Sweeny, B.W. (2011). Professional Development and Mentor Program Standards and Best Practice Indicators. Best Practice Resources, Wheaton, Illinois.

This author describes the following as research-based standards and best practice indicators for design, development, and evaluation of professional development and mentoring programs. Read where he substantiates that assertion.


Best for What?
When I hear someone talk or ask about “best practice”,  I am (at least in my mind) always led to ask, “Best for what?” Effectiveness is a function of attaining progress toward a goal or some standards. If something is “effective” that means that it is delivering progress toward the desired end result for which it was originally designed.

• A mentoring program which was designed solely to help new people in an organization to become oriented to that setting, and which orients new people, cam claim to be effective.

In contrast …

• A mentoring program which was designed to increase the performance of and results produced by employees, and which does increase performance and results, can also claim to be effective.

But please note- What each must do to be effective are very different from each other.

Even in a mentoring relationship, mentoring can only be deemed “effective” if it helps the prople attain their goals for mentoring. Given that different mentoring pairs can have different goals, what we call effective for one pair may not be effective for another!

Therefore, what is effective in a mentoring program depends entirely on the program’s goals.

For What are THESE Standards Effective?
The standards provided in this document are designed to guide development and refinement of mentoring programs whose goals are:
1. To improve the performance of both the protégés and mentors.
2. To increase the results produced in the work of both protégés and mentors.

If those are your goals, then you will be well served by using these program standards.

The Format for These Standards
These standards are presented in two columns and two sections.

  1. The two columns provide:
    1. The topic for the standard
    2. Several “indicators of quality” which describe the best practices needed to do the topic effectively.
  2. The two sections are:
    1. The Professional Developmental Program (within which the mentor program functions)
    2. The Mentoring Program

1. The Professional Developmental Program

This is based on the best practice that makes mentoring ONE strategy in a system of professional development, so that training and other professional growth activities, AND mentoring align with and support each other. In other words, not every professional development need is best met by mentoring. While mentoring can address any professional development goal, many such goals are met by more cost and time-effective group strategies rather than individual mentoring.

In some cases, such as K-12 education and some other professionas, such a developmental program is typically called an “induction program” since the process of induction (becoming a professional) is one that takes several years and several complementary processes. However, in strong organizations, most professional development is a career-long process.

2. The Mentoring Program – The best practices that relate to the design, conduct, evaluation, and improvement of a mentoring program.  That means that these standards do not address mentors’ practices.


