Excerpts – Sweeny Leaders’ Book – Matching Best Practices

Excerpted Sections on the Best Practices for Matching Mentors and Protégés from

Sweeny, B.W. (2007) Leading the New Teacher Induction and Mentoring Program,
Corwin Press. Thousand Oaks, Ca.

INDEX


Editor’s Notes

1. Do not skip reading this excerpt because you see the word “teacher” in the book title. The broad range of research and experience of the author was rewritten in “educational language” to suit the topic. The experiences and research expressed in the following document and the language used to share these, are universal and have been tested and proven in hundreds of mentoring program applications and program evaluations in every context across North America.

2. This document captures [at the point of the above publication] 19 years of expert practitioner experience and action research. Therefore, we consider this information to represent “Best Practice”.

3. While effective mentor training is typically the biggest need in new or under developed mentoring programs, the biggest cause of problems comes from inadequate selection and matching structures. We provide this document to share what our action research and experience have taught us effective address that problem.


Best Practices for Matching Mentors and Protégés

This document has two parts.

1. First is a brief summary listing of the same best practices for mentor-protege matching drawn from the second section. The first section allows easier reader use and facilitates synthesis of these findings with the findings of other research reports which are presented elsewhere.

2. The second section is a narrative which is a detailed discussion and explanation of the findings from the author’s considerable experience and action research in mentoring across many settings and contexts.


Part One – Summary – Best Practices for Matching Mentors and Protégés

1. Design mentoring ROLES to account for different levels of protégé experience.

  • A. Provide a buddy or guide for experienced persons who are new to the organization, the job, or are in some way undergoing significant change and deserve support during that transition.
  • B. Reserve the title, “Mentor”, for work to support younger, less experienced or beginning level protégés.
  • C. Who Does Selection? – Have the Coordinator of the Mentor and Guide Programs consult with the protege’s supervisor to determine the most appropriate person(s) for service as a guide. Their decision is informed by:
    1. Diagnosing the level of experience and need of the new employee
    2. Consulting the criteria for choosing assignment of a mentor or a guide
    3. Considering the job assignment of the new employee
    4. Selecting the best available guide or mentor or combination thereof from the list of those who are in the “pool” and are trained as guides or mentors.

2. Align All the Processes To Your Program Goals

Select the processes and criteria for recruitment, selection and matching to implement the program goals.

3. Plan and Conduct Recruitment, Selection and Matching as One Integrated Process

  • These steps really must work as one continuous, although staged process. The entire sequence from recruitment, through selection, training, matching and supporting must all communicate, model, and teach the same message.
  • A. Design a phased process with several steps and criteria for each step.
    • Place mentor training after selection but before matching to build a mentor “pool”.
  • B. At each step add more detailed education in what it means to be an effective mentor.
    • This clarifies and makes mentor training a gradual process delivered at each step.
  • C. Make the criteria for moving from one step to the next the likelihood of success at the next level.
  • D. Define more challenging criteria at each step in the process.
  • E. Include “safety checks” on appropriateness at each step in the process where a poor mentor candidate may be counseled to withdraw and has face-saving ways to exit the process.
  • F. Consider calling a person a “mentor” after they are trained, but before they are assigned to work with a protégé.

4. Choosing Criteria for Matching

  • A. Avoid criteria which consider characteristics of people, such as personality, philosophy, learning or work styles, or other conceptual types. Use these, along with a candidate’s experiences and outlook for selection, but not for matching. This gets the right people in place.
  • B. Focus on criteria which consider characteristics of working conditions needed for success in the work and in the mentoring process. This ensures the right people can do what they need to,
  • C. Train both of the partners in strategies for avoiding conflicts, such as effective communications strategies, for giving advice and feed back that will be accepted, and for resolving conflicts when they occur.
  • D. Provide time in training for the partners to assess the ways in which they are different. Provide a structure to help the pair consider how these differences can be used as strengths for their work together, when each strength will be needed in their work, and when the partner without the strengths should defer to the experience of the one with that strength. In this way, a mentor who is not a good listener can learn to listen to a protege who is sensitive to listening and asks for it. The strategy places the protege’s need to defer to the mentors greater experience within a larger context where each partners works to benefit form the strengths of the other.
  • E. Train mentors to use strategies for assessing and addressing protégé needs so the match will be viewed as helpful by the protégé and the match will last.

