Mentoring New Technical Employees

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Mentoring New Technical Employees

by Brady Hicks

Docid: 00011556

Publication Date: 2007

Report Type: TUTORIAL


A formal technical mentorship program is designed to help new employees –
who tend to be highly skilled in certain areas – adapt to the intricacies
and customized needs of a new role within an organization. This transition
can include, but is not restricted to, those joining a new company,
transitioning from academia to business, switching to management, or selecting
and pursuing personal and career goals. A mentoring program for technical
employees can offer numerous benefits for not just the protege, but the mentor and the
organization as well, including shorter assimilation and learning curves, increased
career satisfaction and retention, preservation of accumulated knowledge and
wisdom, and improved communication and collaboration among departments. This
tutorial examines some of the major considerations in instituting a
mentorship program.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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As technical employees are often highly trained in their fields, most
employers assume that they are fully prepared to function productively in
their new roles. This is, however, not always the case.

Managing Group Dynamics
Basic Communication Skills for
Technical Managers

Most often, technical employees can benefit from some form of guidance in
transitioning from:

  • Academia to business.
  • One company to another.
  • Technical to managerial roles.
  • Personal and career-related goals.

What is Mentorship?

Traditionally, the term "mentoring" refers to the task of helping employees
with orientation,
assimilation, and development. A mentorship is a form of apprenticeship in which a novice is paired with a more
experienced worker who acts as a role model, sponsor, challenger, and guide.
The mentor and the protege form a relationship that is independent of
the corporate hierarchy.

Many forms of mentoring take
place informally, with no specific training or support, and with vague – if
any – goals,
roles, and timelines. To ensure a more consistent and broad-based
approach, many firms tend to implement a formal mentoring program that focuses

  • Clear goals and measures that establish a focus.
  • Steps to connect employee development with strategic business needs.
  • Facilitated matching between
    protege and mentor.
  • Training and support for protege and mentor regarding their roles within the mentoring program.
  • Definite timetables – usually lasting 6-12 months – followed by informal
    contact, as needed.


Mentoring programs offer numerous benefits for the
protege, the mentor, and the organization, as detailed in Table 1.

Table 1.
Mentoring Program Benefits
Protege Professional Organization
  • Assimilation to company culture
  • Shorter learning curve
  • Professional and personal development
  • Career satisfaction and loyalty
  • Networking and cooperation across departments
  • Professional and personal development
  • Recruitment and retention of valuable employees
  • Networking and cooperation across departments
  • Assimilation to company culture
  • Recruitment and retention of valuable employees
  • Preservation of accumulated knowledge and wisdom
  • Networking and cooperation across departments

It should also be noted that most mentoring is done as a one-to-one
relationship between a mentor and protege. A team-based approach, however, can
also provide improved accessibility for the protege, lighten the
burden on each mentor, and provide a more broadened experience for the protege,
who, in turn, benefits from relationships with several mentors
in various roles and disciplines.


Help design, implement, and manage a mentoring program

  • Informational Web sites
  • Articles
  • Books
  • Case studies
  • Conferences
  • Seminars
  • Training
  • Consulting services
  • Software to facilitate, manage, and match mentoring pairs

Chain-of-Command Independence
Ensure honesty and objectivity
regarding protege situations and plans

  • Mentor independence of protege’s
    chain-of-command with no direct, working relationship
  • Mentor having no more than 1-2 levels senior to protege
  • Mentor having the ability to perceive,
    understand, and accept protege experience
  • Mentor possessing the protege’s needed skills or knowledge of to whom to
    point the protege
  • Protege chosen based on future growth
    potential, not just current task performance

Levels of Commitment
Willingness and ability to commit
extra time and effort

  • Strictly volunteer basis
  • Enthusiastic embracement
  • Commitment to the relationship, and
    making its meetings a priority
  • Availability outside of scheduled
    meetings by at least telephone and e-mail

Post-Mentorship Evaluation
Effectiveness monitoring of a mentoring program

  • Conducted after several months
  • Consideration of mentorship effects on protege, mentor, and organization
  • Tying evaluation back to the program’s original objectives


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Generally speaking, a mentoring program provides a form of apprenticeship in which a novice is paired with a
more experienced worker who acts as a role model, sponsor, challenger, and
guide. A
successful mentor-protege relationship is characterized by

  • Frequent communication and collaboration
  • Open sharing of organizational
    and technical knowledge
  • Improved protege motivation, performance, innovation, and leadership
    development in the protege

Formal Mentorship

Many firms implement a
facilitated mentoring program to ensure a more consistent and broad-based
approach. Formal mentoring provides a
structured approach that includes the following components:

  • Clear goals and measures,
    both long- and short-term, that establish a focus for the program and
    connect the employee’s development with strategic business needs.
  • A facilitated matching
    process between the protege and a peer or more senior
    manager not in the protege’s chain of command.
  • Specific training and support
    for the protege and mentor regarding their roles and
    responsibilities within the mentoring program.
  • A definite timetable, with a
    formal stage lasting perhaps 6-12 months, followed by informal contact
    as needed and desired.

Informal Mentorship

Many forms of mentoring take place informally,
either under the radar or developing out of a friendship through idea sharing. With informal mentoring, there is usually no specific
training or support for either party, and the process is likely to unfold
without clearly specified goals, roles, or timelines.

What Mentorship Entails

Table 2 looks at what mentorship is (versus what it is not).

