Research – Effects of Just Using Mentoring

The Effects of Mentoring as the Sole Development Strategy
Barry Sweeny, Dec. 2010

The following research quotations inform the discussion over whether JUST mentoring is or is NOT a sufficient strategy to effectively address the needs targeted by most developmental programs.

Part of the discussion relates to the varied goals held by different programs. This, it seems, makes a big difference. Clearly, based on the following, we can conclude that typically mentoring is best used as one of several developmental strategies. The reasons for this conclusion are found in the various quotations below.

1. “There are several practical implications of our findings. Perhaps most importantly, we caution scholars, practitioners, and policy makers not to OVER estimate the potential effect of mentoring. Consistent with more focused reviews of the literature, we found that the overall magnitude of association between mentoring and outcomes was small in magnitude.

Moreover, due to the cross-sectional, non-experimental nature of many of the studies involved, it is unknown whether significant correlations between mentoring and outcomes reflect a causal effect of mentoring. We are not suggesting that mentoring does not have value – the evidence presented here suggests that it may. However, we believe the results underscore the need to temper what are sometimes seemingly unrealistic expectations about what mentoring can offer (by itself) to protégés, institutions, and society at large. We recommend that decision-makers think carefully when developing policies and programs about how to deal with pressing problems such as gang violence, teenage drug use, dropout rates among diverse college students, and the loss of top talent in organizations. Mentoring may (or may not) be the best (or only) solution to a particular problem.”

– Eby, L.T., Allen, T.D.,  Evans, S.C., Ng, T. and DuBois, D. (2008). Does Mentoring Matter? A Multidisciplinary Meta-Analysis Comparing Mentored and Non-Mentored Individuals. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 2008 April; 72(2): 254–267.
Retrieved online at

2. “The integration of mentoring with existing youth programs is suggested as a promising approach to youth development.”

“There is some evidence that youth mentoring leads to greater benefits when accompanied by other support services.”

Kuperminc, G. P., Emshoff, J. G., Reiner, M. M., Secrest, L. A., Niolon, P. H., & Foster, J. D., (2005). Integration of mentoring with other programs and services. In Dubois, D.L., & Karcher, M.J. (Eds.), Handbook of youth mentoring (pp. 314-333). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

3. Characteristics of effective programs typically include caring adolescent-adult relationships, designs that are long-term, and approaches that incorporate multiple aspects of the youth development framework.”

“The present study supports the effectiveness of multi-component youth development programs by documenting significant increases, across all measured outcomes, in a sample of at-risk youth.  Significant improvements (p<.001) in academic performance, social competence, and family bonds were reported by both youth and their parents.”

Higginbotham, B.J., Harris, V.W., Lee, T.R., and Marshall, J.P.  Youth and Families with Promise: A Multi-Component Youth Development Program. Journal of Youth Development    Volume 1, Number 3, Winter 2006-2007

4. Sweeny, B.W. (2007) Mentoring: The Central Strategy for People and Organization Success. Best Practice Resources. Wheaton, Illinois, USA

We start mentoring and development program design by identifying participant or organizational needs which must be met if the people and the organization are to grow and excel.

It is essential, therefore, that the program model to be used contains components which are proven by research and expert experience to effectively address some or several of those needs. The most effective relationship of these components places individualized mentoring as the central element within an array of program-provided professional development elements.

A. The program-provided activities are best at efficient delivery of information, structuring self-assessment and goal setting, guiding plan development, and to some extent, providing guided practice and corrective feed back to build skills. Therefore, each program level component should, to the extent possible, incorporate these best practices.

B. The central strategy of individual mentoring is best at:

  1. Providing the individual guidance, support, and a challenge that group programs cannot.
  2. Ensuring that what the protégé learns and plans in the workshop is practiced in the workplace, that the inevitable implementation problems are solved, that skills are mastered, and that the learning is fully implemented to improve the protege’s daily practices.
  3. What the mentor learns and sees during this process that would improve program level impact is fed back to the program to guide program refinement.

Without the mentor, the program level supports are not effectively implemented and change is a very gradual, even imperceptible process.

Without the mentor, programs rarely learn what works or does not in the “field” nor what they could do to improve their effectiveness and impact.

Without the group level programming, the mentors would be overwhelmed with the full responsibility of leading and facilitating change. When mentors are also full-time employees and mentoring time is limited, the task becomes impossible.

Given this relationship of functions, we can see it is not just the existence of the comprehensive set of program parts delivering group learning, nor just the mentoring alone which makes it all effective. It is the synergistic partnership, the  “preparatory work” that the program does, and the “following up”, “building on”, and “feeding back” that the effective mentor does, which helps the protégé take proven theory and best practice and internalize them as daily practice. It is the relationship of group programs with the central strategy for mentoring which makes all these elements a successful system of support.

Conceiving of developmental programming this way has one final and significant value. When mentoring is implemented alone, without these critical program relationships, it will more likely be perceived as “one more thing to do” on top of all the other developmental efforts of orientation, training, and the like. But when mentoring is implemented as the central strategy as described above, it will be perceived and function as a program which is essential to the very purpose and success of the organization.”