The typical role of a mentor is defined as being the training and technical support anchor for an individual who is learning new skills and knowledge. The mentor guides and leads their mentee in a dance that ensures knowledge and skills from the mentor are transferred to the mentee. This dance is individually choreographed for each mentor and mentee as all mentees are not the same.
One of the big mistakes systems make is to assume that anyone can be a mentor. WRONG! This mentality often is the same mentality that causes systems to move good technical staff into management positions and then wonder why the new manager is failing. Technical knowledge does not presume possessing the knowledge and skills to be an effective mentor.
Mentoring has its own fundamental knowledge base, its own set of skills, and its own set of indicators of success. Many systems feel that a part of a supervisor’s role is to mentor those they supervise – and in some rare cases this can be effective – but too often the role of supervising conflicts with the role of mentoring.
Think about this, the role of a mentor is to understand a mentees strengths and limitations and to create a relationship based on trust. This trust means the mentee feels confident they can talk with their mentor about what they are not doing well in their job and what they have actually done wrong without performance repercussions.
Wow, it would take a very special mentor/supervisor who could listen to what a mentee is telling them they are doing wrong, to be able to balance their two roles, and not slip into the typical supervisor performance monitoring role. In some work cultures, a supervisor’s role is defined as a micro-manager who is to look for errors in their supervisee’s performance and provide consequences for these errors. In this type of work environment the combining of the roles of supervisor and mentor will not work.
No employee/mentee will learn to trust a supervisor/mentor who is expected to document everything they see an employee do that does not meet expectations. This type of work environment may say they are mentoring employees but they actually are showing their ignorance about mentoring.
So how does an agency balance the need for leadership in training employees and supervising and monitoring for quality? Good question and there is an answer. The role of mentor is not a part of the supervisor’s role. Mentors are selected because they have the needed knowledge and skills to pass on to others, they are good teachers or guides, and they do not have supervisory responsibilities for their mentees.
Mentors then are selected on the basis of their expertise and knowledge of specific content, their facility in applying the content, and their mentoring skills.
So what this is actually saying is – if an agency wants to provide quality mentoring which results in quality services and products – they must set up a mentoring system. The components of this system include:
– defining a mentor application process
– defining mentor competencies
– defining outcomes of mentor process
– defining an application process to identify potential mentor candidates
– selecting from mentor applicants those that meet specific criteria to become a mentor candidate
– training mentor candidates in specific mentoring knowledge and skills
– supporting mentor candidates as they move through the mentor training process, and
– credentialing those candidates that meet mentor competencies.
In order to ascertain whether a mentor candidate receives the mentor credential requires the system to
– provide direct training and technical assistance to the mentor candidate during their candidate phase
– provide opportunities for the mentor candidates to observe and experience mentoring being provided by a credentialed mentor
– co-mentoring with a credentialed mentor and
– being observed by a credentialed mentor while providing mentoring
So becoming a mentor requires that mentor candidates exhibit competence in understanding what mentoring is about and exhibiting the skills that results in competent performance by the protégé.
Competent mentor and mentees performance is always assessed by whether the delivery of improved or quality services and products.
Steps of Mentoring Process
1. Application – An application process and procedures are defined
2. Selection – qualified personnel review applications and select mentor candidates
3. Content Training & Technical Assistance
Levels of Learning
4 Structured Observation – Watch an accomplished mentor work with a protégé using a process to observe key elements
5. Co-Mentoring – Plan and conduct a co-mentoring session with an accomplished mentor
6. Independent Mentoring – Conduct a mentoring session with an accomplished mentor observing
7. Initial Credential – When all competencies are achieved become a mentor to mentees
In summary, establishing a mentor system in your agency is a multi-phase process that results in the mentor candidates evidencing expertise in specific content and the ability to coordinate and facilitate smooth outcomes-based mentoring session(s).