Mentoring : Understanding the Need, Types and Benefits

A number of people within your company may be involved in your professional and career development programme. They may include the person responsible for the programme, the manager of the department where the trainee is working and the trainer or hr manager.

In a smaller company, all three may well be the same person. One of your staff will need to be appointed to take responsibility for the regular monitoring review. In addition to the regular monitoring review, you may wish to appoint a mentor.

The Role of a Mentor

A mentor is a trusted adviser or counsellor. A mentor may also play the role of a facilitator, master communicator, guide, teacher, coach, confidant and motivator. Such a person should be available on an informal and frequent basis to give the trainee advice on training and study issues. A mentor should also give encouragement where appropriate.

When choosing a mentor, it is often helpful to limit the number of trainees per mentor to three. The amount of flexibility available in choosing a mentor may be limited. However, given a choice, there are two factors to be considered.

Vertical or Diagonal Mentoring

Should the appointed mentor have a vertical or diagonal relationship with the trainee? There are advantages to both. Whichever approach is chosen, the system of in-company reporting and monitoring should ensure that communication channels are open and that remedial action can be taken as a result of the mentoring meeting.

Aspects of Vertical Mentoring

  1. Mentor has a direct interest in the work of the trainee
  2. Mentor is in a position of being able to effect a course of action immediately
  3. Mentor has an in-depth knowledge of the programme and of the trainee’s work, capabilities and weaknesses
  4. Less time may be spent on co-ordination

Aspects of Diagonal Mentoring

  1. Mentor is able to give a more independent opinion
  2. Frank discussions will have no repercussions on the trainee
  3. Divorced views may highlight inherent and potential problems
  4. Involves and interests more people within the company
  5. Less claustrophobic for both mentor and mentee

Frequency of Monitoring Review

Many companies carry out a performance appraisal of their staff annually. There are advantages to treating as separate the performance appraisal and monitoring review of a trainee’s professional or career development. The right period between each monitoring review will depend on your company.

Some companies have found that a three to six monthly review works well. The advantage of fixing a review meeting is that it ensures regular discussion of the trainee’s progress in all areas of the development programme. In addition, there should also be an open door approach where a company encourages a trainee to speak regularly with his or her mentor.

Benefits of Mentoring

To the trainee

  1. helps to improve his self confidence
  2. provides a ready communication link
  3. learns to cope with structures & systems in the company
  4. gains valuable insights into management by observing the mentor
  5. in the case of less talented employees, they benefit by: increased job satisfaction; learning to work within limitations; and by broadening horizontally rather than vertically.

To the mentor

  1. the mentor has to keep up to date in order to play his role well
  2. it focuses the mentor to develop as well
  3. it provides him with additional sense of purpose
  4. it also helps improve job satisfaction
  5. earns the mentor increased peer recognition

To the company

  1. the abilities of both mentor and trainee are enhanced
  2. company benefits through increased efficiency
  3. during induction, mentoring helps the trainee become productive more quickly
  4. creates in the trainee a loyalty and commitment to the company
  5. mentoring assists the managerial skills to be transferred from senior to junior levels

The Way Forward

The time and effort invested by all parties can be substantial. Trainees can sometimes expect too much. A mentor should not expect a payment or bonus for his service. Mentoring relationships, however, do not always succeed for a variety of reasons.

The way forward is for top management to be truly committed to a mentoring programme and be seen to support it throughout the company. It is important to stress here that participation must be voluntary. Care should be taken to ensure that mentors and trainees are suitably matched.

With commitment, a clear understanding of the ground rules and a reasonable, achievable action plan, mentoring can turn out to be a winning proposition for all three parties.

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