Mentorship refers to a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The receiver of mentorship was traditionally referred to as a protégé or apprentice. Today, the term "mentee" is gaining acceptance and becoming widely used.
There are several definitions of mentoring. Foremost, mentoring involves communication and is relationship based. In the organizational setting, mentoring can take many forms. The formal definition that best describes mentoring is as follows:
"Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé or mentee)." (Bozeman, Feeney, 2007)
Organizations have started to see the value of mentoring for enhancing work life, performance, commitment and job satisfaction. When mentoring is implemented successfully, there are measurable improvements in employee performance, retention, employee commitment to the organization, knowledge sharing, leadership growth and succession planning.
A mentor is a person who gives another person the benefit of his or her years of experience and/or education. This experience is shared in such a way that the mentor helps to develop a mentee's skills and abilities, benefiting the mentee and the organization.
A good mentoring relationship is identified by the willingness and capability of both parties to ask questions, challenge assumptions and disagree. It’s important to note that there's no one way to mentor. Every mentoring relationship is as unique as the individuals involved.
The mentor is far less likely to have a direct-line relationship with the mentee, and in a mentoring relationship this distance is desirable. Mentoring is rarely a critical part of an individual’s job role, but rather an extra element that rewards the mentor with fresh thinking as well as the opportunity to transfer knowledge and experience to a less experienced colleague, peer or employee.
The Difference between Mentoring and Coaching
Coaching is not the same as mentoring. Mentoring is concerned with the development of the whole person and is driven by the person’s own work/life goals. It is usually unstructured and informal. Mentors focus on the person (the mentee), that person’s career, and support for individual growth and maturity.
Coaching is much more about achieving specific objectives in a particular way. Coaching also is more formal and more structured, usually around a coaching process or methodology. Typically, coaching is job focused and performance oriented.
The Mentoring Process is a Two-way Street with Mutual Responsibilities
For mentoring to be successful, the mentor and mentee must collaborate on the process. The first meeting should be a face-to-face meeting where the following criteria are determined:
- The goals for the mentee
- The scope of responsibilities each person is assuming
- Time commitments agreed to by both parties
- Logistics of the process (how, when and where meetings and communications will take place)
- Agreement on the definition of confidential information and how that information will be addressed throughout the process
- Topics or issues that are outside of the mentoring boundaries
- The process for dealing with conflicts and/or obstacles that may arise during the mentoring process
- How and when to end the relationship
The following guidelines describe an effective mentoring relationship
- The mentee has no direct-line reporting to the mentor. This fosters trust, and the mentee feels more comfortable in sharing uncertainties about his or her abilities, creating free-flowing, open communication.
- The mentor/mentee relationship is mutually satisfying. The mentor gets the satisfaction of watching someone grow who values his or her insights. The mentee gains a feeling of being valued, receiving beneficial direction and attention from someone who he or she respects and admires.
- The intensity of the relationship is matched. It is taking up actual and mental time in proportions with which both people are comfortable. This time commitment is flexible as the mentee's needs change. Sometimes several meetings are necessary during a very challenging period, then none for months.
- At any time, either party can stop the relationship and the mentoring process. There is no obligation for continuance.
- An effective mentor gives wise counsel, and the mentee feels comfortable speaking on issues that may be sensitive. Once this trust is developed, the mentor can give advice or assist with tough recommendations.
- The mentor is not mentoring two people at the same time who have a close working relationship. Discretion and confidentiality are paramount. The rules of engagement are stated up front with an agreement between the mentor and the mentee on who should be aware of the mentoring relationship.
- The obligation for continuing is two-sided. When the mentor feels he or she has value to add and the mentee is getting something from the relationship, the mentoring may go on indefinitely, or either side can end it without justification.
- Mentoring programs are about guidance and facilitation rather than formal training.