© 1999, Barry Sweeny


The following was written to a person who had requested advice for the content of a presentation to decisionmakers in his organization. His purpose was to explain the value of and need for a mentoring program. He had expressed his own ideas about what to say, which included the usual ideas about the needs of new employees for support and guidance, and the stress and discouragement that many of them feel during their first few years in the profession. Here are some additional suggestions from the author.


By the way, good luck with your presentation to the “bosses”. next week.  I agree that they should know and understand the plight of beginning employees. Most decisionmakers will have no way of understanding what a challenge it is that new employees face and the effects of that struggle on a whole careerg. Here are some of the conclusions we have reached from research and our own experience that will help them see the dreadful impact of having no support program and the potential for good that a quality mentoring program can have.

In case you have not thought to do so, I recommend giving them some additional items beyond what your email stated. These items are offered in consideration of the make up and background of many decision makers, and what they feel to be their responsibilities. They often perceive themselves as the guardians of the budget and know that they are expected to keep the budget “within reason”. This means that they must be shown and must understand the non educational reasons for a mentoring program. Here are my ideas.

1. Two Estimates of Costs:

Do not present your program without giving them a clear picture of the potential costs for the program. Describe what you believe to be an effective program and what providing such a program will require in terms of time and costs. That means you must do some considerable work to develop credible figures that you will have to live with for a long time (three years?). I suggest that you offer them two estimates of costs.

A. Cost of the program given the number of new employees you project will be involved in the program when it starts.

B. Cost of the program for another number, say twice as many. Place this cost in a chart that allows comparison to the first cost (A above).

This is very important because it will illustrate that costs do not double when services double. For example, the costs for the whole group portions of any orientation meetings (or other meetings) remain the same whether 10 or 50 attend. Of course this is not the case for food and materials, etc. and there will be increased stipends to cover an increase in the number of any break out session leaders needed. There is, however, some economy of scale and they should understand this or they may place unreasonable limits on the program.

2. Estimates of Return on Investment (ROI):

There are a number of ways to illustrate that there are many hidden costs already in the current budget which are the current costs of NOT providing support to new employees. You want them to realize that if a mentoring program costs more (it does) but it can save the organization money which was an existing and hidden cost, the program will be perceived as more “cost effective” and “worth it”. Here are some things to consider that
can help you demonstrate this effect:

A. Employee Retention

  • What number of new employees are not retained in the system currently?
  • What number of veterans leave the organization or, at least, lose their enthusiasm for their work and could benefit from a new challenge and focus on a conversation about excellence?

The power of mentoring programs to improve the ability to attract the best new candidates and to dramatically increase their retention is very well documented. Increased attraction is critical because:

  • It increases the quality of the pool of applicants
  • It increases the number of applicants from which they can select
  • It creates the high expectation that if you are selected for a position that you are an exceptional person. That establishes the norm for expecting exceptional work.
  • It establishes the norm (even before hiring) that this organization expects and supports collaborative action to improve performance and the desired results.

B. What is the cost to the organization when a new employee leaves or is not rehired?

  • What is your organization’s costs for new employee recruitment, especially for recruiting the kind of diverse staff a great organization wants?
  • What is your organization’s costs for new employee orientation and training during the first year or two?
  • What is your organization’s costs in productivity and results during the year or two that a new employee is learning to teach?
  • What is your organization’s costs in productivity and results when a new employee leaves with what they have learned from trial and error, and a different new employee is hired without that hard won experience and starts over at the beginning again.
  • What is your organization’s costs for the loss of work flow when new employees leave or are not rehired because they are not as successful as required?
  • What is your organization’s costs for manager time spent orienting, evaluating, coaching, developing, and supporting new employees who are not retained?

C. What is the cost, even when employees stay in the organization, but when struggling novice employees must focus more on their own needs, than those of the clients or customers, and their own day-to-day survival because they have little support, assistance, and guidance toward more effective practice. The fact is, struggling, unsupported employees adopt coping strategies that often are less effective practices, and those practices will tend to persist throughout a career. This tragic effect is well documented and the cost is immeasurable

D. What is the cost to the organization of veteran employees who need renewal and new ways to contribute to the needs of their colleagues and the goals of the organization, but who have no appropriate avenue for that?

E. What is the cost to the organization when excellent, gifted
employees seek to make a greater impact
and find the only role choice is to leave the work forceand become a manager. Such employees need the opportunity to serve as employee leaders and service as a mentor is just what the doctor ordered. When such options do not exist the resources and potential employee leadership that is lost is immeasurable.

3. Claims of Other Benefits:

A. If mentoring is defined to do so, and mentors are prepared so they can do so, can increase the collaboration and professionalism of employees and positively impact the climate and working environment. What is the value of such a work environment?

B. Mentoring and coaching model for others the importance of being life-long learners. What is the value gained when others see that everyone must keep learning?

C. Mentoring establishes the norm and expectation in the minds of new employees that career-long professional growth is an expected part of the work. What is the value gained when employees work every day at getting better?

D. Mentoring increases the opportunities for positive leadership by employees. What is the value gained when the organization can demonstrate it’s support for employee empowerment in positive directions that contribute to organization agendas.

E. Mentoring is a perfect means of incorporating new staff into the culture and traditions of the organization. What is the value of ensuring that new staff are brought into, adopt, and contribute to the initiatives of the organization (strategic plan, goals, etc.)

Many of these “costs” are almost impossible to measure or to describe, but I do recommend that you try to do as much as you can to market the mentoring program in terms of “Return on Investment” with all levels of specific and general benefits included. Try to provide a list of valued benefits and results that are reasonable to expect from a mentoring program.

4. Check the wording of the purposes or goals for the mentoring program to be sure they are aligned with the benefits concepts you are presenting. In other words, ensure that it is clear in the program purposes:

  • What the desired results of the program are
  • What the program can contribute to the organization
  • What costs the program can save for the organization
  • What quality of programming is needed to capture the expected benefits
  • What is likely to happen without the described mentoring program
  • What, regarding each of those purposes, you expect to accomplish in the first three years of the mentoring program.

(The next section explains why this last item is so critical to getting approval for your program.)

5. Finally, propose a program evaluation process over at least three years which will be perceived as rigorous and which is designed to demonstrate the extent to which the program purposes can be accomplished in those three years.

You goal is to be perceived as:

  • Convinced of the efficacy of the mentoring program and the ability of an effective program to deliver on valued purposes.
  • Willing to be held accountable for demonstrating the effectiveness of your mentoring program
  • Expectant that business persons who must make a profit and run efficient and effective programs will understand the value of a proactive, cost-effective program that targets improved performance and results.

Of course, agreeing to be held publicly accountable for being a good steward of precious organization resources and accomplishing valued purposes is a frightening commitment. That is why the last item in #4 above is so crucial.  Be realistic.

Author’s Notes

1. While the research cited is in the new teacher context and educationally based organizations, this author recommends confident use of the conclusions as a guide for program design, evaluation, and mentoring practice in ALL SETTINGS, even those outside of education, such as business, health care, etc. The author has over 23 years of experience in applying and evaluating the validity of these findings in all such settings and has found they are universal. People deserve and benefit from peer support that is well designed and facilitated by thoughtful leaders.

2. for the challenging task we expect of them. DO NOT commit to accomplishing valuable things for employees and their students without the resources and tools that will be needed to do the work well. You will not gain that level of support later if you demonstrate in the earlier years that your program can do a good job without adequate training, support, and time.