Find Mentoring Time


Some mentoring programs do not provide any released time for the mentors and proteges to collaborate, plan together or do the other work of their partnership, like observations. When this is the case it is often because there are few expectations placed on the mentoring pair. Typically these programs only expect work on orientation and friendly support of the proteges.

If there are expectations for mentoring that go beyond orientation and friendship, then the program should provide the time during the work day for the mentoring pair to interact. Organizations must understand, you will not attain the results you desire if you do not provide the time to work toward those results. For example, how can an employee’s work improve if there is no opportunity to view excellent peers at work, no time for the mentor to provide feed back on the protege’s actual performance?

Certainly there are some other ways of collecting data of protege performance (as described below) besides actual, on-the-spot observation by the protege, or of the protege by the mentor. These are critical, but the other methods are too, because they can limit the costs in productivity of protege and mentor’s being released from their work for a while. These all must be used to maximize the early learning and growth of the protege, and that increases productivity from what it is today.


These may require a financial commitment to some extent. The cost is worth it, however, because these options maximize the potential of mentoring for both the protege and mentor and MINIMIZE the disruption to work flow and productivity.

Rather than assigning a new hire to work in a position (for which they have a lot to learn to be effective), assign the new employee and mentor to one team. The two employees can coordinate their schedules and planning, sometimes jointly working, or dividing tasks based on the protege’s skills at that point. The mentor is able to provide leadership, experience and modeling all day long. The new employee can work jointly with the mentor when learning the job, strategies, etc, and can work independently when that is appropriate. Peer observation and coaching can be almost continuous and does not require one or both partners to leave the work to do it’d. There will even be times when the mentor could work with 2-4 other new employees in addition and the protege in the original team can cover the full assignment while the mentor is away with other proteges.

There are times when more than one new employee is hired, each for a different project, but both projects may be within proximity to each other. In this case a single mentor can be assigned as a third employee in both of these two projects. Team work and individual work are both possible. When one or both new employees need extended assistance, planning, or observation and coaching, the mentor is immediately and easily available to help as needed, and with little disruption.

For example, if to help one protege the mentor must leave something needing attention
right now, it may be possible for the other protege to cover for the mentor.

The mentoring of the new employee in a department or team is assigned to the whole team or department. To be sure that the needs of the protege are fully addressed, there is a “mentor of record” assigned who checks that the support of the team is effective.  The individual experienced team members discuss and volunteer for specific mentoring roles and tasks based on their strengths ,the needs of the new employee, and their availability. If the new employee establishes an especially close relationship with one or two of the team members they can assume greater roles by agreement. If released time is needed it can be easily arranged by the team covering the essential work while the new employee and one of the team observe and coach, visit a second site for observation together, or meet for long- term planning.

One mentor works one half day in the morning, the other mentor works in the afternoon, both in the same position. Joint planning at lunch ensures continuity.Each mentor is paid a full-time salary and earns it by using their “non-job” half day working as a mentor with several other new employees. This is terrific for several reasons:

  • One mentor can support and guide 5-12 proteges.
  • By flexibly scheduling help based on protege needs whenever needed, all protege needs can be met, such as by giving one hour on Tuesday afternoon to protege A, and for a different and more needy protege, all afternoon on Wednesday.
  • The intensive, day-to-day mentoring really grows the mentors’ skills quickly and the quality and impact of the mentoring becomes outstanding!
  • The mentor is available as needed, for mentor training or peer support meetings, and does so without extra hours or leaving a job undone.
  • All such mentors can be scheduled, say every friday afternoon, to meet as a mentoring team, to problem solve, receive training, plan their shared work, and learn from the experiences of each other.

All mentors are assigned to work in full-time positions. One employee with the respect of peers and cross functional skills, can be a “floating” employee with no specific day-to-day position to fill. This floating expert can be used as a substitute for any mentor who needs to get more time with a protege, or as a substitute for any protege who needs to get more time with a mentor. No disruption to work flow occurs, every protege is well supported and the learning curve is amazing.

Each mentoring pair is provided a specific number of days each year which they can use to access the substitute as they need for conferences, observation, joint staff development,
and joint planning. Two half days a month is typical and adequate. One half day a week is even more effective.

This approach can save a lot of costs but should not be over used, or used to the exclusion of actual observation of the work. The protege may set up a camera in the back or on the side of the work area, and just leave it on for the appropriate time period to capture themselves at work and in employee interactions. The tape can be viewed later by the protege, or by the mentoring pair to form the basis for their analysis of the challenges, problems to solve, protege questions, etc.

