At Blue Shield of California, our career philosophy is rooted in a culture of mobility, where individuals drive their own career paths with the support from leaders and organizational resources. Embracing a lattice model over traditional ladders, we recognize that careers can move in multiple directions, allowing our people to broaden, renew, and refine their skills in various ways. The Blue Advisor program strengthens this philosophy by providing formal mentoring opportunities to cultivate leadership and career skills for employees.

This six-month, mentee-driven program requires two to four hours per month, offering a platform for employees at all levels to engage in skill development, goal setting, and career advancement. Through this program, mentors and mentees, like David Nixon and Carmen Ballock-Bunt, who share their experiences here, develop and benefit from coaching, feedback, and cross-enterprise relationships, exemplifying our commitment to professional growth and development.

Carmen Ballock-Bunt, marketing operations specialist consultant, Brand Management

“Throughout my career, I’ve always had a mentor or been a mentor, and I’ve always felt strongly that mentorship is a positive influencer.”

-Carmen Ballock-Bunt

Q: What motivated you to join the Blue Advisor mentorship program, and how did you match with your mentor?

Carmen: Knowing my history with mentorship, my leadership encouraged me to do it, and I said, ‘absolutely.’

I was matched with my mentor, David, because my background is very diverse and digital. I wanted to make sure the mentor I chose spoke my language, and because David’s history is in tech, I knew he was going to be someone who could understand, or if he didn’t, he would know what questions to ask to grasp it quickly. Another reason I chose David was because he has a diverse background in leadership, and I came into the program knowing exactly what I wanted to learn. 

David Nixon, senior manager of Competitive Intelligence

“From my perspective, mentorship isn’t much of a time commitment for the opportunity to work on my own managerial skills and learn about other parts of the organization while making an impact at Blue Shield. If I’m helping someone make a bigger impact, then I’m indirectly making an impact as well. “

-David Nixon

Q: What inspired you to become a mentor?

David: One of my first managers here at Blue Shield was great in so many ways. I remember there being an opportunity to move into a different role and take a step further in my career. In previous roles, I was nervous about telling a boss I wanted to leave their team. However, this manager came to me and said there was a job that looked like a great fit for me, and if I was interested to let her know and she’d be more than happy to help me. I think the spirit of what we do here at Blue Shield to help support one another is one reason why I decided to become a mentor. And another reason is that I’ve certainly benefited from other people sharing their work experience and expertise with me. I also really enjoy mentoring, giving something back, and paying it forward. 

Q: How has the Blue Advisor program structured your mentor/mentee relationship, and could you describe a typical session or interaction?

David: I had two mentees last term and they were very different, so it was customized for each. When I do a mentorship, I see this time as the mentee’s time, so I ask what’s best for them and what they need out of it. For Carmen, we used an agenda with the eight-part program laid out and for each meeting we had an idea and concept moving forward that we used as a guiding post, while being flexible with what was happening day-to-day as well.

Carmen: I developed my own agenda of what I wanted to bring to each meeting. It helped me structure what I wanted to get out of the program from the beginning and allowed us to have that forward planning system in our relationship. Over time, David and I became very fluid, so I didn’t have to rely on the program agenda as much because it became very natural and our conversations flowed well.

The fact that David was so incredible helped our time together. He gave me many great tools, recommendations, and tips so I could have conversations more effectively. His advice was actionable and that’s what truly helped me.

Q: Were there any aspects of Blue Shield’s culture that you noticed were reflected in the program?

Carmen: It comes back to our values of being human, honest, and courageous. Those are the three things I saw in the program because David lived them. He would stop and listen, he cared about me as a person and an employee of Blue Shield, and the first thing we’d always do before starting a meeting was talk about our families and what was going on in life. It really brought out the human element that allowed us to connect and for me to be more courageous in asking questions and talking about any concerns or things that were happening.

