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<i>Dear Workforce</i> How Can I Develop Mentoring for a Dot-com

May 6, 2001
QDear Workforce:

How can I develop a mentoring program for a dot-com environment?

- Former HR executive, "dot-com" industry, London, England

A Dear Ex-exec:

Looking at an unstable market ahead, start-ups and surviving dot-comsunderstand that continued success will be, in part, predicated on their abilityto build an intellectually agile workforce -- employees who can contribute tothe growth of the organization beyond their expected roles. With a largelyyoung, technically trained workforce, however, the challenge truly lies indeveloping employees to the point where they have the experience and confidenceto contribute to the business on a larger scale and in more varied areas.Mentoring has long been a proven tool to accomplish all of the above.

As executives consider a mentoring program, a few basic but critical stepsare necessary to ensure corporate objectives are met -- in addition to that ofthe human resources of other department. Once a team of program advisors isappointed (typically HR, or executive team members) they should establish theinitiative's parameters. Some considerations are:

  • Conduct audits of existing experience, skills and capabilities that areavailable, and of existing processes (360-degree feedback model,cross-functional team play).

  • Link organizational goals to the mentoring program -- for examplecurtailing attrition, creating a foundation for succession planning, honingskills-transfer processes.

  • Identify and elicit feedback from the most appropriate pool of mentors andstudents on their willingness to participate and how they envision the programsupporting organizational goals.

  • Devise rules that govern the program, including required tenure forparticipation, current level of mentors, current status of students, etc.

  • Develop a strategic plan for positioning the program inside company and asa recruitment tool outside the company.

Once the initial framework is established, the process of recruiting a poolof students can begin. As a demographic, candidates should be experiencedperformers who have consistently demonstrated a professional focus on growth anddevelopment. To benefit from the mentoring experience, students should beselected from a consistent level and responsibility within the organization, forexample:

  • Middle managers

  • High-potential managers who are capable, ready and willing to advanceseveral levels

  • Succession candidates

  • Employees seeking a career transition

  • Experienced new employees looking to broaden their skills.

For the student-mentor relationship to be fruitful, the mentor or coach musthave the experiences, at minimum, to provide a broader perspective of thebusiness. If the mentor does not have the proper qualifications, therelationship will lack mutual respect, commitment and trust -- the keyingredients to effective tutoring and, ultimately, performance- andleadership-building processes.

After the mentor and student candidates have been selected, a formalinterview process will uncover characteristics and other information that willallow program administrators to make effective mentor/student matches. Inaddition to reviewing resumes, some simple probing questions are as follows.

  • Tell me a little about yourself that I wouldn't learn from your resume(interests, hobbies, etc)?

  • What are two important professional values to you?

  • What are your short- and long-term career goals?

  • What barriers do you see inhibiting those goals?

  • What are your expectations in a mentor?

  • What do you see as the benefit of participating in this program?

  • How will this benefit your workgroup, colleagues and the company?

  • What are your expectations of the program?

  • Provide an example of a challenging work situation that you were able towork through and the end result.

  • Provide an example of a challenging work scenario you were involved withwhere the outcome was not successful.

  • What could you have done to create a positive result?

In addition to HR consultancies and local industry associations, civicorganizations like chambers of commerce offer career mentoring programs andtutorials. And for specific skills mentoring, like public speaking, Toastmastersoffers local support and flexible meeting places where employees can mentor eachother.

The results of mentoring programs are measured through individual careerdevelopment and organizational improvement. And, central to organizationalsuccess, mentoring initiatives help develop intellectual agility -- transferableand expandable skills -- that can be measured in terms of an organization'sbottom line.

SOURCE: Mike Parker, Benchmark HRSolutions, Salem, N.H., Feb. 13, 2001.

LEARN MORE: More articles on employee career development.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide usefulinformation on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice ora legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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