5. Criteria for Matching Mentors and Protégés

  • A. Matching mentors and protégés works best when the strengths of the mentor is aligned with the needs of the protégé.
  • B. Choose all other criteria to support the first one.
    • When telling mentors and protégés about their match, remind them of the first criteria.
    • When resolving a mentor-protege mismatch, emphasize that as the criteria still.
  • C. The second highest matching priority is close proximity of mentor and protégé work places.
  • D. The third matching priority is to match mentors who have or recently have had a similar job assignment to that of the protégé.
  • E. Other best practice matching factors are
    • A common planning, work hours, or lunch time.
    • An experience difference in the topic for learning is even more important than age.

6. Special Circumstances – Matching At-Risk Individuals

When a protégé has been disadvantaged or is a delinquent youth, pregnant teen mother, or ex-convict, the role modeling aspect of mentoring becomes critical and success in it may necessitate a gender, common experience, or ethnic match be considered. Ask protégés whether such criteria are important to them, andn try to honor that preference if you can also meet the other criteria.

7. When the best match we can provide does not adequately address the protege’s needs, other non mentoring supports must be provided.

  • Supervisors, peers, even the protege themselves need to do more to ensure that what the mentor cannot do, someone else does, and the protege’s needs are met.

Part Two – Narrative Discussion – Best Practices for Matching Mentors and Protégés

We have found that typical matching methods are often too simplistic and viewed as an isolated process. When this is the case, the program misses enormous opportunities to create a synergetic, “high impact” result from mentoring. We have developed our best practice approach through successive annual program
evaluations and revisions – an action-oriented research process which builds on what achieves program goals and eliminates activities which do not.

Please note, it has always been our program’s goals to deliver improved performance and results. This means that what we share here is effective for those specific goals. Any program with these same goals would be well advised to use these best practices because we have learned that they help the program
and the mentors to attain these specific goals.

The best practice matching approach views matching as one step in a sequence of strategies which are designed to function together. Here are the best practice features that relate to matching and which we have discovered and developed to what we consider to be the “state of the art”. You may be surprised
as you start to read these, but the things that may surprise you are the very things that deliver the better results.

1. Design mentoring ROLES to account for different levels of protégé experience.

This finding leads us to provide a buddy or guide for experienced persons who are new to the organization, the job, or are in some way undergoing significant change and deserve support during that transition. Guides are not used for inexperienced protégés. This means that we reserve the title, “Mentor”, for very specific and special circumstances – typically with younger, less experienced or beginning level protégés who deserve more skilled, long-term, and intensive guidance and support to reach the level of performance and impact that we seek.

We developed these two levels because we found that experienced new hires did not require the intensive support, guidance, or accelerated professional development the beginners seemed to need. These two mentoring roles allowed for a great deal of flexibility and efficiency because we did not have to recruit, select nor match guides and mentors the same way. We also found we did not need to train, support, or pay the same stipends to people who served in the less intensive guide role, but their assistance was just what their more experienced protégés needed. Use of these two roles provide numerous benefits all up and down the sequence.

One example is when a new but experienced person is assigned to one site in a job they have previously done elsewhere. Matching becomes very simple in this case because any guide from any department can provide the orientation needed to that site, organization, and the key local people, but does not need
to help with discipline-specific issues which the protégé already knows.

A second example is a beginning employee whose schedule requires work at two sites. They may have a mentor at one site to help with orientation to that site and to assist with discipline-specific learning. The program then assigns a “building guide” to orient the protégé to the second site. No mentor is needed at the second site and the protégé gets all the support they need.