David: A lot of companies talk about encouraging people to grow in their careers, but here it’s real. I’ve seen it on my own team when someone has an opportunity and we celebrate those people and support them, and I’ve seen it on other teams as well. That aspect is something I reinforce with my mentees, and say, ‘This is a culture and environment that wants to support you and your growth, so given that, here are some ways you can step forward and let your leaders know what interests you, because we want to help and it’s your job to tell us how.’ It really encouraged my mentees to be open and honest, share their thoughts, and ask for support, feedback, or flexibility.

In Carmen’s case, I encouraged her to share her thoughts in a particular way and gave her ideas on how she might communicate her business ideas, not break the hierarchy, but understand she has something to contribute and not hold back if she thinks she’s not at the right hierarchical level to share her knowledge. Carmen had a lot of ideas and expertise she was bringing, but the people she needed to share those ideas with were two to three levels above her. So we talked about how she could create opportunities to share her thoughts and, to her credit, she stepped right in and took it well beyond anything that we ever discussed. I think she found both personal and professional achievement by doing that.

Q: Carmen, could you share some specific instances where the mentorship from David contributed to your personal or professional development?

I got a promotion. David gave me a lot of actionable advice on how to have conversations that were super productive and easy. He gave me tools, techniques, and sometimes links to articles, and there was a lot of valuable information there. Many times, I would turn around and call my boss and say, ‘Okay, we have to talk, here are some things that David brought to the table, and I think they’re amazing.’ And I have a fantastic boss who meets me where I’m at and she was able to take those things and run with them. We had some valuable conversations that led to me growing further and being put in positions that showcased my abilities to earn my promotion.

Q: What are some of the most valuable insights or lessons you learned through the Blue Advisor mentorship program?

David: No matter where you are in your career, many of the things mentees experience are things I still think about, and I love thinking and brainstorming about them. The program is very collaborative, so I learned a lot from the mentees as well. It also expanded my network. I learned about other parts of the business I wasn’t as familiar with, got to ask questions, and it helped me understand those parts of the business. It was definitely worth my time.

Carmen: The most valuable thing I learned was the rule of three for communication with all different types of people and personalities. When you want to get buy-in on something, communicate three reasons why it’s going to be a benefit. If you want to convince someone we need a new tool, share three reasons why it will benefit us, or three things we’re going to need in order to make it happen. It’s reasonable, simple, and easy to digest. I have used this methodology in many conversations since and it works well.

Q: How has the Blue Advisor program supported your individual goals and aspirations within Blue Shield?

Carmen: It allowed me to realize that I can grow at Blue Shield in a tangible way by having solid conversations. I’ve always loved Blue Shield and always enjoyed working here. I think this program confirmed how much Blue Shield invests into their employees and how much effort goes into making it a great place to work.

David: One of my goals is to manage people. I really enjoy it, and not just for the sake of managing, but the idea of helping people be their best selves, advance their careers, contribute at higher levels, and make a greater impact. It was not quite a manager-like relationship, but to support someone in a way that helps them make a greater impact in the organization is part of my goal as a manager that I experienced through the mentorship program.

Q: Is there a message that you’d like to share with others about participating in the Blue Advisor program or other mentorship opportunities?

David: I would say from a mentor’s perspective, it’s a pretty low lift. I didn’t have to do a lot of work. The mentees showed up, set up the meetings, and created the agendas. If you enjoy helping people become their best selves, this is a great way to do it, and you can be more open and honest and share things in ways that you might feel less comfortable sharing in your direct organizational structure.

Carmen: Wherever you are in your career, no matter how much you know or how much experience you have, you can always learn something new from someone else. There’s always room for improvement or learning a new way of doing something. Make sure you are coming in open to new suggestions and ways of thinking while being willing to act on them.

Q: Any advice you’d give to other employees of Blue Shield who are considering joining the Blue Advisor mentorship program?

Carmen: Do it!

David: For a mentee, you get out of it what you put into it, so do it, but treat it like a real work responsibility. Don’t make it the last thing you do, make it one of the first things you do, because the more you put into it the more it will help you. 

If you’d like to be part of a work culture that supports individual career growth and development, check out our open career opportunities and apply!