Initial & On-Going Mentor Training

By Barry Sweeny, 2003


1. Overview: Best Practices for Development of Effective Mentors

As crucial as effective mentor training is, after reviewing this section, it will be very clear to you that this author strongly advocates that you NOT JUST train mentors. Mentor training is only ONE in the total set of strategies needed to ensure that mentors ARE effective, not just knowledgeable Development of effective mentors requires a carefully orchestrated system of:

2. The NEED For Initial and On-Going Mentor Training

Effective, high performance professional work is complex and demanding, so it should be no surprise that learning to work at such a level will be complex and challenging, as will be the system to support learning how to work so effectively.

Simply stated, effective mentoring is a complex, challenging professional practice which is not learned as a matter of course during work and which requires expert training and other support activities to develop.

Training is ONE of the best ways we know to improve employee performance and productivity. That is because employee knowledge and skills are the prerequisite to better performance and increased results. Training that can accomplish that goal requires design of a specific staff developmentsystem which targets the unique and evolving needs of employees.

Training of mentors to adequately prepare them for their role is the one program feature that is most frequently recommended by experienced mentors and coordinators. In fact, there is strong research evidence which suggests that mentor training is the single most important variable to the success of the mentoring relationship.

There are several other crucial reasons to train mentors.

A. Most mentors do not know how to facilitate improvement of the performance and productivity of their proteges.

If left without the guidance of mentor training, almost all mentors naturally focus on only about 1/3 of the areas which should be addressed by effective mentors.

Improving the protégé’s work habits and skills is central to the mentor’s role, but mentor training in those work strategies is not as important an agenda item as you might think. That is because we can safely assume that persons selected to be mentors already know lots of effective work strategies and don’t need to be trained in them. The possible exception here is technology, and in that case, it may be the protégé who mentors the mentor more than vice versa

What we can not assume, however, is that new mentors will already know the necessary effective mentoring strategies which result in the improvement of the professional performance and productivity of their proteges. Even if they have already served as an informal mentor previously or in some related role, we can not assume that the mentor knows effective mentoring strategies. Where might they have learned those powerful mentoring strategies except perhaps by discovering some for themselves by trial and error experience. That method is not a sufficient means for preparing mentors who are each expected to improve the performance of all their proteges.

The strategies mentors must know, such as how to facilitate the professional growth of another employee, what to do with a reluctant protégé, or how many suggestions are too many, should be explicitly taught and practiced in mentor training. Every mentor deserves that kind of preparation.

B. Mentors Should Not Have to Learn to Be Effective by Trial and Error

When mentor training is done well, it is an opportunity for new mentors to learn from the accumulated knowledge and experience of other mentors who have served before them. In other words, mentor training is an opportunity for new mentors to be mentored by their more experienced peers. New mentors need not learn from trial and error. They can capitalize on the wonderful knowledge base that has been accumulated for at least twenty years. Mentor training is the forum for learning these mentoring best practices.

C. Mentors are Growing as Professionals Too, So They Need Help Thinking About the Mentor’s Role as a MODEL.

Mentors frequently state that they know they are not perfect employees. They know that they are not yet the employees that they feel they have the potential of becoming. Most mentors understand that their own mental models for work, serving on teams, increasing effectiveness all need to be updated as much as do those of their proteges. That is one of the very reasons mentors choose to be mentors. Mentors expect to learn a great deal more through work in the mentor role. Mentor training should be the first step in that process of reconsidering what we want to become as employees, in setting goals, and supporting grow toward those professional dreams.

D. Mentors May Feel Inadequate in the “Coaching” Role

A major responsibility for mentors is to ensure that their protégés grow to become very effective employees. Such a process of professional growth requires a sophisticated set of skills and knowledge that all cluster under the heading of “coaching”. Coaching skills are typically new to almost every mentor.

Mentors often state that they have a level of discomfort assuming this role, and that they do not want to lapse over into an evaluative approach in it.. Professional pairs or small groups who inquire into their own work flow and practices together are not the norm in most organizations. This fact clearly suggests that for mentors to be effective at helping improve their protégé’s performance that They must develop some skills in conferencing, questioning, listening, design of data collection tools, observing, collecting of data, and analysis of that data.

In traditional organizations, these are skills which can only have been developed by managers. Mentor training must provide mentors with these skills and opportunities to refine and master them if we expect mentors to help improve the performance of their protégés.

3. Mentoring of Mentors (MoM)

Elsewhere on this web site, I have described the concept of “The Bridge” as the essential strategy which ensures that protégé training ends up implemented in protégé practice and improved performance. That is a major role of the mentor. If you have not read this information relative to protégé development, I urge you to click here and do so now before continuing on with this page.

Just as using mentors to provide follow up support and guidance for protégé training is needed to ensure actual implementation of that training in improved practice, so… we must assume that the concept of the “Bridge” and the need for follow up support exists for mentors too. It DOES.

For the sake of crystal clarity, allow me to restate that concept, as I believe it to be a critical step in mentor development which almost every program I have seen has missed.

Mentors must have follow up training and support by a mentor of mentors (MoM) if they are to be expected to IMPLEMENT IN THEIR MENTORING WHAT THEY HAVE LEARNED IN MENTOR TRAINING!

You might well wonder what mentoring of mentors looks like, and that info is available elsewhere on this web site. It is listed under the Mentor Program Leader’s Section, as they are the ones who should be the MoM.

4. Suggestions for Developing an Effective Mentor Training

You might also ask how to develop a mentor training that can do an excellent job of preparing new mentors for their responsibilities. While some leaders have developed their own mentor training models, I suggest that you not follow that pattern. Just as you would want your mentors to learn from the mistakes and experience of other mentors, so your mentoring training should be developed from the lessons that others have learned about how to train mentors. There is no sense in trial and error learning for mentor programs any more than there is for mentors.

I have two recommendations:

1. I have provided information on this web site regarding a suggested mentor training agenda, advice about designing mentor trainings, as well as other related information.

2. The “List of Consultants” section of this web site provides just what you need to accomplish this task. That section contains many other specific names, services descriptions, and contact information for the IMA members who also do consulting and mentor training in some or all settings. Use these folks as resources if their focus is appropriate for your mentoring program, needs, and setting.