Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger than the person being mentored, but she or he must have a certain area of expertise. It is a learning and development partnership between someone with vast experience and someone who wants to learn. Mentorship experience and relationship structure affect the "amount of psychosocial support, career guidance, role modeling, and communication that occurs in the mentoring relationships in which the protégés and mentors engaged."
- Contemporary research and practice in the US
- Corporate programs
- Formal programs
- New hire programs
- High potential programs
- Matching approaches
- In education
- Blended mentoring
- Reverse mentoring
- Business mentoring
The person in receipt of mentorship may be referred to as a protégé (male), a protégée (female), an apprentice or, in the 2000s, a mentee. The mentor may be referred to as a godfather/godmother or a rabbi.
"Mentoring" is a process that always involves communication and is relationship-based, but its precise definition is elusive, with more than 50 definitions currently in use. One definition of the many that have been proposed, is
Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)".
Mentoring in Europe has existed since at least Ancient Greek times. Since the 1970s it has spread in the United States mainly in training contexts, with important historical links to the movement advancing workplace equity for women and minorities, and it has been described as "an innovation in American management".
The roots of the practice are lost in antiquity. The word itself was inspired by the character of Mentor in Homer's Odyssey. Though the actual Mentor in the story is a somewhat ineffective old man, the goddess Athena takes on his appearance in order to guide young Telemachus in his time of difficulty.
Historically significant systems of mentorship include the guru–disciple tradition practiced in Hinduism and Buddhism, Elders, the discipleship system practiced by Rabbinical Judaism and the Christian church, and apprenticing under the medieval guild system.
In the United States, advocates for workplace equity in the second half of the twentieth century popularized the term “mentor” and concept of career mentorship as part of a larger social capital lexicon—which also includes terms such as glass ceiling, bamboo ceiling, networking, role model, and gatekeeper—serving to identify and address the problems barring non-dominant groups from professional success. Mainstream business literature subsequently adopted the terms and concepts, promoting them as pathways to success for all career climbers. In 1970 these terms were not in the general American vocabulary; by the mid-1990s they had become part of everyday speech.
The focus of mentoring is to develop the whole person and so the techniques are broad and require wisdom in order to be used appropriately. A 1995 study of mentoring techniques most commonly used in business found that the five most commonly used techniques among mentors were:
- Accompanying: making a commitment in a caring way, which involves taking part in the learning process side-by-side with the learner.
- Sowing: mentors are often confronted with the difficulty of preparing the learner before he or she is ready to change. Sowing is necessary when you know that what you say may not be understood or even acceptable to learners at first but will make sense and have value to the mentee when the situation requires it.
- Catalyzing: when change reaches a critical level of pressure, learning can escalate. Here the mentor chooses to plunge the learner right into change, provoking a different way of thinking, a change in identity or a re-ordering of values.
- Showing: this is making something understandable, or using your own example to demonstrate a skill or activity. You show what you are talking about, you show by your own behavior.
- Harvesting: here the mentor focuses on "picking the ripe fruit": it is usually used to create awareness of what was learned by experience and to draw conclusions. The key questions here are: "What have you learned?", "How useful is it?".
Different techniques may be used by mentors according to the situation and the mindset of the mentee, and the techniques used in modern organizations can be found in ancient education systems, from the Socratic technique of harvesting to the accompaniment method of learning used in the apprenticeship of itinerant cathedral builders during the Middle Ages. Leadership authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner advise mentors to look for "teachable moments" in order to "expand or realize the potentialities of the people in the organizations they lead" and underline that personal credibility is as essential to quality mentoring as skill.
Multiple mentors: A new and upcoming trend is having multiple mentors. This can be helpful because we can all learn from each other. Having more than one mentor will widen the knowledge of the person being mentored. There are different mentors who may have different strengths.
Profession or trade mentor: This is someone who is currently in the trade/profession you are entering. They know the trends, important changes and new practices that you should know to stay at the top of your career. A mentor like this would be someone you can discuss ideas regarding the field, and also be introduced to key and important people that you should know.
