What’s the Difference? Roles & Tasks

Typically, a mentor program or a training will use a handout as a guide for mentors called, “Characteristics of Effective Mentors”, or something similar. We’ve “been there and done that”. Now, we consider such a listing as a “good start”, not a finished product. Why?

When we have done mentor program evaluations or just observed mentors at work, we find it difficult to use  “characteristics” as a standard against which to compare mentors’ behaviors. We realized right away that some things on a “characteristics” list are very hard to assess or even see. We have to use behaviors because those are observable, and some other mentoring qualities are not. For example, it’s hard to imagine what it looks like when a mentor “analyzes protege needs” or “designs mentoring interventions to address protege needs”. Those are critical thinking processes, but they are not observable, so they cannot be evaluated.

When we realized this issue, we separated those ‘characteristics” into two lists.

TASKS – are observable and we placed them on a list we titled “Tasks of Effective Mentors”.

  • Tasks are a great focus for designing a mentor job description.
  • Tasks are a great focus for mentor self-assessment.
  • The results of Task Self-Assessments are great for designing the focus of mentor training.
    • What they know and can do we should affirm, but not train them (to do what they already cam do).
    • What their assessment says needs improvement should be the basis for training design and follow up support.
  • Tasks are great tools for observing and assessing mentors.
  • Tasks are critical for designing program evaluations.
    • If mentors can do critical tasks, then we need to investigate if the expected results are there in protege knowledge or performance.
    • If protege knowledge or performance are not where we want them to be, we need to check if mentors are training, and supporting, and giving them feed back to build the desired skills. If not, we need to look back at the effectiveness of the mentor training.

ROLES – What items remain on the list of “characteristics” and which are not observable we have placed on a list we have titled “The Roles of Effective Mentors”.

  • Mentor Roles are great for recruiting and selecting mentors.
  • The roles include things like the “Boy or Girl Scout Pledge” – Helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, cheerful, etc.
  • The roles are not observable so to use them as a basis for recruitment and selection, we need a couple of methods to assess them.
    • 1. A mentor candidate self-assessment which is headed with a statement such as, “These roles describe what an effective mentor is like, the kind of person effective mentors are. If you are a person who is typically like most of these qualities, you will probable be a good mentor and will probably enjoy it too!  However, if these are not qualities which would typically describe you, it’s very likely that you may struggle some to be effective as a mentor, and that you may not enjoy being a mentor. In this last case, we’d like to thanks you for considering being a mentor, but we’d also ask you to consider carefully if it is what you should do. Thanks for your interest and for caring about our mentees.  🙂 ”  This allows poor candidates to exclude themselves rather than requiring you to excuse them or ask them to stop mentoring.
    • 2. Require mentor candidates to submit a ‘blind” peer or supervisor’s comments page with the roles of effective mentors. By “blind” we mean the mentor would give it to whomever they want, but that person would return it to you, not the candidate. The comment page should have a similar statement on the top like given above, except that we are telling the peer or supervisor, “this is what it takes, please let us know your feelings about whether the candidate is typically like these roles describe”.

To summarize:

  • A ROLE is what kind of person a mentor is.
  • A TASK is what an effective mentor can DO.