Mentoring: The Missing Link To Supercharge Your People
A structured mentoring program can provide substantial benefits to your company.
By Donna L. Horkey

Mentoring is a far more powerful retention and development tool than many managers may realize. The challenge of helping clients make a meaningful investment in their people on a limited budget led me to create my own model of what mentoring should be and how it should be delivered. My methodology has a threefold purpose:
  1. Establish a targeted, structured mentoring program.
  2. Build in customization for the organization's culture.
  3. Help the program develop into a self-fueling system.
The most recent research done for the American Management Association (Shea, 1994) states that mentoring has become the method of choice to tackle many modern business challenges, including breaking through the glass ceiling, career enhancement, work force diversity, team building, total quality management, leadership development, accelerated transfer of technical skills and knowledge, and rebuilding organizational trust after downsizing.
There are many alternatives available to accomplish these goals, so why should mentoring be your method of choice? Here are 10 great benefits of a structured mentoring program:
  1. Gives high performance employees a reason to stay with the company even if there are no immediate advancement opportunities.
  2. Enables you to make appropriate matches between mentor and mentee.
  3. Allows you to provide some standardized training.
  4. Forces participants to focus on specific skills development.
  5. Prevents mentor burnout.
  6. Allows you to move the mentees from mentor to mentor, as needed.
  7. Contributes to the bottom line by improving the organization's most important asset - its employees.
  8. Provides a simple system to track success.
  9. automatically creates the next generation of mentors.
  10. Yields good will and great public relations.
Selecting the Participants
Before establishing your mentoring program, determine the exact results you wish to achieve and then work backwards to create the appropriate success formula for your organization. It may behoove you to offer some form of mentoring to all levels of your work force.
Most organizations have a one-tier system, usually aimed at mid- to upper-level personnel. But a second approach, the two-tier system, is becoming more popular as companies are developing greater sensitivity to their employees' needs, particularly in those organizations that have recently experienced a downsizing or restructuring.
The two-tier system adds on a second level to allow new and/or entry-level employees to participate in the program. This is a system you should think about if your goals include helping people get acclimated, offering personalized professional development at all levels or improving workers' job performance. This model also allows you to use mentoring as a recruiting tool.

In order to create a program that clearly meets the needs of your particular organization and employees, begin by identifying the answers to these questions:
  • Who will determine who qualifies to participate?
  • Should the candidates personally apply, be nominated or be invited to participate?
  • Who qualifies to be a mentor and a mentee?
  • What should be the minimum tenure requirements to qualify for participation?
  • Are there certain traits and characteristics that participants should possess?
  • Should participants have attained a certain level of education?
  • Should participants be involved in a certain type or number of civic and/or professional organizations?
  • Does the organization contain a culturally diverse population and should that be statistically reflected in the mentoring program?
The Matching Process
As you move into the matching phase, don't lose sight of the desired outcomes of your program. Keep focused on the goal of developing skills and competencies. This will enable you to avoid costly mistakes in pairing your mentors and mentees.
Traditional mentoring programs have been centered on an informal matching process, meaning that mentors and mentees are permitted to choose each other based on their own perceived comfort level or compatibility.
This fallacious thinking may prove the downfall of many mentoring programs that will later be described by administration as simply "never getting of the ground" with no further explanation.
This is because the criterion of "liking each other" should not be part of the methodology for pairing mentors and mentees; in fact, it is actually the smallest concern in a skill-based model.
People who are different from one another have more to offer each other, because their strengths and skills are complementary. And the irony is that, in truth, the people we can learn from the most are frequently the people we like the least.
The second frequently made error is to have an employee be mentored by the immediate supervisor. This detracts from the mentee's ability to ask questions and discuss problems with impunity.
The third error is suggesting that mentees select the person they most admire or would like to learn from The problem with this? There are one or two people that everyone wants! This means they get burned out too quickly due to overuse.
To make the matching process impartial and competency-based, assessments are used to determine the strengths and weaknesses of both the mentor and the mentee. These assessments look at a variety of competencies needed to get and stay ahead in today's fast-paced workplace.

Keys to Orientation
The orientation phase of this model consists of tree parts: the initial meeting, the communication skills training module and the listening skills training module.
The initial meeting between mentors and mentees should be set up as a social event, making it different from just another meeting (for people who are probably already feeling meeting-ed to death!).
After a planned icebreaker or just some socializing and informal exchange, mentor and mentee teams are announced, provided with a structured interview form and encouraged to go someplace private where they can both feel comfortable while completing the form.
The formality of a predetermined questionnaire and the time constraint give both parties something to focus on to diffuse the tension of the first meeting. It also reinforces the it's OK for them to express their expectations of one another and to be honest with each other.
Some basic ideas on the roles of a mentor should be proffered at this time.
  • A mentor is a teacher, not a manager.
  • A mentor is a big brother or sister, not a boss.
  • A mentor offers critique, not criticism.
A mentor must stay focused on his or her role and responsibilities: to act as a sounding board, to brainstorm solutions, to share personal experiences. It is the mentee's role to act, to do, to change. Remember, good mentoring teaches an individual to think.
The training modules that complete the orientation phase are half-day programs that can be delivered together or separately. They cover communication and listening skills for both mentors and mentees. Both participants need both skill for the team to be successful.