Industry mentor: This is someone who doesn't just focus on the profession. This mentor will be able to give insight on the industry as a whole. Whether it be research, development or key changes in the industry, you need to know.
Organization mentor: Politics in the organizations are constantly changing. It is important to be knowledgeable about the values, strategies and products that are within your company, but also when these things are changing. An organization mentor can clarify missions and strategies, and give clarity when needed.
Work process mentor: This mentor can speed quickly over the bumps, and cut through the unnecessary work. This mentor can explain the 'ins and outs' of projects, day to day tasks, and eliminate unnecessary things that may be currently going on in your work day. This mentor can help to get things done quickly and efficiently.
Technology mentor: This is an up-and-coming, incredibly important position. Technology has been rapidly improving, and becoming more a part of day to day transactions within companies. In order to perform your best, you must know how to get things done on the newest technology. A technology mentor will help with technical breakdowns, advise on systems that may work better than what you're currently using, and coach you through new technology and how to best use it and implement it into your daily life.
These mentors are only examples. There can be many more different types of mentors. Look around your workplace, your life, and see who is an expert that you can learn something from.
There are two broad types of mentoring relationships: formal and informal. Formal mentoring relationships are set up by an administrative unit or office in a company or organization, which solicits and recruits qualified individuals who are willing to mentor, provides training to the mentors, and then helps to match the mentors up with a person in need of mentoring. While formal mentoring systems contain numerous structural and guidance elements, they still typically allow the mentor and mentee to have an active role in choosing who they want to work with. Formal mentoring programs which simply assign mentors to mentees without giving these individuals a say have not performed well. Even though a mentor and a mentee may seem perfectly matched "on paper", in practice, they may have different working or learning styles. As such, giving the mentor and the mentee the opportunity to help select who they want to work with is a widely used approach. Informal mentoring occurs without the use of structured recruitment, mentor training and matching services. Informal mentoring arrangements can develop naturally from business networking situations in which a more experienced individual meets a new employee, and the two strike up a rapport.
In addition to these broad types, there are also peer, situational and supervisory mentoring relationships. These tend to fall under the categories of formal and informal mentoring relationships. Informal relationships develop on their own between partners. Formal mentoring, on the other hand, refers to a structured process supported by the organization and addressed to target populations. Youth mentoring programs assist at-risk children or youth who lack role models and sponsors. In business, formal mentoring is part of talent management strategies which are used to groom key employees, newly hired graduates, high potential-employees and future leaders. The matching of mentor and mentee is often done by a mentoring coordinator, often with the help of a computerized database registry. The use of the database helps to match up mentees with mentors who have the type of experience and qualifications they are seeking.
There are formal mentoring programs that are values-oriented, while social mentoring and other types focus specifically on career development. Some mentorship programs provide both social and vocational support. In well-designed formal mentoring programs, there are program goals, schedules, training (for both mentors and protégés), and evaluation. In 2004 Metizo created the first mentoring certification for companies and business schools in order to guarantee the integrity and effectiveness of formal mentoring. Certification is attributed jointly by the organization and an external expert.
There are many kinds of mentoring relationships from school or community-based relationships to e-mentoring relationships. These mentoring relationships vary and can be influenced by the type of mentoring relationship that is in effect. That is whether it has come about as a formal or informal relationship. Also there are several models have been used to describe and examine the sub-relationships that can emerge. For example, Buell describes how mentoring relationships can develop under a cloning model, nurturing model, friendship model and apprenticeship model. The cloning model is about the mentor trying to "produce a duplicate copy of him or her self." The nurturing model takes more of a "parent figure, creating a safe, open environment in which mentee can both learn and try things for him-or herself." The friendship model are more peers "rather than being involved in a hierarchical relationship." Lastly, the apprenticeship is about less "personal or social aspects... and the professional relationship is the sole focus".
