Program Decisions About Length of Mentoring

by Barry Sweeny, 2003


Changing Program Definitions of the Length of Mentoring

Many, maybe even most programs have traditionally lasted only one year. This is especially true of those programs with few expectations for results and program goals such as orientation and support for the transition to the new career.

However, mentoring programs with higher expectations for mentors’ work, such as improvement of the protégé’s performance, usuallyhave lasted at least two years. This is because of two reasons:

  • The traditional early program goals for orientation and transition to a new career take about a year to attain.
  • Even though programs ask mentors to work on improvement of the protégé’s job performance skills and thinking, the earlier goals take precedence early in the mentoring relationship, and the performance improvement goals take about two years to achieve, depending on the nature of the protégé’s job.

More recently, with the advent of competencies and standards for employee performance and the advent of levels of performance certification, the mentoring program scene has shifted to more programs providing support for these additional purposesover three and even four years. Most of the programs that have adopted these additional goals for mentoring have also begun to include professional development goals, action plans, and a portfolio during that time, all linked to the standards.

While this info is not about the ending process, it has effected that process and the timing of it.

Best Practice: Plan Transitions,Not Ends

Learning is truly a career-long, continual process. This suggests that protégés and mentors should be continual learners, even after their formal relationship has come to an end.

However, recent research by a friend of this author, discovered that when the collaborative relationship is withdrawn at the end of formal mentoring periods, the reflection on practice done by the former mentoring participants drops way down. This was found to occur because of the constant press of needs and demands of the work.

The conclusion? Professional growth is greatly reduced without the formal structure of a relationship and the attending commitments to make time to meet and work together for mutual support and growth.

The implications for organizations which are concerned about continual improvement are clear:

  • The FORMAL Mentor-Protege relationship will end at some point, but should be encouraged, even supported so it can continue informally from that point on. Organizations should have a clearly stated and well-publicized strategy to continue the peer mentoring support and focus on development long after the formal mentoring is over.
  • Implementation of that shift has taken at least the following two forms:
    • 1. Transition from Formal to Informal – Mentoring as a mutual support process (sometimes called “peer” mentoring) continues and is sanctioned, supported, and rewarded, because the mentor and protégé are expected to continue to develop professionally. This does sometimes include a new match for the protégé to a different mentor, depending on the strengths of the mentor and areas for growth of the protégé.2.Transition From the Mentor Program’s Expert-Novice Relationship to a Different Peer Mentoring/Coaching Program and a Peer Relationship – The mentoring program ends at some point and the partners shift into a peer coaching relationship, in which all experienced employees in the organization have the opportunity for continual peer support for professional growth.

Both mentoring methods are needed to keep all the people learning and improving, and the organization a continually improving entity as well. Another way of sating this truth is that professional development and organizational development must work hand in hand. The people depend on a growing and improving organization – The organization depends on the growth and improvement of the people.