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Articles     by The The Growth Connection
© Copyright The Growth Connection Pty. Ltd. 1999-2012


Working Miracles
Mentoring - Do We Need It ?

Mentoring has recently become fashionable in organisations. Forward thinking organisations that The Growth Connection has worked with over the last ten years in Australia have demonstrated the range of benefits to be derived from a well designed, well managed mentoring program and this news has spread.

It is common for us now to be asked to "come and give us a mentoring program." Management have usually asked their Human Resources area to take charge of implementing mentoring, yet do not have a ready answer to our first question "What do you want from your mentoring program?" So the starting point is to define what is most needed in your organisation at this time.

The most common needs identified are one or more of the following:

  • Organisational change
  • Leadership and management development
  • Staff retention
  • Graduate recruitment
  • Affirmative action for women or special groups
  • Targeted skills development
  • Career development

Miracles Happen

In our experience, organisations have always achieved their original objectives. For example, when David Hill introduced a mentoring program pilot to State Rail in 1997 to increase the retention of female guards, turnover was 95% per annum.

In February 2000, the turnover rate for female guards was 0.5%.

Even more exciting are the unanticipated, additional benefits - especially for the mentors and for the organisation. Communication between the mentors and mentorees is based on trust; this tends to extend beyond the mentoring relationships into a shift towards more open communication generally, and a more participative and supportive style of operating. Barriers between hierarchical levels and sections of the organisation start to break down; teamwork, networking and tolerance of diversity increase, sharing of lifts overall sharing of knowledge and skills both ways lifts overall productivity.

The confidence levels of both mentorees and mentors is not only reported on by the participants but also by their managers and leads to greater proactivity in work activities and in particular, seeking out and progressing career opportunities.

Measurement of mentors indicates gains in pride and status, renewed interest in their work and increased leadership and interpersonal skills. The following are typical of results mentors identify:

  • A mentor at the ABC commented "It gave people a very strong sense of corporate identity, mentors felt valued".
  • An inspector in Train crewing at State Rail said, "My interpersonal skills have increased 100%".
  • At Pfizer, a senior management mentor noted "It's a window into another part of the organisation and increased my understanding of what goes on at a different level".

The Project Manager who introduced mentoring into Citibank for their graduate recruits believes "Mentoring is a tremendous tool for companies adapting to major change being faced globally by corporations today". He found "It's one of the best, most cost effective and impactful ways you can develop someone. It is a strategic initiative because it not only passes on the values and culture of an organisation, it contributes to staff satisfaction and retention".

And the miracles? Often these are not recorded as they occur daily through the caring and generous support given by mentors when their mentorees are in difficulty. "If you get into strife there is always someone to contact about anything."

One that I will always remember is a State Rail Guard mentor who silenced a room full of Human Resources practitioners with the statement "I used to be a racist". He went on to describe how, first through the mentoring training, then being chosen as a mentor by trainee guards originally from India and China, his understanding of different cultures and ways opened up. He said "I'm 42 - one of my biggest regrets is how much I have missed out on by not getting to know the people from other cultures I have come across in that time. My life is so much richer now, with relationships across all races".


A number of myths exist about mentoring. There is one that as mentoring is a natural process, it does not need much support to make it happen. Not true.

In the early stages of introducing a mentoring program, support from senior management is essential, both in their visible presence and the provision of resources.

In our worldwide research, which we update annually, the most common causes of failure in mentoring programs are:

  • lack of active executive support
  • inadequate program coordination
  • insufficient or no mentor/mentoree training

Another myth is that it is just a 'touchy feely' program that makes people feel good. One senior executive at a major NSW State public sector organisation said, "If you give people chocolate, then ask them if they like it of course they will say yes".

Yet, across the world, the bottom line returns have been measured and recorded and they are consistent. For example, they find significant savings in induction/training and related recruitment costs from reduced turnover. In blue-collar programs, reductions in sick leave are also a major saving. Gains from increased productivity and innovation and the growth and development of skills and knowledge within the organisation give a real financial return which increases over time.

Other myths arise from cynicism in some organisational cultures, such as "No one will volunteer to be a mentor". In each case we have found more people volunteer to be mentors than can be accommodated at one time and waiting lists are introduced. The willingness of employees to share experience and give help to their colleagues should never be underestimated, once they are given "permission" through a program supported by the organisation.

Management of Mentoring Programs

The Growth Connection approach relies on maximum involvement of all parties who will be impacted by mentoring, as participants, managers or program coordinators. In unionised organisations the unions should be included from the planning stages. At State Rail, the support of the Rail Tram and Bus Union and the Australia Services Union was invaluable and hundreds of their delegates are role model mentors.

Standard activities to ensure the effective management of an organisation's program are shown in the diagram. The key success factors in world's best practice programs are, in addition to executive support, effective coordination and training the mentoring participants:-

  • clear objectives
  • detailed planning
  • consultative, transparent processes
  • formal framework, informal style
  • choices and options within the program
  • communication and feedback mechanisms
  • follow up of mentoring relationships
  • measurement and evaluation
  • recognition for participants

Tapping into the wealth of existing talent and capability then opening up and developing it further qualitively shifts organisations. The existence of a mentoring program attracts the best people in competitive fields. To quote a representative comment from a mentoree,

"I feel I belong. My mentor helps me personally, in my work and with career advice. I get encouragement to have a go. Mentoring has provided access to people I would not have met in the normal course of my job. I now have confidence in my future with this organisation, and best of all, have made a good work friend."

Replication of these attitudes through a mentoring program is well worth the effort.

"Momentum - The Quality Magazine" - Issue 2 September 2000 pp 48 - 49.

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