A relationship between a more experienced individual and a less experienced individual that exists in a one-on-one fashion, designed to enhance the mentee’s understanding of, and ability to put into practice, knowledge and skills possessed by the mentor. Such relationships are usually established for extended periods of time.
Purpose and benefits
Mentoring can be used for various purposes in organizations including induction, as support for development and career progression, support for on the job learning, succession, planning and more. Mentoring is an important process for knowledge management as it supports the transferring of tacit knowledge and retaining expertise within the organization, as well as it helps the mentee understand the corporate vision. It is also seen as form of teaching, encouragement and counseling that occurs between a more experienced and skilled individual and a less skilled one, with the aim towards the professional and personal development (development of knowledge, skills and attitudes) of the less skilled individual. Mentoring is an effective method to create, capture, organize and distribute knowledge. It supports situational, as well as relevant learning between individuals and groups. It reduces the learning curve and improves productivity. One of the benefits of on the job mentoring would include opportunity of working in parallel with the mentor where mentee would get a perspective into the working process and is able to ask questions right away.
Mentoring can be described as a process related to human resource development that supports learning and knowledge transfer. In this relationship a mentor will transfer ideas and thought processes to the mentee which will foster critical skills, self-confidence and role maturity besides teaching physical capabilities to perform specific tasks. In the nuclear industry, mentoring is often used to pair more senior personnel with junior personnel to assist the latter with professional and career development. As with coaches, mentors may be drawn from within or from outside an organization. A good (potential) mentor in a nuclear technology context usually has the following characteristics:
- Having a deep understanding of the organization, as well as professional/specific expertise;
- Motivation to teach and to provide guidance to others as well as willingness to share knowledge;
- Ability to motivate others;
- Being committed to the relationship;
- Being a good communicator;
- Ability to foster trust;
Mentoring relationships can vary in their approach. They will differ depending on the people and the character of the organization in question. They may be open, closed, public, private, as well as, formal and informal. Informal relationships are typically created spontaneously and initiated by special interests. The benefits of this type of relationship typically include a high degree of trust, mutual compatibility and flexibility in the way mentoring occurs. The most frequent form of learning in this context is informal learning often supported by social networks. On the other hand, formal type of mentoring is often applied and facilitated by an organization. In this type of relationship goals are clearly established from the inception by the organization, as well as from the mentor and the mentee. This also means that there is an awareness of which knowledge needs be transferred, as well as outcomes are typically measured. Additionally, the mentor and the mentee are paired based on their compatibility and both the organization and the employees benefit directly. The type of mentoring relationship will depend on organization’s qualifications and business needs.
- Defining purpose and focus is essential; questions such as, why do you want a mentoring program? and what are you looking to achieve?, are important. If the focus is on knowledge transfer than it is important to define what type of knowledge is to be transferred, how the results will be measured, why is mentoring the best approach and how will one know when he/she have achieved their objectives.
- Choosing mentoring for knowledge transfer will make sense if the mentors and mentees are motivated to teach, learn and achieve good results. Also if the work is more hands on, than the knowledge that is to be transferred is more easily definable and straightforward. A buy in from all stakeholders involved including supervisors, team members, senior management and HR is also essential.
- At times mentoring is implemented on wide scope/throughout the organization but at other times it is used in specific situations, in which case the organization will typically have a mentor and mentee already in mind. In the case of the latter, identifying the candidate with the right skills and a desire to learn is very important.
- Once the relationship is established the team consisting of the mentor, mentee, supervisor and facilitator will map out activities necessary for knowledge transfer to occur.
- Everyone involved should be aware of the initiative, of its importance and should be committed to the positive outcome.
- Observation and tracking is important to identify progress or make necessary adjustments. Depending on the nature of knowledge transfer, testing of the mentee in terms of what has been learned might be possible. Reporting progress and feedback provides motivation and sense of accomplished objectives to both the mentor and mentee.
The success of the formal mentoring relationship within the organization will depend on mentor and mentee having the required skills, desire to participate and learn/teach and the support of an organization. The nature of mentoring should also be ‘collegial’. If possible it is best for this relationship to be voluntary and mutually agreed upon. In the relationship between mentor and mentee a high degree of trust and mutual regard is important. A mentor helps the mentee to learn through a supportive relationship. This type of relationship benefits both parties and an organization. The mentee will develop more confidence, and will learn more quickly and with higher degree of understanding. Both parties will benefit by developing a broader perspective of their organization and work and an organization will benefit by having more committed, resourceful, fulfilled and motivated employees, as well more effective team members. In order for mentoring to succeed they need to be treated with the same importance as other business objectives.
- Mentoring without defined objectives, an end in mind or clear expectations of participants will result in frustration and lack of motivation. This includes having lack of structure, clarity of purpose or, interest or support from management.
- If mentoring is made mandatory, it can result in lack of willingness to share knowledge or motivation to learn.
- Both parties should be committed to the program and should be willing participants.
Both mentor and mentee should fit to each other as personalities. This might involve different aspects and dimensions, e.g. match in the type of learning, in values, in interpretation.
Abiddin, N. (2006). Mentoring and Coaching: The Roles and Practices. The Journal of Human Resources and Adult Learning. Available from: http://www.hraljournal.com/Page/15Norhasni%20Zainal%20Abiddin.pdf [29 February 2016] Hamburg H., (2013). Facilitating Learning and Knowledge Transfer through Mentoring. Available from: http://www.adam-europe.eu/prj/9815/prd/8/1/Facilitating%20Learning%20and%20Knowledge%20Transfer%20through%20Mentoring.pdf [25 February 2016]