Team Guidelines
The nature of the relationship and the format of the actual one-on-one meetings between mentors and mentees will largely be determined by the teams themselves. Some mentors may feel it is necessary, or may simply be more comfortable, taking the lead in each discussion.
They may follow a simple series of questions each time, or they may decide to permit the mood or needs of the mentees to determine the format of their meetings.
Perhaps the ideal framework would be to outline the key items that need to be worked on at each meeting then allow the mentee to take the lead by offering information, thoughts and judgments before receiving feedback from the mentor.
Or the mentee may present a situation with a series of questions he himself has designed to help him exercise better judgment and skill in the future.
What issues are appropriate for discussion by mentor teams? Many mentees' concerns center around interpersonal issues as they cultivate new professional relationships and try to establish themselves in the organization, such as:
  • My supervisor won't give me anything challenging to do.
  • I can tell that my supervisor resents/doesn't like that I'm in this mentoring program.
  • I'm not sure what my career path should be.
  • My spouse/significant other feels I'm spending too much time at work.
  • When I go to my boss with a good idea, he always tells me why it won't work or what's wrong with it.
  • When I go to my boss with an idea she thinks is good and decides to use, she takes all the credit herself.
  • My co-workers are jealous of the fast track I'm on and all the attention I'm getting from management.
  • My co-workers are all so slow/lazy/negative.
  • I want to go back to school for my MBA, but I don't want to jeopardize my career path with the company.
As you can see, most of these are not issues that have absolute answers. Rather, these are challenges that require thoughtful consideration in terms of proactive and reactive behaviors. The mentor must ask the right questions in order to help the mentee come up with the right answers.
Situations may arise in which the mentor feels some form of intervention on his/her part would be beneficial to the mentee. It is imperative that you establish clear guidelines about what types of intervention are permissible, particularly where the mentees' relationships with their managers are an issue.
Look to your company's policies and procedures to assist you in setting reasonable intervention standards.
As the HR administrator of this program, you should not become involved in the actual mentor/mentee relationship, except in certain extreme circumstances, such as:
  • An irreconcilable conflict arises between mentor and mentee.
  • A manager feels the mentor is not having a positive effect on the mentee.
  • The mentee has learned what he/she can from the mentor and is ready to be assigned to another mentor.
  • The mentee is not maximizing the benefits of the mentor program.
Proving Success
Most companies today are willing to make some investment in their human assets, but in return they demand positive long-term effects for both the people and the organization.
These effects are best derived from a formal mentoring program with up-front expectations, measurable progress points and back-end results.
The decision of who will administer your program is an important one. The program should have one person who is the coordinator.
I you have an experienced trainer or recruiter on staff with heavy interpersonal skills, this person would be a good choice.
One of the user-friendly goals of this model is minimal paperwork, but there are several vital pieces of information that must be recorded, such as mentor teams, commencement dates, orientation and training dates, periodic and final assessment interviews, and progress reports.
A quarterly written summary should be submitted by the coordinator for your review. It should include a progress overview on each mentor team and an estimate of company hours/dollars spent on the program.
For years, we HR professionals have been accused of being too touchy-feely, too people-oriented and not concerned with profits, budgets and cold hard dollars. Many of us have scrambled to prove our ability to make HR a profit center and to become more operations-focused.
A mentoring program can illustrate your efforts.
Be prepared to provide your management team with the following information:

  • The cost of mentors' and mentees' time spent in team meetings during business hours.
  • The cost of program materials and consultant fees (if applicable).
  • The value of the coaching and training the mentee is getting at no extra charge to the company (typical HR management consultants earn between $100-$250 per hour).
  • The value of retaining an employee who now offers the company more knowledge, skills and abilities (calculate this by reviewing wage and salary surveys to determine what you would have to pay on the open market to hire a person who already possesses the desired skills, plus the cost associated with the hiring, orientation and training of such a person).
If your program is operating effectively when you pull all these numbers together, you will see a healthy cost/benefit ratio that validates your mentoring program as a win-win-win proposition.
Your management team will recognize both the overall long-term cost savings, and the upgraded skills and contributions of existing employees.
By implementing this mentoring model, you will have more empowered employees who are willing to go beyond their job descriptions, share their knowledge and skills with others, and think.
You will will also have the satisfaction of knowing that you have simultaneously improved both productivity and morale, a feat most managers would be thrilled to accomplish!

Good luck and good mentoring!

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