The Best Practice Guide-Mentor Matching Policy therefore is, the Coordinator of the Mentor and Guide Programs consults with the protege’s supervisor to determine the most appropriate person(s) for service as a guide. Their decision is informed by:

  1. Diagnosing the level of experience and need of the new employee
  2. Consulting the criteria for choosing assignment of a mentor or a guide
  3. Considering the job assignment of the new employee
  4. Selecting the best available guide or mentor or combination thereof from the list of those who are in the “pool” and are trained as guides or mentors.
  5. Persons may be selected as a guide or a mentor who are not yet trained if:
    • The guide or mentor has applied or agreed to do the job
    • The guide or mentor meets all other qualifications
    • The guide or mentor can be trained before the new employee starts or within two weeks of the new employee’s start, depending on available training dates.

2. Align Recruitment, Selection and Matching to Your Program Goals

We have found it essential to align what we SAY we want to achieve long-term and what we DO short-term as we design and implement each program part. Our program’s goals are used to evaluate every decision and program component. That includes the processes and criteria for recruitment, selection and matching.
For example, one program goal is, “To treat every individual individually”. This best practice means that this goal must drive how we recruit, select, match, train, and support each mentor and each protégé.


3. Plan and Conduct Recruitment, Selection and Matching as One Integrated Process

Our work has revealed to us that these steps really must work as one continuous, although staged process, which is consistent with the program’s goals. To express it another way, recruitment, selection, and matching must be designed and conducted so they are mentor experiences that maintain the chain of cause
and effects links which lead eventually to the program’s attainment of its purpose.

For example, if your program is in a business and you want the customers of mentored employees to be treated as individuals whose needs are met by company services or products, then the links in the chain we call mentor recruitment, selection, and matching must be experienced by participants as processes which
honor and account for individual differences in experience and needs. The ends and the means must align for you to attain the ends you want.

If your program supports beginning teachers and you want those mentored teachers to assess learner needs and strengths before designing instruction, and then to monitor progress and adjust instruction to maximize learning, then these beginning teachers must experience mentoring in exactly that same way
when they are the learners.

We have found that the entire sequence from recruitment, through selection, training, matching and supporting must all communicate, model, and teach the same message. Here is how we have learned it works the best.

A. Design a phased process with several steps and criteria for each step.

Do not make selection a one time “do or die” event. Suggested steps in the process are:

  1. Attend a mentor information meeting – check if the mentor meets “threshold” criteria.
    • If these are met, the candidate may apply to be a mentor
  2. Complete and submit the Mentor Application. Check if meets mentor training criteria.
    • If these are met, the candidate may attend a mentor training.
  3. Attend the initial mentor training. Be observed practicing skills of effective mentors.
    • If the candidate and trainer agree (s)he is ready to mentor, the title is conveyed
  4. The new “Mentor” enters the mentor “pool” but remains unmatched.
  5. The mentor is matched when the mentor’s strengths match a protégé’s needs, and when their job, and proximity match.
  6. The mentor and protégé remain matched if the “one month later match check” reveals the original match is appropriate and working for both partners.
  7. The mentor remains matched a second year with the same protégé if the pair, supervisor, and Mentor Program Coordinator all agree it is still productive.

Notice this process and these criteria place mentor training after selection and before matching, not at the end, as we and many other programs have done. Our program and mentoring became mush more effective when we structured the sequence this way.

B. At each step add more detailed education in what it means to be an effective mentor.

Instead of thinking of mentor training as a one time event, think of it is a gradual process delivered at each step of the recruitment, selection and matching process and continuing as long as mentoring does. A review of the process above in “A” shows that at each step of a mentor’s development, their training gives them just what they need at that level to ready them for learning and work the next level.

