Are mentoring programs worthwhile?

Jul 24th, 2011 | By | Category: abundance, Career advice, career challenges, mentor

This week I exchanged e-mails with a company interested in instituting a formal mentor program for new employees. The objective of the program would provide a formal structure for new employees to obtain advice and guidance from the senior staff outside of the usual management tract.

In many organizations, the supervisor or manager has the responsibility of assisting new employees to assimilate into the office workforce. They usually start off by assigning tasks to the new employee and then using the assignments as teaching examples, guides the employee through the office policies, rules and procedures. This usually works well as the employee learns directly from the supervisor how he wants the work accomplished. The downside is the employee is placed under a lot of stress under this scenario. The boss is literally watching every move the employee makes. It also takes up a lot of the supervisors time.

The buddy system is often used to alleviate the learning stress of new employee. Under this scenario the new employee is paired with a seasoned staff member to show them the ropes. This usually works fine and most staff members are willing to help. A few of the downsides of this approach is that the new employee is potential competition, and the employee learns all the bad habits along with the good. The buddy system was used extensively in my agency. Although it was proficient at getting new employees trained to do the routine work, it seemed that each generation held back a little so each new group of employees were a little less knowledgeable then the last. Everyone could handle the routine work ok, but were not prepared to handle the more complex cases. Thus these were assigned to the senior staff, which gave them an advantage when it came to promotions. As the senior staff retired or moved on, the younger employees were not properly trained to fill the void.

In some organizations new employees are hired in groups. This often happens when new projects are started. In this case there is no senior staff to partner with the new employees. Usually the managers design a formal introduction program to teach the new employees their roles. These programs often take on a classroom demeanor where an instructor teaches the required information and works through examples. This in many ways is superior to the buddy system because all the new employees get the same level of instruction and training.

A formal mentoring program is more successful at training new employees to be productive and assimilate quickly into the organization. The difference between a mentoring program and the buddy system is the relationship between the senior staff member and the employee. A mentor takes an active interest in guiding the new employee through the technical, administrative, and social challenges of the job. This enables the new employee to discuss challenges before they become problems, and to obtain salient advice from an experienced source. Once forged the mentor/mentee relationship will endure for many years, even after the formal program is ended.

In my experience, having a formal mentoring program is much more efficient and produces more competent and well-adjusted employees.

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