In the sub-groups of formal and informal mentoring relationships: peer mentoring relationships are relationships where individuals are at the same skill training, similar positions and stages of career. However, one person may be more knowledgeable in a certain aspect or another, but they can help each other to progress in their work. A lot of time, peer relationships provide a lot of support, empathy and advice because the situations are quite similar.
Situational mentoring: Short-term relationships in which a person mentors for a specific purpose. This could be a company bringing an expert in regarding social media, or internet safety. This expert can mentor employees to make them more knowledgeable about a specific topic or skill.
Supervisory mentoring: This kind of mentoring has'go to' people who are supervisors. These are people who have answers to many questions, and can advise to take the best plan of action. This can be a conflict of interest relationship because many supervisors do not feel comfortable also being a mentor.
Mentoring circles: Participants from all levels of the organization propose and own a topic. They then meet in groups to discuss the topic, which motivates them to grow and become more knowledgeable. Flash mentoring is ideal for job shadowing, reverse mentoring, and more.
Flash mentoring: Creates a low-pressure environment for mentoring that focuses on single meetings rather than a traditional, long-term mentoring relationship.
Meta-analysis of 112 individual research studies found mentoring has significant behavioral, attitudinal, health-related, relational, motivational, and career benefits. Especially in the workplace, there are many benefits to developing a mentorship program for new and current employees.
Career development: Setting up a career development mentoring program for employees enables an organization to help junior employees to learn the skills and behaviours from senior employees that the junior employees need to advance to higher-responsibility positions. This type of mentoring program can help to align organizational goals with employees' personal career goals (of progressing within the organization). It gives employees the ability to advance professionally and learn more about their work. This collaboration also gives employees a feeling of engagement with the organization, which can lead to better retention rates and increased employee satisfaction.
High potential mentoring: The most talented employees in organizations tend to be difficult to retain, as they are usually seeking greater challenges and responsibilities, and they are likely to leave for a different organization if they do not feel that they are being given the opportunity to develop. Top talent, whether in an innovation or management role, have incredible potential to make great things happen for an organization. Creating a mentoring program for high-potential employees that gives them one-on-one guidance from senior leaders can help to build the engagement of these talented employees, give them the opportunity to develop, and increase their retention in the organization.
Diversity mentoring: One of the top ways to innovate is by bringing in new ideas from senior employees and leaders from underrepresented groups (e.g., women, ethnic minorities, etc.). Who is an underrepresented group depends on the industry sector and country. In many Western countries, women and ethnic minorities are significantly underrepresented in executive positions and boards of directors. In some traditionally gender segregated occupations, such as education and nursing, however, women may be the dominant gender in the workforce. Mentors from underrepresented groups can empower employees from underrepresented groups to increase their confidence to take on higher-responsibility tasks and prepare for leadership roles. By developing employees from diverse groups, this can give the organization access to new ideas, new ways of looking at problems, and new perspectives. This also brings cultural awareness and intercultural dialogue into the workplace.
Reverse mentoring: While mentoring typically involves a more experienced, typically older employee or leader providing guidance to a younger employee, the opposite approach can also be used. In the 2000s, with the rise of digital innovations, Internet applications and social media, in some cases, new, young employees are more familiar with these technologies than senior employees in the organizations. The younger generations can help the older generations to expand and grow towards current trends. Everyone has something to bring to the table, this creates a "two way street" within companies where younger employees can see the larger picture, and senior employees can learn from young employees.
Knowledge transfer mentoring: Employees must have a certain set of skills in order to accomplish the tasks at hand. Mentoring is a great approach to help employees get organized, and give them access to an expert that can give feedback, and help answer questions that they may not know where to find answers to.
Mentorship provides critical benefits to individuals as well as organizations. Although mentorship can be important for an individual’s career advancement, in the United States it historically has been most apparent in relation to the advancement of women and minorities in the workplace. Until recent decades, American men in dominant ethnic groups gained most of the benefits of mentorship without consciously identifying it as an advancement strategy. American women and minorities, in contrast, more pointedly identified and pursued mentorship in the second half of the twentieth century as they sought to achieve the professional success they had long been denied.
