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Mentoring in practice.

[check] This checklist is for managers wishing to explore mentoring as a process for developing people and their potential.


Mentoring is a relationship in which one person (the mentor)--usually someone more experienced, often more senior in an organisation--helps another (the mentee or learner) to discover more about themselves, their potential and their capability. It can be an informal relationship, where an individual leans on someone else for guidance, support and feedback, or a more formal arrangement between two people who respect and trust each other.

Mentoring need not be the bringing together of a trainer and a trainee, or a line management arrangement where seniority and rank come into play. Instead, the mentor's role is to listen, ask questions, probe for facts and career choices, and to act as a source of information, experience and opportunities from other sources from which the learner can benefit.

The mentor's role is not one of outlining instructions; rather the mentor's input helps the learner form their own views, develop different perspectives and develop as a person and as a potential manager.

Advantages of mentoring

Mentoring, as a development process has advantages for the mentor, the learner and the organisation.

For the organisation, mentoring offers:

a means of supporting succession planning, and the maximising of human potential

better staff retention levels and recruitment prospects

improved communication and a means of acclimatising employees to the organisation's culture

a cost-effective way of providing personalised development.

For the mentor mentoring offers:

increased job satisfaction, sense of value and status

the opportunity to help and guide others in their career development

an opportunity to develop managerial and leadership skills

For the learner mentoring offers:

a visible demonstration of how the organisation values them

an objective, supportive, non-threatening source of help and support in the development of new skills and directions

access to someone with an understanding of the organisation's culture and ways of working.

Disadvantages of mentoring

There are few disadvantages, but:

* mentoring has resource implications; both learner and mentor require time for the process, and both may need to develop appropriate skills such as planning, reviewing and communication (for example listening and constructive feedback)

* mentoring is additional to, and not a substitute for, more formal training approaches; while mentoring can involve coaching as a technique, the overarching relationship is wider than acting purely as a coach

* in the hands of an inappropriate mentor, the learner can develop in the wrong direction--so careful attention needs to be paid to mentor selection and matching the learner to the mentor, as well as securing line manager cooperation

* a strong personal bond can develop between mentor and learner, to the detriment of both as well as the organisation.

Action checklist

1. Check the mentor has the appropriate skills

It is essential that the mentor has:

* good listening skills

* a sound grasp of the use of different forms of question--open, closed, probing etc.

* the ability to suspend judgement and prejudice, avoiding driving the learner in one direction

* the ability to give constructive feedback, covering both negative and positive aspects in a way that can be acted on

* skill in helping define objectives, and in planning ways of achieving them

* the ability to access other learning opportunities on behalf of the learner, using other people's skills and experiences.

Consider having these skills checked out by someone with an objective viewpoint, ideally someone with experience in the mentoring process; it is almost inevitable that an individual either over- or underestimates their own competence, especially in skills such as communication (where most people believe they shine, even when they are barely adequate).

Additionally, the mentor must be a person of relative authority in the organisation--a person of experience who can open doors for the learner and offer viewpoints from a valued perspective. If necessary, arrange training and development for the mentor to sharpen and refine their skills.

2. Clarify the relationship

Ensure that both the learner and the mentor are clear on what the relationship is--and is not--about; this avoids any later confusion and disappointment.

If appropriate, consider drafting a mentoring contract, specifying:

* the respective roles, responsibilities and commitment

* the likely number and frequency of meetings, as a plan that can be reviewed and amended if required

* the important issue of confidentiality within the relationship.

Remember that the aim of the mentor is to help the learner develop themselves--not to get them to adopt the mentor's ideas. Dependency is at all stages to be avoided--watch out for signs that it is happening.

3. Open the relationship

Recognise that, in the early stages, the mentor will take more of a lead; later, as the learner's confidence and understanding grows, the balance will shift. Set objectives for what the mentoring process is to achieve; make them achievable, specific, relevant and time-limited. Identify short- and long-term problems which need thought and consideration, and discuss ways and means of tackling them.

4. Develop the relationship

At the start of each mentoring session, and each time the learner reaches a milestone, review not just their success in the activity, and what they learned about themselves and the process, but ask:

* what happened?

* why?

* what was learned from the experience?

Identify jointly what needs to be explored in order to achieve each objective; compare the desired outcome with what exists now, identify the gaps and outline what needs to happen to bridge them.

If the objective is knowledge-based, or attitudinal, the action needed may be harder to identify and pin down; explore options, discuss experiences and always leave the learner able to decide on what they will do for themselves.

If the objective is skill-based, break down the required action into milestones--small and self-contained "chunks"--so that each can be tackled as a manageable entity; this builds in opportunities for regular progress reviews, and for success to be recognised and celebrated.

Select and agree appropriate action to achieve the objectives, whether it is learning experiences that can be provided or facilitated by the mentor, knowledge that can be passed from mentor to learner, or an increase in the self-awareness of the learner through counselling and feedback.

At the end of each mentoring session, clarify what has been achieved, and be precise about what will happen between this session and the next--especially if the mentor is to arrange something on the learner's behalf. Ensure control of the learner's development passes increasingly from the mentor to the learner; this is essential as it leaves the learner able to stand alone when the mentoring process ends.

5. End the relationship

Mentoring relationships between people outside work may exist for years, as an on-going process; however, it is important to recognise that, in work, there is likely to be a point when mentoring ends--when the objectives are achieved. When this point is reached, celebrate the success with a final review of all the progress made.

Dos and don'ts for mentoring


Include the learner's views in the selection of a suitable mentor; it must be someone they respect, trust and can open up to.

Concentrate on the learner's needs and aims, and allow flexibility in the approach.

Remember that a key part of the mentor's role is to open doors to other people's experience and other learning opportunities.

Ensure that each session starts with a review and ends with a clear action plan.

Control the relationship and adjust as necessary so that the learner has increasing responsibility.


Assume that any line manager can be thrown in as a mentor.

Assume that an individual's direct line manager is an appropriate mentor.

Provide information that you obtain during mentoring to others.

Be afraid, as a mentor, to be open about yourself; if you don't know the answer to something, admit it and agree with the learner how you will work on it between you.

Try to tell the learner what they need to know, or provide all the answers--the mentoring journey is one of guided self-exploration.

Useful reading

Everyone needs a mentor: fostering talent at work, 4th Edition David Clutterbuck London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2004

Mentoring: a Henley review of best practice, Jane Cranwell-Ward, Patricia Bossons and Sue Gover Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004

Mastering mentoring and coaching with emotional intelligence: increase you job EQ Patrick E Merlevede and Denis C Bridoux Bancyfelin: Crown House, 2003

The situational mentor: an international review of competences and capabilities in mentoring David Clutterbuck and Gill Lane eds Aldershot: Gower, 2004

Coaching and mentoring, Work Foundation (Managing best practice 111) London: Work Foundation, 2003

Implementing mentoring schemes: a practical guide to successful programs Nadine Klasen and David Clutterbuck Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann, 2002

Useful Organisations

The European Mentoring and Coaching Council Sherwood House, 7 Oxhey Road, Watford WD19 4QF Tel: +44 (0)7000 234683

Thought starters

* Who helped you make sensible decisions on your future and how did they do it?

* Who would you be prepared to work with now, as your mentor? What is it about them that leads you to identify them?

* Is the organisation culture one that supports this sort of approach, with an element of counselling, personal support and genuine concern for others? If it clearly isn't, think very carefully before trying to make mentoring work.

* Who can you identify in your organisation who has potential and would benefit from working with a mentor?
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Title Annotation:Checklist 083
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: People Management
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Previous Article:Team briefing.
Next Article:Developing passive people.

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