The Developmental Mentoring Continuum

There are so many applications for mentoring!  We use mentoring strategies to guide and assist at-risk youth, newly hired employees, managers, higher education students, all kinds of people in every imaginable walk of life, position, and kind of organization. There are so many applications that we may not realize, there is a consistent, simple, sequential flow of mentoring through life and careers- and HERE it is!  Find out where you fit into it, and consider what you might need to do to improve and expand your mentoring.


A Framework – The Sequence of Mentoring Applications Across Age and Career Levels

The Developmental Mentoring Continuum is a framework which was developed to illustrate that sequence of mentoring applications across age and career levels AND to help mentoring programs provide a more seamless and effective sequence of support to proteges.

The Basic “unit” within the Developmental Mentoring Continuum is one person who is both:

  • A Protege, learning from a mentor, and
  • A Mentor, sharing what they know with others

Be a mentor and a protege too,The Basic Concept

The diagram to the left shows what this basic unit looks like. Building on that basic unit, each persons’ relationships extend to working as a protege and as a mentor with still other persons, repeating the basic unit over and over again. The essential concept behind this is, “Everyone IS a mentor, and is BEING mentored.” We are all continually learning and supporting others’ learning. The organizations that have achieved this have what is called a “mentoring culture”.

The Developmental Mentoring Continuum

The Continuum below illustrates the potential of using this approach across organizations throughout the life of an individual. Whether an elementary, high school, or college student, a new or veteran employee, each persons’ relationships extend to working as a protege and as a mentor with other persons, and the pattern repeats the basic unit over and over again as the person grows. Across this Continuum the content of the dialogue changes depending of the program and organizational goals, but the mentoring strategies remain the same.

The Continuum shows skill, career and leadership development at an adult level, such as occurs in one’s career, but these goals also are part of earlier youth and student mentoring levels as well. As one person grows and moves through the Continuum, they may benefit from many separate, unrelated, informal mentoring experiences and formal mentoring programs. Even within one program, the goals of mentoring change, there is overlap in each relationship, and so the same activities are used to serve more than one goal.

The Developmental Mentoring Continuum

How Mentoring Starts & How It Grows

Typically, when a new mentoring program starts, it is within one organization and the program focus is on just one or two of these developmental levels, depending on their perception of unmet needs. Eventually, as the organization comes to value what mentoring contributes at those levels, other unmet developmental needs and additional goals will be adopted. Then mentoring is used across the levels of experience in staff and the hierarchy of roles, to build the capacity of all.

Sometimes the mentoring even extends beyond the limits of the organization:

  • Because the PEOPLE want to “give back” the mentoring “gift” that feel they have received as proteges, and…
  • Because the ORGANIZATION wants to develop those on whom the organization’s future success depends.

The essential concept behind it all is, “Each person IS a mentor, and is BEING mentored.” All are continually learning and supporting others’ learning.

This is not just a theory. Many organizations are at some level of implementing this continuum, whether they know about this structure or not. – Click here to see how the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee has truly built a “mentoring culture” exactly as described just above.


The most effective mentoring programs will be thinking at several levels (as the Continuum illustrates).

  1. Mentoring you can provide to meet the needs of the proteges whose success is most important to the success of your organization;
  2. Planning that mentoring so it identifies your proteges’ strengths and builds on any prior mentoring those proteges may have received.
  3. Partnering with other internal programs AND other external organizations to help improve the PRIOR and FOLLOW UP mentoring that your proteges received or will receive.

THAT is how to implement the Developmental Mentoring Continuum in your work, and by doing so, how to achieve the greatest impact and success for your people and organization.