Mentoring the New Masters

By Margo Murray


Developing “Mastery” in the Traditional Sense

The principles and practices of modeling and mentoring have been key elements in the continuity of art, craft and commerce from ancient times. In the crafts and arts guilds a young person was apprenticed to a master who was considered to be excellent in the trade or profession (Murray, 1991). The master taught, coached and guided the development of skills in the trade or art. To become a master, the apprentice’s skills were judged from a work sample, such as a piece of silverware, a painting or even a horseshoe. The word masterpiece originated from this sample of skillful work.

Some Things Change – Some Don’t

The skills required of the new masters may be as different from those of the apprentices of yore as the high-tech clean room is from the blacksmith shop. Yet the process by which the skills are learned, one to one, may be very much the same. Certainly mastering an art, craft or profession increases your marketability to diverse workplaces. This flexibility is essential in a world in which American workers will have
an average of seven different jobs in their work lives.

In addition to the benefits to the individual, many organizations are now realizing the cost-effectiveness of a mentoring and coaching process in the transfer of technical and professional, as well as generic skills. In another setting, mentoring programs for youth are an ideal steppingstone into the fast paced and rapidly changing work environments these young people will enter as employees.

What Skills are Being Mastered Now?

Here are a dozen examples of the types of skills being transferred today through facilitated mentoring processes in four well-known organizations. The job title of the protégé is listed, along with the specific growth objectives stated in the development of a mentoring action plan.

Job Title Development Objective
Administrative Assistant Improve interpersonal skills without changing “me.”
Capital Projects Accountant Acquire trade relations experiences and purchasing skills
Commodity Manager Improved people skills; exposure and awareness to upper management activities; courage
Copy Center Manager Develop presentation skills, using multilingual capabilities
Member of Technical Staff Gain software development skills; design and implement expandable software architectures.
Project Coordinator Learn structure of the organization; gain job opportunities; develop skills with project management.
Quality Program Manager Develop task-oriented approach to total quality management.
Secretary in Facilities Strengthen computer skills.
Security Officer Development of people skills.
Tech Services Center Rep Prioritize career goals, articulate and quantify “mini” steps to take to get to the long term goal.
Technical Support Engineer Develop skills necessary to becoming a systems engineer
Warehouse Worker Develop communication, teaching skills.

The results are in!

In today’s lean (and sometimes mean!) times, no program will be supported and stay
in place unless it directly supports a goal or need of the organization (Murray, 1991). Believe it or not, a prospective client recently said, “Maybe what we need here is a big lawsuit to make us move ahead with some improvement in our employee skills development.”

There are many more and better reasons than costly litigation to make the growth and development of people a priority. You only need to look as far as the bottom line–and every organization has one, including non-profits–to find a good reason to facilitate the pursuit of mastery performance. For-profit companies must show results to shareholders. Not-for-profit organizations answer to grantors and sponsors.

How do we know that mentoring has an impact on the bottom-line? What you measure
is what you get. Successful organizations are implementing monitoring and tracking
processes to measure the impact of the mentoring participants’ experiences on the organizations’ results, as well as the skills and experience levels of the protégés and the mentors. Here are some of the measured results attained in facilitated mentoring processes:

  • Increased awareness by managers of the caliber of employees, core competencies, and talent pool
  • Higher ratings on evaluations of supervisors by subordinate
  • Increased number of cross-functional transfers
  • On 11 job essential skills, protégés increased skills by an average of 61 percent
  • Gains in 9 of 11 generic career and life effectiveness skills after 13 months
  • Greater knowledge of organization and other divisions
  • Increased retention of the best and brightest people.

Volumes of both specific and anecdotal data gathered in focus groups and from protégé development plans attest to the value added to the organizations as well as participants, both mentors and protégés. Of particular significance during times of rapid change is the frequent comment, “This process gave us an element of stability, and gave me an anchor, in a time of chaos.”


These results are not accidental–they don’t happen by chance or magic. The key to
assurance of continuity of the mentoring process, and desired results, is to closely
link it to the mission, goals, and priority strategies of the organization. Separate
programs are extremely vulnerable to economic downturns, budget cuts, and changes
of affection. Only an integrated, facilitated process which is linked to current and future mission or business imperatives can be expected to stand the buffeting of the winds of change. These rapidly changing environments demand multi-skilled, flexible workers–the new masters.


Margo Murray, with Marna Owen, Beyond the Myths and Magic of Mentoring: How
to Facilitate an Effective Mentoring Program
, Jossey-Bass, 1991

Lisa Cavallaro, Sun Microsystems, Mentoring: Sun Success Stories, October, 1994

Mary Duncan, IBM Midwestern Area, The Manager’s Mentor, January, 1995

Juanita Garcia, Editor, Mentoring Experience, Whitmire Distribution Corporation,
April, 1994

Bette Kent, Lockheed Missiles & Space, “Diversity for Breakfast The Manager’s Mentor, Spring 1994