2001 Finding Better Ways Conference Presentation Recap
Keeping Employees Focused through Mentoring
John E. Barnette
Behavioral Health Strategies, LLC
South Charleston, WV
Mentoring and coaching have been found to significantly contribute to the success of both individuals and organizations. Within the Performance Enhancement Solutions' human capital development theory, mentoring is one of four foundational pieces (along with emotional intelligence, leadership development, and teamwork) on which all personal and organizational gains are built. Training programs that are based on personal development models heavily relying on coaching and mentoring have proved to be among the most successful.
The idea of mentoring comes to us from Greek mythology. It is commonly defined as a relationship between an experienced and a less experienced person in which the mentor provides guidance, advice, support, and feedback to the protégé. Over time, mentoring has been applied to a wide range of societal situations. In the Middle Ages craftsmen served as apprentices as they learned their trade. Today in the corporate world, this is commonly referred to as coaching. Although mentoring (or coaching) has always played a roll in the development of employees and, in turn, the organization, its popularity is increasing daily as its effectiveness is being demonstrated across a wide range of employment settings. This paper describes several types of mentoring programs, the benefits of mentoring to the individuals involved and to the organization, and outlines the steps to develop an effective mentoring program within an agency.
Types of Mentoring Programs
When an organization (or an individual) is considering employing mentoring or coaching as a tool for improvement, it is important to have a clear understanding of what it entails. Too often mentoring becomes confused with consulting and/or counseling/therapy. Regardless of their credentials and experience, the true coach or the mentor is neither a consultant nor a therapist. These too are important roles and may prove helpful in the right circumstances, but the mentor/coach who moves into the role of the consultant or the counselor (intentionally or unintentionally) does a disservice to the client as well as to the mission and purpose of mentoring. In turn, the individual seeking consultation or therapy should look elsewhere.
Mentoring/coaching may be provided on both an informal or formal basis. However, if it is to be effective and is intended to result in specific definitive outcomes it is important that it be formalized. Examples of such efforts include traditional one-on-one programs (e.g., Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program) to team or group mentoring. Programs may be either long or short-term and may address general growth and development or be focused on specific skill development. In today's business world the common domains of coaching or mentoring are new employee, career development, and leadership/executive development.
Regardless of how an organization decides to employ mentoring or coaching it must have the support (and understanding) of the leadership. Examples of this include determining what benefits and risks (costs) are associated with a formal mentoring program and specifying what employee and corporate outcomes are wanted/expected as a result of sponsoring a mentoring program. Leadership must also determine how the program will be structured and overseen.
Once a decision is made to initiate a mentoring/coaching program, care must be taken to ensure that it will be an effective one. As noted above, successful mentoring may "just happen" in rare instances, but it generally will not evolve on its own. The people to be mentored must be as carefully selected as the mentors themselves. A formal evaluation should be conducted to assess progress as well as process. The program must be driven by policy, contain sufficient structure and be supported by leadership.
Benefits of Mentoring Programs
The benefits of an effective mentoring/coaching program are numerous and often positively impact not only the individual being mentored but also the person doing the coaching and the organization as a whole. Some of the many benefits of mentoring are illustrated in the following chart:
- Opportunity to develop and improve in the way they want to
- Be able to speak in confidence about problems or issues
- Get feedback of their and weaknesses
- Be able to ask "silly" questions, talk about new ideas, and try out new skills without the fear of embarrassment
- Learn at their own pace.
- Develop more honest relationships with your colleagues.
- Satisfaction of seeing others grow and develop.
- Improve the skills of those around you, making your job easier too.
- Hone your own interpersonal skills
- Create a following. If you help other people, they are more likely to help you out.
- Be recognized as one who has a desire and the ability to develop others.
- Gain a more motivated workforce.
- Create an atmosphere that encourages people to learn new skills rather than stagnate and get bored.
- Save time otherwise spent away at expensive courses.
- Improve the quality or the work done by its employees.
Developing a Mentoring Program
Although all supervisors can benefit from serving as a mentor or coach, not everyone does this equally well. A good mentor/coach generally has the following qualities:
The critical steps needed to develop a mentorship program include: (1) securing leadership support, (2) developing a program committee to design the program, (3) develop the details of program implementation, (4) providing the training, (5) piloting the effort, (6) evaluating the pilot and (7) formalizing the program.
- A desire to help others.
- The right attitude toward coaching.
- Respect for the choices that a coachee makes.
- An appropriate sense of humor.
- Good judgment.
- Follows a Code of Ethics.
In summary mentoring is used successfully in schools, social service organizations, the military and the corporate world. It is an effective adjunct to formal training programs and benefits both the mentor and the protégé, as well as the company or organization as a whole. Mentoring should not be left to chance as an informal program. When leadership makes the decision that mentoring is an appropriate tool to reach corporate objectives, then the organization should establish a formalized mentoring system and evaluate its results over time.
- Behavioral Health Strategies, LLC. (1999). Keeping employees focused through mentoring. South Charleston, WV: Author.
- Hales, J. (1998). The performance consultant's fieldbook. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Pfieffer.
- Sperry, L. (1996). Corporate therapy and consulting. New York.
- Yeung, R. (2000). Coaching people. United Kingdom: Essentials Publishing, How-to Books Limited.
Behavioral Health Strategies, LLC
P.O. Box 8125
South Charleston, WV 25303
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