C. Make the criteria for moving from one step to the next the likelihood of success at the next leve

The education at each step in the process should be just what people at that step need and it must prepare them to be successful at the next step if they choose to take it. A benefit of this is that mentor candidates can realize that they are not ready or willing to do what is required at the next step, and they will remove themselves from the process. The real benefit of this is that we have found we no longer have to face the difficult task of dismissing a mentor.

D. Define more challenging criteria at each step in the process.

Doing this postpones the tougher distinctions to when candidate commitment and understanding of what mentoring requires are greater. Demonstrating that a candidate meets a specific criteria may seem less of an obstacle to a candidate if done after the mentor training when the candidate has learned what that specific criterion really looks like and why is important. The basic concept here is to wait to ask a candidate any question until they are informed enough to make a wise choice. Asking a person to be a mentor and then making them one before they really know what’s involved makes little sense and sets you up for numerous needless problems.

E. Include “safety checks” on appropriateness at each step in the process.

Plan opportunities at each step of the process where a poor mentor candidate may be counseled to withdraw and has face-saving ways to exit the process.

F. Finally, consider calling a person a “mentor” after they are trained, but before they are assigned to work with a protégé.

We found this timing creates at least two benefits.

A. Calling a person a “Mentor” affirms a candidate’s professionalism and desire to grow while helping others. Doing this after defining this valued role, such as at the mentor training, makes it a more significant label to earn and to “wear”.

B. Calling a person a “mentor” after they are trained also allows program expectations to be placed on mentors for ongoing training and attendance at mentor meetings and mentor peer support groups even before they are assigned to help a protégé. That way unassigned or less capable mentors can keep learning from their matched colleagues, the more experienced mentors.


Matching of Mentors and Protégés

Once a person becomes a mentor and joins the pool, your next step would be matching a specific protege’s needs with the strengths of an appropriate mentor. This decision should be guided by criteria and a defined process.

4. Choosing Criteria for Matching

Any review of other mentoring programs show criteria for matching mentors and protégés have been developed using an amazing range of methods. We find these methods can be reduced down to two basic approaches:

A. Criteria which consider characteristics of people, such as personality, philosophy, learning or work styles, or other conceptual types.   (Note, we have found that the characteristics of a candidate’s experiences, attitudes (positive, etc.) and such are not relevant for matching, but are very relevant for the earlier steps in selection.)

B. Criteria which consider characteristics of working conditions needed for success in the work and in the mentoring process.

>. We have found it more effective and productive to use criteria which focus on success in the activities over criteria which focus just on the people.

Our review of and work in programs which used personality or other forms of people-focused matching schemes, what we found was very good mentoring relationships, people who enjoyed working with each other, were very supportive and understanding of each other, yet pairs who had little basis for learning from each other. What might you learn from people who think similarly and make the same assumptions
as you?

Instead of matching based on characteristics of people, we have found it best to use these characteristics to select mentors, not for matching to protégés.

> Our own experience and the experience gained working in hundreds of other mentoring programs is that learning is accelerated when people see things differently, respectfully question each other’s view points, and help each other check their assumptions. Of course, the challenge of assigning as partners two people who see things differently does create potential conflicts. We have learned that appropriate training reduces the potential for a problem.

>. The mentoring experience should be training for the reality of daily life and work. The reality is that we do not assign employees to supervisors based on styles, nor do we assign students and teachers that way. Matching for personality characteristics suggests that you are not expected to get along with people who are different from yourself. That’s not the right message. In real life we throw diverse people together constantly, and we still expect results. It seems quite contradictory to say that we value diversity and the
strengths teams and differences can provide, if we assign mentoring pairs on the basis of how similar they are.

We have learned that mentor and protégé teams actually enjoy and find value in discovery and celebration of diverse strengths they each bring to their work as mentoring partners. That is accomplished by assessing and planning the use of those strengths as a team.

>. We have found it to be very effective to train the partners in strategies for avoiding conflicts, such as effective communications strategies, for giving advice and feed back that will be accepted, and for resolving conflicts when they occur.