PART 1 – Professional Development Program STANDARDS
INDICATORS of Best Practices Needed to Implement a Specific Program Standard
1. Program Model A. Uses a research-based developmental model as the basis for program design, evaluation, and mentoring practice.
B. Uses a working model that describes the “chain of causes and effects” that transfer growth and improvement down through all components
of the program.
C. That “chain” also could be called your “Theory of Mentoring Logic Model” and should include the developmental sequences for both proteges and mentors.
D. This “chain” is a working model that is refined through comparison with emerging research, best practices, and local program evaluation data.
2. Program Purposes & Goals A. Program Purpose is defined to show how the development and mentoring program support the Mission of the sponsoring organization.
B. Program Goals are defined as long-term ends to attain and describe what the mentoring and development programs will do to attain the Program’s Purpose.
3. Whose Needs Are Addressed? A. Both protégé and the organization’ needs (retention, etc.) are assessed and addressed.
B. Differentiated activities are provided for different levels of experience.
C. Protégés include those whose job is changing.
4. Written Program Materials A. Program materials are provided about the program in general, each stake holder’s roles and expectations, and key processes and criteria.
B. Mentors and protégés each receive a document specific to their roles which provide the knowledge base on effective practices gleaned from their more experienced peers
C. A Program Web Site provides digital versions of the written materials, as well as relevant schedules, maps, instructions, and such.
5. Protégé Orientation A. Orientation topics are priorities that address only the first 2-3 weeks and no more.
B. There is both initial and ongoing orientation to any first time experience, anytime throughout the first year
C. Orientation activities are assigned in appropriate groups or individualized by each mentor.
6. Protégé Training A. Training is required for effective work with mentor, effective work strategies, and topics which research or local experience shows are typical needs for skill development.
B. Other training is required based on number of clock hours required by all protégés, but topics are by protégé choice.
C. Protégé choice of training topics is based on mentor guidance and self-assessment against role competencies or standards.
D. Delivery of training is designed based on best practice, assessed protégé needs data, and is differentiated for level of protégés’ development on the program’s developmental model
7. Protégé Peer Support Activities A. Peer support activities mad be done in a dedicated group or as an activity added onto training or other events.
B. Peer support activities are structured, facilitated by a program leader, and differentiated by protégés’ years of experience.
C. The primary focus of peer support is inquiry into the protégé side of the mentoring experience, so as to preserve mentor-protege confidence, and, then building their knowledge base of effective protégé
and work practices.
8. Protégé Observations of Experts A. Protégés observe the practice of peer experts, including their own mentor.
B. The choice of who to observe is facilitated by the mentor.
C. The choice of what to observe for is facilitated by the mentor and includes selecting topics reflected by the protégé self-assessment and professional growth goals.
D. A one hour or more observation is scheduled at least once a quarter in both years 1 and 2.
E. The mentor will help the protégé debrief each observation to maximize attaining the desired benefits.
9. Mentoring Support, Challenge & Guidance (See second section below.)
10. Professional Development Plans A. Both protégé and mentor use professional development (PD) goals based on self-assessments against job standards.
B. The PD Goals are implemented according to an “action plan”.
C. Development of the protégé PD goals and action plan are facilitated by the mentor,
D. If the PD goals and action plans have not been previously used by the mentor, then they are phased-in with mentors first to increase awareness of their usefulness and decrease a compliance reaction.
11. Professional Development Portfolios A. Both protégé and mentor use professional development portfolios as a tool to prompt reflection, self-assessment, and professional growth.
B. The content of PD portfolios are based on the persons’ PD goals.
C. The PD portfolio includes a copy of the PD action plan, multiple types of materials and products, as well as evidence for PD activities and of professional growth over an extended time.
D. Development of the protégé PD portfolio is facilitated by the mentor.
E. Development of the mentor’s PD portfolio is facilitated by the mentor’s Mentor of Mentors.
F. If the PD portfolio has not been previously used by the mentor, then it is phased-in with mentors first to increase awareness of their usefulness and decrease a compliance reaction.
12. Reflection and Self-Assessment A. Focus is on professional growth and results.
B. The process is a cyclic model of comparing actual VS desired professional practice, identifying areas for improvement, setting goals, developing an implementation plan, and implementation.
13. Protégé Work Assignment A. Includes only developmentally appropriate challenges.
B. Is phased-in gradually over time as skills increase.
C. Is designed to maximize protégé growth and success.
14. Expectation for Protégé Time A. Expectations are clearly defined.
B. Are provided as a part of assigning each task expectation
15. Supervisors Role & Training A. All supervisors are expected to facilitate the professional development of each of their direct reports.
B. All supervisors are trained as a mentor of mentors.
16. Relationship to Other Improvement Efforts A. The development / induction and mentoring programs are defined as the first steps a coordinated sequence of professional development support and
B. The development / induction and mentoring programs and all other organizational improvement initiatives are designed to build on and integrate with each other
17. Program Funding & Support A. The development / induction and mentoring programs each have a line item in the organization’s budget.
B. The development / induction and mentoring programs also have a diverse range of other funding sources that come from a wide range of diverse settings.
C. When the program needs to test program innovations outside short-term funding is sought to support it.
D. Organizational leaders are also notified of the program experiments and the potential need for future funding, should the results of the experiment demonstrate value for both the program participants and the organization.
18. Program Evaluation A. Evaluation is both formative (ongoing) and summative (year end).
B. Evaluation is designed to answer questions that relate to the effectiveness of participants’ work and program components, as well as the program overall.
C. The evaluation is designed to collect data and reach conclusions necessary to demonstrate the value of the program to participants and the organization.
D. The focus of the evaluation is aligned to the program’s purpose and goals.
E. The evaluation examines early, midpoint, and later indicators of improvements in the program and participants’ practices.
19. Program Leadership A. Program is governed by a collaborative steering committee.
B. A program director has adequate dedicated time to plan, coordinate, lead, and evaluate activities
C. The program director proacticely uses data to advocate for the program with organization leaders and other stake holders.
D. The program director has time to mentor the mentors.
E. Program director monitors and supervises mentor pair matches
20. Sustaining Program Long-Term A. A mentoring culture exists in which all are mentoring and all are mentored
B. Capacity & leadership development are supported for all roles
C. Celebration & marketing of results are a regular routine.
D. Alignment of program goals with organization priorities generates long-term program support.
21. Collaborative Partnership – Functional partnerships are
built and maintained across:
A. All levels within the program;
B. Among the program and the organization’s departments and management;
C. Among the program and similar programs outside the organization;
D. Among all stake holder organizations in the protégé developmental continuum.

