Essential Mentor Motivation Info

By Barry Sweeny, May 2010

If you have not first read about Herzberg’s motivation research, please do so before reading this page. 🙂

Many mentoring programs realize that mentoring requires a considerable commitment of time, effort, and caring on the part of some (already) busy people. That is why many programs include some form of incentives, recognition and support for mentoring. In the case of incentives specifically, the program wants to attract qualified candidates to fill the mentoring role.

However, most persons who serve as mentors do not do it for the stipends, recognition, or other benefits
that a mentoring program may offer. Most people mentor because they want to help a new person in the profession to succeed and because they know the organizatio, department, or team need the best employee as soon as possible.

If those are the motivators for many mentors, does a mentoring program ALSO need to offer incentives and recognition for mentors? Yes, it should! Here are some factors to consider.


Reason #1: Just because people do not mentor just so they will gain recognition, does not mean they will not appreciate that recognition.

Mentors appreciate the recognition of others as a statement that others understand what mentoring requires. The esteem of one’s peers is a wonderful thing, but it is rarely given! That is actually part of the problem. It would be easier for folks to accept the recognition of others if it were not so unique an experience. Therefore, mentors APPRECIATE recognition, AND we’d like affirmations of the value of people to become a more normal part of the organization’s culture.


Reason #2:Many employees are highly motivated to serve the needs and to seek the welfare of others.

However, the norms in many organizations often lead people to feel that anyone who is recognized for doing that very thing is doing something special and different from their peers. Of course, that is not usually true. This is why employee peer leadership is sometimes resisted. No employee wants to be isolated from his/her peers and so people often shun leadership of their peers and any form of recognition that singles out individuals.

In other words, lack of care in designing incentives and recognition can be divisive and counter productive!

The solution?? Don’t award recognition to mentors as if they are the only ones who care. As you recognize any mentor for their contribution, point out…

What a wonderful staff we have here. We all find our own ways to contribute
to each other’s success. Many of you have offered and provided help to our new
staff, whether you are the formal mentor or not! Informal mentoring is how we
respond to our calling to be professionals. At this point, we take the time
to recognize those who have served as formal mentors to the new employees on
our staff.”

Expounding along these lines not only implicitly recognizes that others contribute in other ways than formal mentoring, but it also states the expectation that everyone should be contributing to others in some way, and it makes that expectation more the norm every time it is expressed.


Research and Attitudes about Recognition and Incentives:

The research by Herzberg really helps us to understand what mentoring programs should consider doing that would serve as an incentive. Given his theory of “hygenic and motivational” factors we can better plan what would serve as an incentive to become a mentor, as support for mentoring, and as recognition for having served as a mentor. Those things that are “motivators” will serve as effective incentives.

1. THE MOTIVATION RESEARCH – Mentors should be provided what they need to succeed as mentors. Also, they need to perceive that they are supported in their work as mentors. That is, mentors need to feel they have what they need to do an effective job of mentoring. This is one reason we train and provide peer support groups for mentors. Mentors DESERVE that from a program if they are to succeed at doing what the program desires.

Does your program provide the things mentors need to do their job well? To NOT do these things leads to dissatisfaction, and that can lead to strong people not serving as mentors. Look to other pages on this web site under the category of incentives, recognition and support for ideas about doing this well.

2. THE MOTIVATION RESEARCHWhat motivates some folks will not motivate others. This means that whatever your program uses to attract, recruit, and recognize mentors should include some element of CHOICE.

3. INGRAINED ATTITUDES – Mentor candidates know that mentoring is not simple, nor is it easy. It will require considerable time and energy from people who may wish to contribute as a mentor, but who may not feel they want to do so right now. This is so because many of these same persons have probably served as informal “mentors” for others. If people who have served in these less formal roles have felt no one appreciated their contribution, they are likely to assume the same lack of recognition will exist in a formal
mentoring program
. They are less likely to serve in that formal mentoring program because a formal program includes expectations and accountability that an informal approach does not. “You want me to do more work for no recognition?! No thanks.”

The point is people expect more of the same of what has gone on before. This is especially true early in the life of a program when there are few or no experienced mentors in the program who can let people know that the new program DOES recognize and appreciate the extra work of mentors.