In a 1958 study, Margaret Cussler showed that, for each female executive she interviewed who did not own her own company, “something—or someone—gave her a push up the ladder while others halted on a lower rung.” Cussler concluded that the relationship between the “sponsor and protégé” (the vocabulary of “mentorship” was not yet in common use) was the “magic formula” for success. By the late 1970s, numerous publications had established the centrality of mentorship to business success for everyone and particularly for women trying to break into the male-dominated business world. These publications noted the many specific benefits provided by mentorship, which included insider information, education, guidance, moral support, inspiration, sponsorship, an example to follow, protection, promotion, the ability to “bypass the hierarchy,” the projection of the superior’s “reflected power,” access to otherwise invisible opportunities, and tutelage in corporate politics.
This literature also showed the value of these benefits. A Harvard Business Review survey of 1,250 top executives published in 1979, for example, showed that most had been mentored or sponsored and that those who received such assistance reported higher income, a better education, a quicker path to achievement, and more job satisfaction than those who did not. The literature particularly emphasized the necessity of mentoring for businesswomen’s success. For example, although women made up less than one percent of the executives in the Harvard Business Review survey, all of these women reported being mentored. In subsequent decades, as mentoring became a widely valued phenomenon in the United States, women and minorities in particular continued to develop mentoring relationships consciously as they sought professional advancement.
Contemporary research and practice in the US
Research in the 1970s, partly in response to a study by Daniel Levinson, led some women and African Americans to question whether the classic "white male" model was available or customary for people who are newcomers in traditionally white male organizations. In 1978 Edgar Schein described multiple roles for successful mentors.
Two of Schein's students, Davis and Garrison, undertook to study successful leaders of both genders and at least two races. Their research presented evidence for the roles of: cheerleader, coach, confidant, counsellor, developer of talent, "griot" (oral historian for the organization or profession), guardian, guru, inspiration, master, "opener of doors", patron, role model, pioneer, "seminal source", "successful leader", and teacher. They described multiple mentoring practices which have since been given the name of "mosaic mentoring" to distinguish this kind of mentoring from the single mentor approach.
Mosaic mentoring is based on the concept that almost everyone can perform one or another function well for someone else — and also can learn along one of these lines from someone else. The model is seen as useful for people who are "non-traditional" in a traditional setting, such as people of color and women in a traditionally white male organization. The idea has been well received in medical education literature. There are also mosaic mentoring programs in various faith-based organizations.
Corporate mentoring programs are used by mid-size to large organizations to further the development and retention of employees. Mentoring programs may be formal or informal and serve a variety of specific objectives including acclimation of new employees, skills development, employee retention and diversity enhancement.
Formal mentoring programs offer employees the opportunity to participate in an organized mentoring program. Participants join as a mentor, protégé or both by completing a mentoring profile. Mentoring profiles are completed as written forms on paper or computer or filled out via an online form as part of an online mentoring system. Protégés are matched with a mentor by a program administrator or a mentoring committee, or may self-select a mentor depending on the program format.
Informal mentoring takes places in organizations that develop a culture of mentoring but do not have formal mentoring in place. These companies may provide some tools and resources and encourage managers to accept mentoring requests from more junior members of the organization.
A study of 1,162 employees found that "satisfaction with a mentoring relationship had a stronger impact on attitudes than the presence of a mentor, whether the relationship was formal or informal, or the design of a formal mentoring program." So even when a mentoring relationship is established, the actual relationship is more important than the presence of a relationship.
New-hire mentoring programs are set up to help new employees acclimate more quickly into the organization. In new-hire mentoring programs, newcomers to the organization (protégés) are paired with more experienced people (mentors) in order to obtain information, good examples, and advice as they advance. It has been claimed that new employees who are paired with a mentor are twice as likely to remain in their job than those who do not receive mentorship.