Mentoring Program STANDARDS

INDICATORS of Best Practices Needed to Implement
a Specific Program Standard
1. Mentoring For Whom? A, Mentoring roles are differentiated to match protégé prior experience and current needs.
B. Mentoring is provided for all persons at all program levels, and across all programs,.
C. Mentoring is provided whenever people undergo major transitions, need for improvement, and/or implementation challenges.
2. Mentor-Protege Configuration A. There is a primary mentor who ensures all other support elements align and complement each other to benefit the protégé.
B. Mentoring may be one-to-one or by a team.
C. The configuration is designed to align adequate support(s) with the protégé varied needs.
3. Mentoring Roles & Tasks A. Roles describe the kind of people effective mentors need to be.
B. Tasks describe what effective mentors must be able to do.
C. Mentor is provided when a protégé has little or no prior recent experience in the work.
D. A guide or buddy is provided when a protégé has a year or more prior recent experience in the work
E. A team of two mentors, or a mentor and a guide is used to address protégé needs when the work assignment cannot be effectively addressed by just one
F. Mentors and Guides are provided locally designed, prioritized checklists for early tasks and monthly task reminders thereafter.
4. Mentor Recruitment & Selection A. Recruitment activities clarify roles, tasks, and other expectations.
B. The selection process uses steps, with criteria for each step.
C. Selection is a collaborative process between the mentor candidate and the mentor program director and/or mentoring trainer, whose task it is to assess the mentor’s strengths.
D. Selection criteria are based on roles and tasks of effective mentors, and are as inclusive as possible, since effective mentors are “grown” and mentor development is provided.
5. Mentor-Protege Matching A. The goal of matching is a relationship that is likely to succeed because mentor strengths are aligned to protégé needs.
B. Matching is a collaborative process among the protégé supervisor who knows the protégé needs, the mentor’s supervisor and the mentor program director, who know the mentor’s strengths
C. Matching criteria have levels from ideal to acceptable conditions.
D. Where possible, mentors are matched using ideal criteria
E. When the ideal cannot be arranged, a more flexible system of support and protégé work conditions is adopted to still provide for protégé needs.
F. Criteria and a process are defined to assess and address mentor/protégé mismatches,
G. A mismatch check is done for all pairs about one month after mentoring is begun.
6. Mentor Training A. Mentor Training Content includes:

  • Mentor roles and tasks
  • The ideal mentor-protege relationship
  • Mentoring styles
  • Effective mentoring strategies
  • The mentoring process
  • Local program expectations
B. The Mentor Training Process is:

  • Provided initially, prior to beginning mentoring.
  • Ongoing, designed to address mentors’ developing needs
  • Differentiated for mentors with prior mentoring experience
  • Led by an experience mentor trainer, assisted by experienced mentors;
  • Designed to model and teach the mentoring process;
  • Designed to be engaging and to develop mentoring skills most mentors do not already have.
  • Used to observe and assess candidates’ willingness to engage in tasks of effective mentors;
  • Ended if candidates choose to exit, or are counseled to exit when they are observed to be disengaged.
  • Ended for successful candidates with setting of mentor growth goals based on mentor self-assessment against the ideal tasks, mentoring style, and ability to do effective mentoring strategies. plus a mentoring improvement plan.
  • Concluded by sharing a copy of the mentor’s goals and plan with the mentoring program. These are used to make the final selection
    and matching decisions.
7. Mentor-Protege Relationship A. Is defined as an ideal toward which to work;
B. Is characterized by:

  • Mutual support for learning;
  • Developing trust, using confidentiality, at least at first;
  • Authentic and sincere;
  • Positive and encouraging interactions;
  • Mentor facilitation of protégé self-assessment
  • A mentor who is descriptive and non-evaluative;
  • Decisions which are data-based as much as possible.
  • Designed to follow action research approaches.
8. Mentor-Protege Communication is: A. Frequent, especially at the start and during times the protégé is struggling;
B. Both face-to-face and technology-based;
C. Confidential, especially early in the relationship when trust may be low;
D. A demonstration of active listening.
9. The Mentoring Process includes three frameworks: A. For the LENGTH OF THE RE;ATIIONSHIP – Includes stages defining how mentors adjust their mentoring to accommodate protégé long-term
B. For each TOPIC of protrgr learning:

  1. Based on a research-based staged model of learning and development;
  2. Essentially one of the mentor using the developmental model to:
    1. Assess the protégé level of development;
    2. Understand the protégé probable needs at that level;
    3. Ask questions to refine the assessment and check appropriateness;
    4. Design mentoring responses to address protégé needs and facilitate protégé growth in the topic.
C . For each PAIR MEETING, including:

