to navigate being a woman in a predominately male industry. She’s shared stories about her experience with me and using her examples will help me as I continue to work within the propane industry. Also, her perspectives on management and sales tactics have helped me form new ideas for where my organization can go.

Houston: For me it is just a way to set up a plan and help develop somebody, work with them and build a relationship that allows for that mentoring to take place. I think it has helped me to provide a higher level of coaching to managers in my own company.

Julie Johnson: I feel fortunate that I can give someone else the knowledge I’ve learned. This has been really rewarding for me. Just seeing those few goals develop in the past months has been amazing. I think of how long it took me to get where I am and how fast I was able to get Jessica knowing how to be a woman in business and finding her voice.

Jessica C. Johnson: Again, I have a really long list. Julie has taught me so much about confidence, strength and addressing change through positivity and intention. Being new to any industry can be an exciting and scary step in one’s career, and having her mentorship has been a great experience for me. All the fears and hesitations that I had were not unique to me and I found real comfort in knowing that it wasn’t just me that felt that way. Julie at one time has felt a similar way about a certain situation. By sharing her knowledge and being the encouraging person she is, Julie cheered me on as I branched out and reached for the goals I set.

About the Author:

Clara Richter is the managing editor at LP Gas magazine. Contact her at crichter@northcoastmedia.net or 216-363-7920.

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