May 01, 2012
Many companies have discovered that employee mentoring contributes to a lower staff turnover rate. This article provides an overview of mentoring in the corporate setting, and outlines keys to successful mentoring activities.
Since the mid 1990's, the rise of the coaching industry has challenged organisations to look closely at how they support staff during their tenure. Factors such as high turnover and a multitude of professional development options are pressuring HR and Learning & Development practitioners to find ways to support staff beyond existing compliance and competency frameworks. This has led to the re-discovery of a training and development process that has faithfully served the needs of organisations over many years: mentoring.
With its origins in Greek Mythology, the art of mentoring is as old as civilization itself. Throughout history, mentoring was the primary means of passing on knowledge and skills in every field. Volunteer mentors have been the backbone of many non-profit organisations for decades. In the 21st century corporation, this learning process has until recently been largely superseded by education systems and technologies that have relied more upon computers, classrooms or training courses and instructional DVD's than mentoring in its truest form. But what was until recently a fringe approach to skill development is now making its way into the mainstream as a successful, cost-effective method of knowledge transfer.
The dictionary defines a mentor as "a wise and trusted counselor or teacher". There are as many definitions of mentoring as there are books on the subject. The following by Stanley & Clinton has been selected as the basis for this article:
"Mentoring is a relational process between a mentor, who knows or has experienced something and transfers that something (resources of wisdom, information, experience, confidence, insight, relationships, status etc.) to a mentoree, at an appropriate time and manner, so that it facilitates development or empowerment."
The key concepts of this definition are:
- Mentoring is relational (i.e. it happens between people, not just concepts);
- Mentoring is about state change (i.e. it is not successful until the recipient is demonstrating the understanding imparted by the mentor); and
- Mentoring is flexible (the way in which mentoring occurs can vary widely on a case-by-case basis). Mentoring can be one to one, one to many, or many to one.
Types of Mentoring
The flexibility inherent in the mentoring process is best viewed on a scale that has degrees of intensity. At one end of the scale, mentoring can be highly focussed and constant, giving input many times a day. At the other, mentoring is passive; the mentor is a role model whose influence and impact is not bound by face-to-face interaction. Along the scale lie different mentoring types that can be chosen depending on the mentoree's requirements. The main types identified by Stanley & Clinton that are relevant to the workplace are as follows:
1. Discipler: thoroughly trains in all compulsory competencies for the role (e.g. the Master/Apprentice relationship).
2. Coach/Trainer: focuses on specific skills to meet a particular challenge.
3. Counsellor: provides insight and perspective for the mentoree(s) to view themselves, others and circumstances correctly.
4. Teacher: imparts in-depth knowledge of a specific subject.
5. Sponsor: gives career guidance, support and protection during times of transition.
6. Role Model:
A) Contemporary: a living, personal model for their profession that inspires emulation (can be inside or outside the organisation).
B) Historical: a past life that teaches principles and values relevant to their profession (e.g. company founder or leading industry innovator).
There are two important things to note from this list. First, a person can fulfil several mentoring roles during the course of an employee's career, sometimes simultaneously. Second, it is extremely rare to find sufficient mentors who can fulfil all the types. The key is to identify the type(s) required for each employee based on their unique needs and the specific stage of their career.
When to Mentor
There are a few key career stages when mentoring is most beneficial:
1. New Hire/Probation: the induction of new staff requires a structured plan of input. Many companies have successfully instituted a buddy system to support staff going through induction. However, a strong induction program should go beyond this, to include a mentoring plan for each new hire that identifies what types of mentors they are likely to need at different stages, and who might fill those roles. This makes mentoring far less reactive in the future.
2. Apprenticeship: when industry recognised qualifications are required.
3. Transition: when a staff member is moving into a new role, location or working group (especially if all three are happening simultaneously).
4. New Projects: often new projects require new skills, perspectives and support.
5. Performance Review: healthy performance reviews support and reinforce the paths identified at the New Hire stage;
6. Crisis: if mentoring has taken place during career stages 1-5, then crisis mentoring is only exercised in unforseen circumstances; either business or personal (e.g. destruction of major facilities through natural disaster, robbery, accidental death in the workplace, sudden death/long-term illness in the family). These particular situations require great sensitivity.
Effective Mentoring Principles
There is a relational dynamic that must exist for any mentoring relationship to be effective. This dynamic is based on a willingness to be accountable, readiness to learn, and respect between the mentoree and mentor.
Mentoring types, dynamics, models and career stages must all rest on some core principles. The key issues in any mentoring relationship should ideally be documented as a 'contract' between parties. They are as follows:
1. Relationship: a professional basis must always be made clear. While a close, strong relationship can greatly enhance a mentoring situation, the boundaries between work and personal life must be clearly drawn.
2. Focus: agree clearly on the work area requiring mentoring.
3. Confidentiality: this is mandatory for effective mentoring, but again, the work context is vital. When personal issues clearly impact negatively on job performance, this may require negotiation (see relationship).
4. Frequency: how often does each interaction occur?
5. Accountability: what will the mentoree and mentor take responsibility for?
6. Communication: how frequently and in what format(s)? This is especially important when a mentor must give negative feedback.
7. Time-Frames: how long will the relationship last?
8. Evaluation: when and how will the relationship be reviewed to assess its effectiveness?
9. Expectations: the ideal goal must be constantly assessed against the reality of what the relationship is actually achieving.
10. Closure: Ensure that an ending is clear and mutual. Avoid open ended relationships at all costs. This is vital to ensure a healthy relationship beyond the 'contract', and will leave the door open for ongoing mentoring when appropriate.
Finally, it is important to recognise that a healthy mentoring environment is not just "downwards", from higher to lower ranked employees. Mentoring is most effective when it can also be received from peers (both internal and external to the company) and any staff the mentoree is responsible for. This effectively 'closes the loop' and provides a circle of mentoring based on both receiving and contributing. It also creates the healthiest environment for the formalisation of any type of 360 degree feedback process.
Healthy organisations recognise that the learning and maturing of employees takes time, requiring several kinds of relationships. At its best, mentoring is a learning journey in which the mentor and mentoree serve as companions along the way. A strong mentoring culture, while attractive, can appear too complex an undertaking for many companies. Because a mentoring framework is based on the people within it, it must be tailored and dynamic; robust yet flexible. The challenge is to take healthy processes that may already exist (e.g. induction programs, performance reviews), and use them as springboards to take staff development to the next level. Well mentored employees reward their companies many times over in contribution and commitment far beyond the contract, proving its worth as a key business practice to consider.
This article was licenced by SMF Recruitment for the SMF Recruitment client newsletter. Written by Victoria Small and Edited by Paul Quinn, Quinntessential Marketing Consulting Pty Ltd
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The views and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of SMF Recruitment Pty Ltd. This information is a general summary of the subject matter and should not be relied upon. You should not use this information as the sole basis for decisions or in place of professional advice.
- Clutterbuck, David, Everyone Needs a Mentor: Fostering Talent in Your Organisation. Hyperion, 1991.
Mentoring Resource Website (Volunteering Focus)
- Murray, Margo, Beyond the Myths and Magic of Mentoring: How to Facilitate and Effective Mentoring Process. Jossey-Bass, 2001
- Stanley, Paul D., & Clinton, J. Robert, Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed in Life, Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1992
- Hewitt, Best Employers to work for in Australia, 2003
Zachary, Lois J. The Mentor's Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships. Jossey-Bass, 2000.
Australian Mentor Centre - full of excellent resources and further reading
The Centre for Mentoring
Stone, Florence, The Mentoring Advantage: Creating the Next Generation of Leaders.
Dearborn Trade, 2004.