>. Make it Effective and the Match Will Endure – If the foundation of an effective match is that the mentor’s strengths fit the protege’s needs, then we have concluded that mentors must be trained in quick strategies for assessing and addressing protégé needs. Our finding is that, if mentors can do that, the match will be viewed as helpful by the protégé and the match will last. We have seen that the opposite is true as well. You may have a well-suited pair with many things in common, but if the mentoring does not effectively address the protege’s learning needs, it will not last.


5. Criteria for Matching Mentors and Protégés

The greatest priority for criteria for matching mentors and protégés are that the strengths of the mentor best meet the needs of the protégé.

For any element of the program to be effective, we have found it must make sense as a means to meeting those needs or helping ensure that mentors can meet those needs. Therefore:

• In everything you do regarding matching, keep this goal in the front of your mind.

• When telling mentors and protégés about matching, remind them of that goal.

• When resolving a mentor-protege mismatch, keep that one goal in mind.

The criteria and process work so well because meeting those needs removes the obstacles to the protégés’ growth.

We find the following to be the ideal matching priorities toward which to work.

A. The next highest matching priority is close proximity of mentor and protégé work places. In the daily press of activities, consistent and frequent formal and informal mentoring can only happen if they are near each other. This creates the time for effective mentoring, and time for mentoring is one of the most essential best practices found in the research. If proximity to the mentor is not accomplished, protégés will often find a “mentor”, trained or not, effective or not, who IS close by and available to help when needed.

B. The third matching priority is often given to mentors who have orrecently have had a similar job assignment to that of the protégé. is because engineering problem solving, financial planning, nursing and curriculum (for teachers) or such related work tasks are very big areas for protégé learning. To meet this need, mentors must know the relevant
processes and skills for that work.

C. Other best practice matching factors are

• A common time — common planning, work hours, or lunch time.
• Age differences of a few, up to 5+ years are often sought, but not always needed.
• An experience difference in the topic for learning is even more important than age.


6. Special Circumstances – Matching At-Risk Individuals

Our last matching best practice will seem controversial for some people.

There are a few types of protégés such as disadvantaged or delinquent youth, pregnant teen mothers, or ex-convicts, for whom learning to trust and following the advice of a mentor can be a huge challenge. Their lives have taught them not to do these things – things which are so essential to a mentor’s opportunity to make a difference for that protégé.

While we have found it critical for the program to place a high value on learning to work with others and utilizing diversity as a strength for the learning of the mentoring pair, this is sometimes not as likely to succeed. In these cases, the role modeling aspect of mentoring becomes critical and success in it may necessitate a gender or ethnic match be considered. The best practice in these cases is to ask protégés whether gender, experiences, or cultural / ethnic background matching is important to them. Try to honor that if it is their preference.


7. What if …?

The challenge of such a mix of diverse criteria is figuring out how to use them together. In practice, the process of matching for the best mentoring situation is not so simple since the best match for a person isn’t always possible. The best mentor may be unavailable due to other commitments or personal situations.

On the other hand, doing “the best we can” may not be “good enough” for a protégé whose needs remain unmet by the match we provide, whose career is stifled, and whose talent remains undeveloped and
inaccessible to the organization. Usually, good enough isn’t.

Naturally, we will do “the best we can” , but our last best practice is that when the best match we can provide does not adequately address the protege’s needs, other non mentoring supports must be provided.

  • The supervisor needs to demonstrate more interest in and support for that person than my by the usual case.
  • Peers, especially team or project mates, need to help more than is usual for them.
  • The protégé themselves must be alerted to the needs and prompted to speak up for help and ask questions more than they may typically be comfortable doing.
  • Additional training or conference attendance opportunities should be extended.

By the combination of mentoring and non mentoring activities a system of support must be provided if we are to expect great things from the protégé and hold them accountable for their performance and results.