How to Be a Total Rewards Mentor

And how it differs from being a manager, coach, a C&B partner, and from having all the answers.

I have mentored many, I suppose, evidenced by the number of people who have referred to me as their mentor.. even if I never thought of myself that way. I’ve had many mentors (see Honoring My Mentors), and if I can pay forward some of what I have received, I am very satisfied. Recently, I have been able to match other mentors in total rewards with mentees. Five parings, actually. One asked me for “the guide” on mentoring. Here it is, just for you, you know who you are.

Here is a good definition:

A person who gives a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a period of time, especially at work or school

Cambridge Dictionary

Is Mentoring the Manager’s Job?

Every manager should be a mentor, if they are able. But in fact, many managers are not able to be mentors for their staff, as they often intentionally hire staff with expertise they themselves lack. Early in a career, we are likely to have a boss who can personally train us how to do our jobs well. But even then, you should not see your learning as your boss’s job. It’s your job to learn to do your job.

It’s more likely you will find a mentor at work that is not your boss; at least that was my experience. I learned a lot from my boss in my first compensation & benefits (C&B) job, but I learned most of what I know from my more experienced peers, as they are more accessible and have done the tasks I am now responsible for.

As you rise, your boss may be in a role that is broader than yours, not requiring expertise in your area. But this does not mean your boss cannot mentor you. I remember the first time I had a boss I considered weak in the area of C&B and unable teach me C&B. She was head of HR at a company that had just acquired mine. Of all 1,000 employees in my company, they chose to relocate only one employee to their New York headquarters: me. The parent company had very high costs for employee healthcare, and my company (the acquired) had low costs, due to some good plan design features. But I observed her leadership style, and I learned about being decisive, building and respecting relationships, and graciousness. She also gave me “cover” as I did my work, with all the support I needed, and helping me stay away from certain “mafioso” style vendors operating in our market. I actually learned a lot, looking back. So I would say that even if your manager doesn’t feel they can mentor you in your specific field, they can certainly pass along a lot of wisdom and good tips in other areas, and we can actually learn from anyone by paying attention to what they do and how they do it, with a little critical thinking along the way.

Is Mentoring the Same as Coaching?

No. C0aching does not require a coach to know the functional area of the person they are coaching. A guru C&B person can be a mentor, but may not be good coach. A C&B mentor can teach someone how to use a vlookup in Excel to pull pay grade from your job catalog, but I cannot coach you to reach your potential, or to solve your own problems. Coaching adds value to mentoring, but it is not about the functional knowledge and skill so much, but rather coaching is about behavioral abilities such as how to think, how to listen, how to influence, etc.

Is Mentoring the Same as C&B Partnering?

No. C&B Partnering is like being an HR Business Partner, except you are a C&B specialist, not a general HR expert. Like an HR Business Partner, a C&B Partner (or Rewards Partner or Total Rewards Partner) is expected to be assigned to a business unit or function, attend the unit/function’s leadership meetings, know the business of that unit/function, and know the people–especially the managers–in that unit.

In contrast, a Rewards/C&B Mentor is helping develop C&B practitioners become better at what they do, including partnering with their HR colleagues and business leaders to solve issues. As a mentor to others, I am often asked how to become a better C&B partner. (See How to be a Comp & Ben Partner.)

A Total Rewards Mentor is..

Building early- or mid-career compensation & benefits practitioners into excellent C&B practitioners who:

  • have deep functional expertise–how to evaluate jobs, benchmark jobs, do market analysis, determine market position, build or update salary ranges, support benefits, run an annual salary review, design incentives and improve them, support long-term incentive design and administration, advise on new ideas for rewards, comply with relevant labor laws, manage sensitive data, manipulate data, use Excel properly and maintain the job architecture. There’s more (global mobility, M&A, etc.) but you get the idea
  • know how to apply total rewards principles to determine what a person’s (or group’s) motivators are, and advise changes to rewards programs and practices accordingly
  • know what rewards changes would help a specific business strategy, in a certain business life cycle stage, consistent with the company’s culture and reward philosophy
  • know how to work with managers, employees, CHROs, HR colleagues, CEOs, board members, expats, consultants, service providers, vendors, unions and others in a broad cast of characters in our daily work
  • know how to deal with challenges in day to day work: internal equity issues, idiot managers, idiot employees, people upset that they are at the top of the pay range, knee-jerk cost cutting ideas from above, consultants who only tell you to follow industry norms, expats who are silent when the currency exchange rate moves in their favor, but cry bloody murder when the rate moves a penny against them, and the list goes on.
  • know how to develop alternatives when a business leader has already decided what should be done and you know full well it will not address the root problem(s)
  • know how to influence others
  • know how to build stakeholder capital, i.e. build relationships with managers before you have a crisis to solve for them

Coaches will ask you “what are your options?” so you can solve your own problems. But the coach has never personally had to solve that problem. A mentor will tell you what they did when they were in your situation, how it went and what they learned from it. They will actually give you practical ideas, tips, examples and a lot of how-to help relevant to your functional tasks.

Coaches can’t teach you how to use Excel dynamic tables and slicers; a mentor can.

Coaches can’t teach you how to use a certain job evaluation methodology; a C&B mentor can, if they know it.

Put Simply…

A total rewards mentor possesses total rewards competency to a higher degree than the mentee, at least in most areas (maybe not all, and that’s ok), and offers to help their mentee sharpen their competence and thus build their confidence.

Good mentoring is actually 80 percent mentoring (building job-related competence) and 20% coaching which is helping the mentee/coachee learn to think, analyze, influence, etc. through asking questions.

It is not having all the answers, but mentoring does mean you have a lot of answers. You are expected to be an expert with a lot of experience.

Quiz: who was Rocky Balboa’s coach in the Rocky movie series?

Answer: Mickey (played by Burgess Meredith) was his manager/coach, but his mentor was Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers,) who was the older more experienced fighter.

Let me leave you with a quote that continues to inspire me to mentor total rewards practitioners:

“When the student is ready, the master will appear”


Let’s give back to our profession, all you C&B leaders and experts. I wouldn’t be where I am without you.

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