Mentoring for performance improvement in the workplace

August 1, 2000
Richard V. Michaels

Pharmaceutical Representative

The traditional boss-employee relationship has been replaced by a model in which the partnerships between managers and their employees - as well as those among managers across the organization - are a vital tool for enhancing performance.

In today's fast-paced, competitive workplace, managers are expected to function more as collaborative and interactive professionals than as supervisors controlling their subordinates. The traditional boss-employee relationship has been replaced by a model in which the partnerships between managers and their employees - as well as those among managers across the organization - are a vital tool for enhancing performance. These strategic partnerships are relationships of shared power, with managers acting as leaders, role models and mentors rather than bosses or supervisors.

Mentoring is a method of teaching and learning that can occur among all types of individuals across all kinds of knowledge bases and settings. In the workplace, mentoring normally consists of teaching, giving feedback, coaching on the job, counseling through change and structuring ongoing contact over a designated time period, but regardless of the method, mentoring is an effective teaching and learning technique.

In the workplace, there are typically several key players involved in a mentoring program. The mentor is the guide with the experience, skills or knowledge in a specific area who is able, willing and available to share this knowledge with another individual. Successful mentors possess specific competencies, many of which overlap with management competencies. Since the mentor role is instrumental to the relationship, most successful mentoring programs offer mentor training to ensure a productive outcome to the mentoring relationship.

The mentee is the learner or protégé who lacks experience, knowledge, or skills in a specific area and who looks to another individual to gain what is lacking. In most mentoring programs, the mentee undergoes an orientation or training program to prepare him or her to succeed in the relationship.

The mentee normally possesses the following characteristics.


•Â A willingness to assume responsibility for his or her own growth and learning.


•Â A demonstrated ability to succeed.


•Â A record of seeking new responsibilities or assignments.


•Â A receptivity to feedback.


•Â A willingness to participate in regular meetings with the mentor.

The goals of mentoring can be focused in a variety of ways, including skill development, career development or organizational/cultural development. Mentoring for skill development helps a mentee develop one or more needed skills or competencies. The mentor provides information and suggests ways in which the mentee can practice new skills without risk. Mentoring for career development stresses upward mobility and career enhancement as opposed to behaviors and activities that promote skill performance. In this case, the mentor typically comes from a higher level within the organization and the focus is on the mentee's career path. Mentoring for organizational/cultural development involves understanding the organization and its culture, vision, history and status in the marketplace. Mentors in this relationship share the organization's history, evolution and culture with the mentee as well as provide suggestions and resources.

Mentoring methods

The appropriate mentoring method for a given workplace depends upon the company's unique goals, the company culture and the needs of the program's participants.

Traditional mentoring. Traditional mentoring typically involves the senior individual teaching or tutoring the new hire or less experienced employee. The emphasis is not as much on partnership as it is on long-term career development. In this model, a newly hired management trainee may be linked with an executive that is higher up in the company. As the mentee mirrors the mentor and grows into a higher rank, the mentee becomes an independent member of the mentor's circle of colleagues and peers.

Formal or facilitated mentoring. Formal mentoring establishes a structure designed to create effective mentoring relationships, guide the desired change in those involved, and evaluate the results. When a mentoring program is sponsored by an organization, an official environment is established in which mentoring can flourish. Such support can ensure that there is a system for handling conflicts and for defining specific objectives and guidelines for the mentoring process.

Peer mentoring. Peer mentoring focuses on acquiring a specific skill. It is usually more short-term, and concludes once the skill is acquired. Peer mentoring is often easier and more efficient than traditional mentoring. Hearing feedback from a peer who possesses the desired skill or knowledge may be easier than hearing feedback given from an authority figure. In peer mentoring, roles are more likely to interchange. For example, a mentor for one skill may be a learner in another skill, or a mentee may have consecutive mentors for different skill sets.

Peer mentoring can also take the form of a joint venture in which both members pursue development in an area in which they both wish to develop. In a peer relationship, the mentor and mentee see each other as fellow learners rather than as teacher and student. Peer mentoring is characterized by reciprocity, collegiality, equality and interchangeability.

Mentoring in teams or learning groups. Team or group mentoring is a relatively new adaptation of the traditional mentor-protégé relationship. Teams are often created by bringing together individuals who have already benefited from peer mentoring but who see a need to broaden their expertise. It is also a more targeted, cost-effective approach to corporate training programs.

Elements in the mentoring process

Although formalizing the mentoring process may put off some employees, structuring a mentoring program has been shown to render the program more effective, with greater participation.

Establishing goals for the mentoring program drives the method of mentoring chosen by the organization as well as the focus of the mentor-mentee meetings. The goals should target one or more groups within the organization and focus on one or more areas. Mentoring often complements an existing program, and the goals of the mentoring program should be aligned with the organization's goals and mission.

Determining the selection criteria for matching mentors and mentees involves assessing the competencies required of a successful mentor as well as the abilities required for the mentee to grow from the experience. Once the selection criteria are determined, individuals should be nominated and/or complete a related application form.

Training is critical to ensuring the success of ongoing, structured mentoring programs. Training should address both the mentor and the mentee in order to set expectations, educate both partners about the process, and provide resources for help during the mentoring process. Training for mentors should include communication skills as well as planning and time management skills. Training for mentees should emphasize how to receive and use feedback.

Creating a contract or development plan is the foundation of the mentor-mentee relationship. It outlines the agreement between the two members and describes how the developmental goals of the mentee will be achieved. An agreement includes the focus or goal of the relationship, a confidentiality agreement, the duration of the relationship, the frequency of meetings and the roles of the mentor and mentee.

Collecting data to assess needed improvements and to ensure success of the mentoring program is another important component. Evaluation and revision should be a continuing process and should be shared across the organization to recruit new participants and to demonstrate the organizational support of the program.

The benefits of all types of mentoring are proven and numerous. Mentor and mentee benefits are often parallel, reflecting the collaborative nature of the relationship. On the whole, mentoring enriches relationships and contributes to a collaborative, respectful environment. PR

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