The same strategy can be reversed. The mentor at work can be captured by a video camera. The protege can watch the mentor at work, almost as if shadowing the mentor. Many tips,
time savers, and other strategies become available to the newer employee through watching such a tape. This is especially good if the mentor will be doing something that the protege has a goal to learn. The two can confer later about the tape and the mentor can help the protege pick up what was not a visible behavior (decisions, weighing options, etc.) by unpacking their thinking for the protege.

The limitations of this method are that the camera cannot zoom in on specific activities so there will be events, writing, objects, facial expressions and other things which can not be seen on the finished tape. Also, the camera can not move to follow activities. In other words the video is better for capturing static work than an activity where employees are active.  But, when it’s hard for mentors and proteges to get together, especially to do observations of each other, this is far better than doing no observations.

One Last Tip – Save the videos. later, these can be edited for especially good sequences for use during role playing in trainings. Build a library of these segments. For example:

  • Video of proteges at work can be used to train MENTORS in diagnosing protege needs, discussing mentoring options, and selecting appropriate mentor responses.
  • Video of mentors at work in their jobs, can be used in PROTEGE training as exemplars for task management, handling difficult situations, etc.

This involves re-defining what the work means. It places a time slot (45 minutes?) into the work day with an expectation that this time will be used for specified purposes, such as:

  • Working with a mentoring partner, collaborating to demonstrate a process, joint planning, observation, conferencing, problem solving, etc.
  • Considering what the mentor’s protege needs and planning the next mentoring
  • Helping a team mate with their work
  • One’s own professional development planning or activity.
  • Meeting with one peers (whether proteges or mentors). Accomplished by their jointly scheduling their plan time to coincide.
  • Mentor training for leadership development.
  • Mentor meeting with the mentor program leader to resolve mismatch or other problems, evaluate the program, etc.

Although this is not always easy to do, making common planning periods a priority means that mentors and new employees can do their work as a mentoring pair no disruption because the time for learning is expected and available daily. A great deal of mentoring
and a great deal of growth and modeling will occur during that common time.

Many organizations are finding that providing such built-in professional development time is well worth the investment because it increases retention dramatically (by demonstrating the organizations’ willingness to invest in employee growth), it accelerates
the growth of all employees,(so productivity and effectiveness increase), and it allows the organization to assert higher expectations 9because the means to attain more is provided).

While not as desirable or helpful as a common planning period, a common lunch period can allow for some mentor-protege interaction on a routine basis, and that’s good. The more opportunities the mentor and protege have to interact on a daily basis the more accelerated will be the protege’s learning and professional growth. However, common periods are only useful for some employee positions and some mentoring purposes. There are other mentoring purposes, such as observation of teaching, which still require some released time for the mentoring pair.

Today, the common work situation is continual multi-tasking, juggling many “balls” at the same time. Our lives are very filled, but we also recognize that, when we start a graduate school program, sign up for an online course, or agree to mentor someone else, “something’s got to give”. We just cannot be effective when we keep adding more and more.

Some organizations provide released time or space in employees’ lives for mentoring by reducing the work load of the protege and mentor by one typical assignment. For maximum benefit this reduced assignment should be during the same daily time period or at least be flexible to that mentor partners can get together for their joint more often

This option essentially trades reduced work for mentoring work. Usually the
option reduces the “home” work required of both the protege and mentor
during the “after the work day” time by simplifying the work assignment
of the partners. Examples include:

  • SOCIAL WORKER – Reducing the number of clients to be seen by asking others
    in the department to share a small part of that person’s case load to create
    mentoring time.
  • SALES MANAGER – Decreasing the number of “direct reports” which require supervision by selecting a more senior sales person to begin training for advancement by supervising some of the time a few of the more junior department persons who don’t also need mentoring. A second option can be arraging for a management intern from a local university to assume some of the less challenging supervision to allow the manager to do more mentoring of the more challenging or new employees.
  • EDUCATION – Changing a teacher’s schedule from 3 periods of US History, 2 periods of World History and 1 period of World Cultures, to 3 periods each of US History and World History, eliminating the extra preparation required for teaching World Cultures.

This option should also include some released time for peer observations and coaching.

This approach is one way of limiting the time that a mentor will have to spend on dealing with the problems of routinely needy students, clients, or customers. This increases the ability of the mentor to meet with the new employee and to do the mentoring more effectively.