Companies decide to create mentoring programs in the workplace because they want to nurture, retain, and attract talented people, share the benefits of experience, and keep ahead of the changing market conditions. They value adaptability, creativity, and innovation. An effective corporate mentoring program helps develop untapped potential, to the benefit of the individuals and the business as a whole. In a survey by the Industrial Society published in 1999 covering more than 300 companies, over 80 percent reported that mentoring had improved the achievement of individual performance targets and goals. The top 7 reasons given for establishing mentoring programs:
- To promote the retention of valued employees (selected by 73%).
- To improve employees’ leadership and managerial skills (selected by 71%).
- To develop new leaders (selected by 66%).
- To enhance employees’ career development (selected by 62%).
- To place high-potential individuals on a fast career track (selected by 49%).
- To promote diversity (selected by 48%).
- To improve employees’ technical knowledge (selected by 30%)1.
Research indicates that mentoring is one of the important factors in business success. Mentoring provides a safe, protected learning environment. The mentored benefits from the mentor’s experience without having to go through the trial and error of learning the same lessons. Time is compressed; mistakes do not need to be repeated. Valuable lessons, knowledge, attitudes, and recognition of opportunities are passed on.
A successful corporate mentoring program has the following attributes: it is designed based upon a needs analysis of the company and its employees; it develops guidelines and support materials; it prepares mentors and mentored for the program’s design and for what to expect from the program; and it uses periodic and ongoing evaluations.
The U.S. Department of Labor provides the following tips for starting mentoring programs in any organization:
- Make sure that you have senior management’s support of your program.
- Hold training sessions for staff to make sure that they understand the commitment they are making.
- Provide disability awareness training for staff working with individuals with disabilities for the first time. Many people, although happy to mentor, have questions about disability.
- Appoint a mentoring coordinator who can serve as a resource for both the employee and the individual mentor within your organization.
- Provide incentives for people to both mentor and receive mentoring. For example, hold special recognition events for individuals participating in mentoring.
- Have a mentor and the mentored agree on expectations up front, including how long the mentoring will last and how frequently meetings will take place.
- Encourage participants to work together on an individualized development plan as a mentoring activity. Have the plan approved by all those involved, including senior management. Individualized development planning helps define expectations, and the plan can be used to measure progress.
The first step to creating a successful corporate mentor program is to define the purpose of the program. Consider the following questions when developing a corporate mentoring program:
Who is eligible to participate?
Upper and mid-level management only
Lower level only
Who should be involved in creating the program?
Representatives from all levels
Upper and mid-level management only
Who will coach the mentors? How?
Provide group mentoring for the mentors
Provide mentors with their own mentor as required
The second step is to create a matching system for the mentors and mentored. The matching system should complement and be compatible with the program’s purpose. Participants can be matched based on skills, topics they want to master, leadership, company culture, networking, and so on. Pairing up the participants can be done by a team or committee determining which mentor best suits the mentored, or the mentored can choose a mentor from a list of participating mentors.
The third step is to control the program. Control of the mentoring relationship is important and should complement the program’s purpose. One company program may allow the mentor to be in control. The mentor sets the meetings, selects the content, and leads the mentored through the program. Another program may allow the mentor and mentored to share the responsibility. Both participants decide what to talk about. Once formality is out of the way, candor and privacy take over. Typically mentoring relationships that last from 6 to 9 months work best. Keep politics out of the mentoring program. Each participant should bring an outside perspective to the relationship. By weeding out politics, you can make use of an important asset that many companies never tap into — the employee’s vast knowledge. Mentoring is a great medium to exchange ideas. It’s about what you want to know — not whom you know.
The fourth step is to stay open to experimentation. Have a few rules to structure the program to meet the purpose, but allow the participants to develop working relationships. Mentoring shifts easily to meet training needs whether you are expanding your business or currently not hiring. Mentoring can help integrate your people when you are growing. When you are not growing, it can help people make the next step in their career. Mentoring can help you retain skilled employees, which will help your company grow. The advantage of a formal program from an employee’s perspective is that it reduces the fear or shyness factor between management levels. The downside is that it can be much harder to connect with the right person. One in ten people may discover that there is good chemistry in the mentor/mentored relationship. The other nine times it may take more work. It is important to get past any superficial differences and consider what your mentor might offer. Your mentor might not be able to give you advice about your day-to-day specific duties but could have a lot of great career and company culture wisdom to pass on.
The fifth step is to have an ongoing evaluation of the mentoring program. There are a variety of methods to evaluate the many aspects of the mentoring program. Evaluation is not about proving the success or failure of your mentoring program, but rather about remaining open to feedback and adjusting the program accordingly.
