by Alice Dragoon and Edward Prewitt

BellSouth CIO Fran Dramis’ Mentoring Strategy

Sep 01, 20022 mins
IT Skills

Fran Dramis’s Mentoring Process

Many businesspeople think of mentoring as a squishy time sink imported from the HR department that lacks defined objectives. But Fran Dramis, executive vice president and chief information, e-commerce and security officer of Atlanta-based BellSouth, has developed a simple and potentially powerful process for mentoring people. His method centers on a single paragraph. The outcome is a development plan that combines both business and personal concerns.

“What I basically do is ask people to write a paragraph on what will they be doing at the last day of their business life,” Dramis says. The goal is to “make sure the paragraph describes the set of behaviors so worthwhile that the time spent between now and that [end] time is all worth it.” Dramis then uses the written statement to work backward to the present, mapping out what the employee needs to do to make that end-of-career ideal a reality.

Dramis puts a particular emphasis on advising women and minorities, and he sometimes even reaches beyond BellSouth. (An Atlanta women’s magazine recently recognized him for his efforts.) But Dramis uses the mentoring exercise for much more than altruistic purposes. He also applies it to his leadership team at BellSouth. “It enables me to have people completely engaged if they’re on their life tracks,” he notes.

Of course, it’s possible an employee undertaking the mentoring exercise might realize she is in the wrong line of work. Dramis recounts the experience of a programmer supervisor who once worked for him. Her goal for her last day of work was to make a presentation to a court of appeals. Dramis learned that the woman had originally wanted to be an attorney. The two worked out a plan: If she refreshed her programming skills, she could take a step back and become a contract programmer, which would free enough of her time so that she could work her way through law school. Ultimately she did become an attorney.

Dramis, who is nothing if not process-minded (see “Three Steps to a Technology Transformation,” Page 105), developed this mentoring process over several years. He views it more as life coaching than business advice. “In life, the world takes over,” he says. “You want to get back on track to what will get you to your endgame.”