  1. Mentor asking questions to assess protégé actions and growth since the last meeting;
  2. Mentor opportunity for reflection on past meeting(s) and observations about protégé actions and growth.
  3. Pair setting of meeting objective(s) or refinement of prior meeting objective(s)
  4. Pair discussion of progress in topical (B) learning and use of the topical process (B):
  5. Planning of mentor and protégé next steps.
10. Coaching for Skill Development A. Coaching builds on the progress and needs defined in the mentoring process;
B. Utilizes an effective mentoring relationship.
C. Is designed to support protégé skill development per
professional growth goals;
D. Uses facilitative strategies to remain targeted on the protégé goals, and to be based on protégé reflection and self-assessment of actual VS desired practice:
E. The mentor uses the following sequence to coach the protege:

  1. preobservation definition of the proteges focud for lesrning and defining data the protege will value for helping his/her learning
  2. observation:
  3. data collection and data displays arranged to reveal patterns;
  4. questions to get the protégé to seek and understand data patterns that suggest a need for improvement:
  5. questions to guide the protégé to set goals and commit to their own improvement.
11. Mentor – Program Communication A. The goals of this are to:

  • Structure mentors’ reflection on their own mentoring practice
  • Inform program leaders how they may best mentor the mentor;
B. The program provides a variety of communication options, such as;

  • E-mail, etc.
  • Face-to-face meetings
  • Phone calls
  • Dialogue journals
C. The specific methods and the frequency for use of each method are negotiated to balance mentor preferences and program monitoring needs and feasibility issues;
D. Discussions mirror the mentoring process and are focused on mentor growth and improvement goals and plans.
12. Mentor Peer Support Activities A. All mentors, whether matched or not, participate in mentor peer support activities
B. These activities meet about once a quarter.
C. These may be a separate group or activities that are integrated with other mentor training or meetings.
D. The activities are facilitated by the mentor program director.
E. The peer support activity’s goal is use of peer knowledge and experience to increase the learning and effectiveness of all other mentors.
F. The activities are structured, facilitated conversations which are focused on leader or mentor selected questions designed to target learning in areas known to be of need.
G. The activities respect protégé=mentor confidentiality
by accessing on the mentor’s side of that experience.
13. Expectation For Mentor Time A. Expectations for mentor use and amount of time are clearly defined both early in recruiting and at later times.
B. Mentor time expectations are, provided for each of the typical mentoring tasks.
C. Mentors keep and submit a monthly mentoring “Time and Activity Log”.
D. The mentoring “Time and Activity Log” functions and is described to mentors as enabling the mentor program to assess the adequacy of time provided for mentoring by the organization and program relative
to the tasks mentors are expected to do.
E. The time provided by the organization for mentoring is adjusted to match the mentor’s work expectations if the data collected indicates mentoring cannot be as effective as needed with the currently provided time.
14. Relationships with Non Participants A. Non participants are not expected to understand all that mentoring means nor all that is desired as a result of mentoring. Therefore non participants may say things which demonstrate this lack of understanding, things which could be hurtful to participants.
B. Supervisors at all levels routinely educate people by expressing the value to persons and the organization that mentoring provides.
C. Informal mentoring by everyone is valued and encouraged.
D. Mentors and protégés are trained to understand the cultural changes that mentoring causes and the resulting lack of understanding which non participants may express.
E. Mentors and protégés are provided with positive strategies for response to negative non participant statements or behaviors.
15. Incentives and Recognition A. A diverse mix of incentives are offered before mentoring to encourage people to serve as mentors. These may include released time to do mentoring,
stipends, etc.
B. A diverse mix of recognition for mentoring are provided during and after mentoring. These allow flexible choices to fit individual mentor interests,
and should include tangibles, such as certificates, recognition events, and symbolic items, and intangibles, such as direct, individual and group activities where thanks are expressed by significant persons.
C. Orientation, training , peer support activities, and mentoring of mentors are described to mentors as support that mentors “deserve”, not “need”, so mentors’ attitudes are that these required activities are to help and not a compliance issue.
D. A balanced mix of incentives, support, and recognition are provided.
E. The goal of this is to ensure both that mentors have what they need to do what is expected of them, and that mentors feel appreciated for what they contribute and the sacrifices necessary to make that contribution.
16. Assessing Mentors & Protégés A. Assessment of mentors and protégés done within the mentoring program is not summative, nor for purposes of job evaluation
B. Such assessments are designed to be received as positive, non-evaluative, formative, and supportive.
C. Participants perceive assessments as supportive of their individual desire to be the best they can be.
D. Assessments are primarily peer and/or self- assessments and are based on actual knowledge and skill behaviors versus the prestated desired practices