By implementing a program evaluation you can:
- Understand and verify the impact of the mentoring program within your organization;
- Improve interactions between mentors and mentored; and
- Facilitate management’s thinking about the mentoring program and its goals, including establishing processes to meet the goals and to determine if the goals have been met.
Before designing your evaluation approach, consider the following types of evaluations:
1) Goals-Based Evaluation — programs established to meet one or more specific goals. These goals are often described in the program’s purpose and objectives.
Questions to ask when designing a goals-based evaluation:
- How are the programs goals established? Was the process effective?
- What is the status of the program’s progress toward achieving the goals?
- Will the goals be achieved according to the timelines specified in the program implementation or operations plan?
- Do personnel have adequate resources to achieve the goals?
- How should priorities and/or timelines be changed to focus more on the goals?
- Should any of the goals be changed?
- How should future goals be established?
2) Process-Based Evaluation — geared to understand how a program works. These evaluations are useful if programs are long-standing and have changed over the years.
Questions to ask when designing a process-based evaluation:
- On what basis do mentors and mentored come into the program?
- What is required of mentors and mentored who are in the program?
- How are mentors and mentored trained to succeed in the program?
- What is the general process that mentors and mentored go through with the program?
- What are considered the strengths and weaknesses of the program?
- What typical complaints are heard about the program?
- On what basis do mentors and mentored decide that the program is no longer needed?
3) Outcomes-Based Evaluation — focus on asking if your program is really doing the right program activities to bring about the outcomes you believe are needed. Outcomes are usually in terms of enhanced learning (knowledge, perception/ attitudes, or skills). Outcomes are benefits to the company and employee from participation in the program. Outcomes are often confused with outputs. For example, the number of mentored who participated in the program is an input.
Consider the following when designing an outcomes-based evaluation:
- Identify the major outcomes you want to verify for the program (reflect on the program’s purpose and mission) and ask yourself what impacts your program will have on your mentors and mentored as you work toward your mission.
- For each outcome, specify what observable measures, or indicators, will suggest that your program is achieving the key outcome with your program participants.
- Specify a target goal of the outcome. Identify what information is needed to show how the target goal and outcome are being met.
- Decide how information can be effectively and realistically gathered. Consider program documentation, observation, interviews, and questionnaires.
Keep in mind that every program is different and your evaluation process should focus on your specific program’s purpose and goals. Determine what goals will provide the focus of your evaluation.
- What do you hope to gain from the self-evaluation?
- What questions would you like to be answered?
- What do you plan to do with the information learned from the evaluation?
- What are your fears about the evaluation process?
The last word on corporate mentoring is that you can create and develop your own company mentoring program. There are many resources available to assist you, including published materials, mentoring websites, and professional consultants who specialize in corporate mentoring programs. Examples of organizational resources include the following:
National Mentoring Partnership advocates for the expansion of mentoring and is an outstanding resource for mentors and mentoring initiatives nationwide. Its website includes an online diagnostic tool to help organizations identify areas for improvement in mentoring programs, a list of products and technical experts to help with mentoring
programs, a list of mentoring programs across the United States, and links to a variety of evaluation studies and mentoring advice. www.mentoring.org 2
The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory’s National Mentoring Center provides training and technical assistance to mentoring programs through a variety of services and conferences. www.nwrel.org
The National Mentoring Network exists to help support the growth of mentoring in its various forms. Its aims are to promote the development of mentoring, offer advice and support to those wishing to set up or develop mentoring programs, and provide a forum for the exchange of information and good practice. www.nmn.org
Books on mentoring include:
The Mentoring Pocketbook, by Geof Alred, Bob Garvey and Richard Smith
Daring to Be Different: A Manager’s Ascent to Leadership, by James A. Hatherley
Making the Most of Being Mentored: How to Grow from a Mentoring Relationship, by Gordon F. Shea
Mentoring and Diversity: An International Perspective, by David Clutterbuck and Belle Rose Ragins
Learning from Other Women: How To Benefit from the Knowledge, Experience, and Wisdom of Female Mentors, by Carolyn Duff
1 Tight Labor Market Causing More Companies to Develop Employees through Coaching and Mentoring, Special Counsel, www.amicus staffing.com/career/articles/2mentor.asp
2 2002 Business Women’s Network, www.bsni.com, and Diversity Best Practices www.diversitybestpractices.com
Valorie Hennigan, ASLA
URS Corporation Hunt Valley, MD 21030