These mentoring relationships provide substance for career growth, and benefit both the mentor and the protégé. For example, the mentor gets to show leadership by giving back and perhaps being refreshed about their own work. The organization receives an employee that is being gradually introduced and shaped by the organization's culture and operation because they have been under the mentorship of an experienced member. The person being mentored networks, becomes integrated easier in an organization, gets experience and advice along the way. It has been said that "joining a mentor's network and developing one's own is central to advancement" and this is possibly why those mentored tend to do well in their organizations.
In the organizational setting, mentoring usually "requires unequal knowledge", but the process of mentorship can differ. Bullis describes the mentoring process in the forms of phase models. Initially, the "mentee proves himself or herself worthy of the mentor's time and energy". Then cultivation occurs which includes the actual "coaching...a strong interpersonal bond between mentor and mentee develops". Next, under the phase of separation "the mentee experiences more autonomy". Ultimately, there is more of equality in the relationship, termed by Bullis as Redefinition.
High-potential mentoring programs are used to groom up-and-coming employees deemed to have the potential to move up into leadership or executive roles. Here the employee (protégé) is paired with a senior-level leader (or leaders) for a series of career-coaching interactions. These programs tend to be smaller than more general mentoring programs and mentees must be selected based on a list of eligibility criteria to participate. Another method of high-potential mentoring is to place the employee in a series of jobs in disparate areas of an organization (e.g., human resources, sales, operations management, etc.) all for short periods of time, so they can learn in a "hands-on", practical fashion, about the organization's structure, culture, and methods.
Mentees are matched with mentors by a designated mentoring committee or mentoring administrator usually consisting of senior members of the training, learning and development group and/or the human resources departments. The matching committee reviews the mentors' profiles and the coaching goals sought out by the mentees and makes matches based on areas for development, mentor strengths, overall experience, skill set, location and objectives.
Mentoring technology, typically based on computer software, can be used to facilitate matches allowing mentees to search and select a mentor based on their own development and coaching needs and interests. This mentee-driven methodology increases the speed in which matches are created and reduces the amount of administrative time required to manage the program. The quality of matches increases as well with self-match programs because the greater the involvement of the mentee in the selection of their mentor, the better the outcome of the mentorship. There are a variety of online mentoring technology programs available that can be utilized to facilitate this mentee-driven matching process.
Speed mentoring follows some of the procedures of speed dating. Mentors and mentees are introduced to each other in short sessions, allowing each person to meet multiple potential matches in a very short timeframe. Speed mentoring occur as a one-time event in order for people "to meet potential mentors to see if there is a fit for a longer term engagement."
In many secondary and post-secondary schools, mentorship programs are offered to support students in program completion, confidence building and transitioning to further education or the workforce. There are also peer mentoring programs designed specifically to bring under-represented populations into science and engineering. The Internet has brought university alumni closer to graduating students. Graduate university alumni are engaging with current students in career mentorship through interview questions and answers. The students with the best answers receive professional recommendations from industry experts build a more credible CV.
The blended mentoring is a mix of on-site and online events, projected to give to career counselling and development services the opportunity to adopt mentoring in their ordinary practice.
In the reverse mentoring situation, the mentee has less overall experience (typically as a result of age) than the mentor (who is typically older), but the mentee has more knowledge in a particular area, and as such, reverses the typical constellation. Examples are when young internet or mobile savvy Millennial Generation teens train executives in using their high end Smart Phones. They in turn sometimes offer insight in business processes.
The concept of mentoring has entered the business domain as well. This is different from being an apprentice, a business mentor provides guidance to a business owner or an entrepreneur on the entrepreneur's business. An apprentice learns a trade by working on the job with the "employer".
A 2012 literature review by EPS-PEAKS investigated the practice of business mentoring, with a focus on the Middle-East and North Africa region. The review found strong evidence to suggest that business mentoring can have real benefits for entrepreneurs, but highlights some key factors that need to be taken into account when designing mentoring programmes for this to be the case, such as the need to balance a formal and informal approach and to appropriately match mentors and mentees.