Mentoring can help a new employee learn about an organization’s culture, integrate them into the organization faster and help create an environment of support. It can also improve personal networks and professional development for both the mentor and the mentee through the experiences and contacts that each person brings to the process.
Mentoring, defined as “a learning partnership between employees for purposes of sharing technical information, institutional knowledge and insight with respect to a particular occupation, profession, organization or endeavor,” can either be formal or informal in nature. An example of informal mentoring is when a seasoned employee (mentor) “[takes] a new employee (mentee) under his/her wing.” Formal mentoring is when an organization establishes a program that intentionally pairs mentors and mentees so the two employees can share their knowledge and expertise in mutually beneficial ways. The relationship between the mentor and mentee should not be unidirectional — from mentor to the mentee. Both individuals have skills, knowledge and experience that should be shared with each other.
Roles, Responsibilities and Qualifications
Mentor: The role of an effective mentor is to encourage the mentee to explore ideas and take risks in the learning process. In addition, mentors should provide appropriate and timely advice, along with sharing the knowledge and skills obtained from their professional experience. The primary responsibilities of an effective mentor include being willing to invest the time and effort to provide support to the new employee, recommend professional development opportunities, confront negative behaviors and attitudes and support the mentee in critical situations.
A mentor should be an individual that has a true desire to be a mentor and should possess the following skills and abilities:
- Strong interpersonal skills: Enjoys working with young professionals, is patient and a good listener, and is willing to share personal experiences relevant to the needs of the mentee.
- Strong supervisory skills: Helps mentees set developmental goals, create action plans and ways to efficiently use their time, and is willing to assume and demonstrate effective leadership.
- Knowledge of the department/agency: Shares knowledge of organizational “politics” and culture; provides familiarity with rules, policies and philosophies; and has knowledge of training and career opportunities.
- Strong interest in someone else’s growth: Is willing to allow mentees to develop at their own pace (if it’s not detrimental to the mentees’ goals) and facilitates the mentees’ success in reaching their goals.
Mentee: The mentee has two primary roles: First, he or she must be open and willing to accept advice, feedback and suggestions from the mentor. If an organization does not have a formal mentoring program, the mentee should seek a mentor through an informal relationship. Mentees are responsible for their own professional development, and this may entail seeking challenging assignments that may be outside of their comfort zone. Second, mentees must keep the commitments agreed on with their mentor.
Steps for a Formal Mentoring Program
Step 1: Determine Agency Support — This is an important step for a formal program. The department head/director and senior staff members must fully support and be involved in the program.
Step 2: Identify Mentors — The selection of mentors is a critical component of the process. Simply because someone volunteers to be a mentor doesn’t mean that individual would be a good choice to serve as a mentor. In order to be selected, individuals must have a sincere interest in assisting in the professional growth of another employee. In addition, they must possess strong leadership skills and be committed to helping mentees understand and work toward accomplishing the mentees’ and the organization’s goals and objectives. Obviously, it would not be prudent to have an employee with a poor performance history mentoring a young professional.
Step 3: Provide Training for Mentors — Don’t assume that mentoring comes naturally. Training prospective mentors is essential and should address such issues as how to actively listen, resolve conflict and establish effective communications with the mentee. In addition, training materials should be developed that provide clear guidelines for both the mentor and the mentee.
Step 4: The Actual Mentoring — This step is the start of a nurturing and trusting relationship between the mentor and mentee through established regular meetings and by following up on recommendations/action plans.
Step 5: Evaluation — It is important to regularly obtain feedback from both the mentor and the mentee to determine if:
- the mentor-mentee relationship is “working”
- both parties’ expectations are being met
- both parties remain committed to the relationship and process
- problems have arisen (and if so, were they resolved?)
- objectives of the program are being accomplished
In other words, evaluation should determine what is working and what is not working. This information can be obtained through discussion with the mentor and mentee (individually and collectively) and through the use of surveys.
The establishment of a formal program within an organization can benefit not only the mentee, but also the mentor and the overall organization. If your organization doesn’t currently have a mentoring program, start one. If you are a young professional whose organization does not have a formal program, seek out a mentor within or outside of your organization. Remember, a professional’s growth and development are ultimately his or her responsibility, but working for an organization with an established mentoring program makes it a lot easier.
Nancy J. Gladwell, Re.D., CPRP, is Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Community and Therapeutic Recreation at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Gail Elder White, CPRP, is a Retired Parks and Recreation Director in Pittsboro, N.C.