Table 2.
What Is / Is Not Mentorship
Mentorship IS: Mentorship IS NOT:
  • Support for orientation, assimilation, transition, and development
  • A method to acquire new technical skills that apply to a particular
  • Support for on-the-job training or promotions
  • A way to adjust to responsibilities and expectations
  • Support for fitting into a workplace culture
  • Support for meeting personal and career-related goals
  • Supervision
  • Training
  • Coaching


Mentoring programs offer
numerous benefits, not only for the protege, but also for the mentor and the

Assimilation. A mentor can help a new employee
learn and more quickly adapt to a company’s unspoken rules, improving the
employee’s ability to operate successfully within the company’s culture. The
mentor can also refer the protege to other sources of
information within the company, concerning personnel policies and benefits.

Skills Development. Mentoring speeds and enhances
learning, so a new employee is more quickly performing up to potential and
contributing value. The shorter learning curve benefits both the
protege and the company. Mentoring is especially effective in
helping engineers and other technical people improve their non-technical
skills, which are increasingly needed as teams become more interdisciplinary.
When combined with a training program, mentoring can serve to translate classroom knowledge into practical experience.

Individual Development. Both the
and the mentor become more valuable to the company through the
process. A mentor can provide guidance, modeling, and feedback to
support the protege’s professional and personal development beyond the
skills needed for his or her current position. The protege is
helped to identify areas of weakness, perhaps in communication,
relations, change management, or leadership, and then meets with the
to make a concrete plan to address them. The mentoring relationship
promotes the mentor’s development in numerous areas, including
skills, goal-setting, and objectively recognizing needs, deficiencies,
achievements, and contributions in both self and others. In addition,
association with the protege can expose the mentor to new
methods and ideas that have changed from when the mentor’s career was

Career Satisfaction and Loyalty. A mentor can help with career
guidance by matching the protege’s interests and goals with the
company’s needs, and helping the protege clearly define and
achieve goals that will contribute to the protege’s career
objectives. The mentor may also act as a sponsor and advocate for the protege for a particular position. Through this process, the
employee sees that the company considers his or her growth and development to
be a strategic business goal and worthwhile investment, leading to greater
career satisfaction for the employee, as well as loyalty to the company.
Similarly, the mentor’s career satisfaction and loyalty are enhanced as the
mentor experiences increased responsibility and influence, as well as
affirmation of his or her value to the company.

Recruitment and Retention. Recruitment and training are
expensive. Some estimate that it costs 150 percent of an employee’s salary to
replace him or her, and that employee turnover can cost up to 40 percent of a
company’s profits. Other costs are in the negative effects high turnover has
on the corporate culture and employee satisfaction. A mentoring program is
likely to significantly improve retention of high-performing employees.

Preserving Institutional Knowledge. Much of the accumulated knowledge
and wisdom in a company’s senior staff would be difficult to capture on paper,
as it is based largely on practical experience and responses to situations.
Mentoring allows a company to retain this asset by passing it on to
apprentices in the next generation.

Networking. A mentor can open internal doors for a
protege, providing introductions
to other departments and projects as well as to influential senior managers.
Conversely, through association with the protege’s area within
the company, the mentor develops connections and knowledge outside his or her
own department. Both the protege and the mentor thus become
more rounded and more valuable to the company. And by encouraging cooperation
and bridge-building among departments, mentoring helps to break down the
isolated “silo” mentality that often develops within a company.

Social Support. An important function of a mentor
is to serve as a confidential, supportive sounding board to provide feedback
to the protege regarding critical decisions, frustrations,
concerns, and successes, as well as emotional support in emergencies or stressful
times. Through this process, the protege gains self-confidence
and an increasing ability to manage situations on his or her own, while the
mentor gains the satisfaction of making a positive contribution to someone’s
development. The personal contact inherent in a mentoring relationship is a
benefit to both mentor and protege. Often a deep and enduring
friendship develops between the two.


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There are a number of considerations in implementing a modern mentorship
program, as listed in Table 3.

Table 3. Considerations
Consideration Description
Objectives The first step in
implementing a mentoring program is to clearly identify its objectives, which
should relate to the strategic goals of the company. If mentoring is begun
based only on a general expectation of benefits or a vague sense that it will
be a good thing, neither the protege nor the mentor can know
what is expected of him or her, and the program is less likely to provide
business benefits. When defining objectives, some companies implement
parallel programs and let participants choose between technical and
managerial tracks rather than forcing all technical people to develop
managerial skills.

The potential benefits of
effective mentoring relationships are quite numerous. To provide adequate
focus, a company should choose and pursue only one to three objectives for
its program. It is also important to decide in advance what results will
indicate the program is successful, establishing clear metrics to measure
whether the goals have been reached and whether the mentoring program should
continue (with or without modification).

Group vs. One-to-One Most mentoring is a
one-to-one relationship between a mentor and a protege.
However, there can be advantages to a team-based approach. A team of mentors
can provide better accessibility for the protege, since the
protege can always contact one mentor even if another is
unavailable. It also lightens the burden on each mentor by spreading the load
across a team. A team might include a representative from Human Resources,
for example, to ensure alignment between individual development and corporate
goals, create developmental activities, and provide overall management of the
program. An outside consultant could also be involved to administer and
interpret psychological and aptitude tests, and to match individuals with
different kinds of work based on their strengths and needs. Most importantly,
the team approach can provide a more broadening experience for the
protege, who benefits from relationships with several mentors
in various roles and disciplines.
Qualifications The attributes required
in a mentor depend on the objectives of the particular mentoring
program. For
example, to help with assimilation, a mentor must know the company’s
and unwritten rules for how things are done. To help a protege with
networking, a mentor must be politically aware, understand the power
relationships within the company, and have both influencing skills and
a wide
network of contacts. To help with technical skills, the mentor must
either be
an expert in the relevant technical field, or know how to point the
protege toward someone who is. Regardless of the program’s
objectives, the mentor should be a supportive, accepting listener;
the protege as an individual; and give the
protege full attention during each meeting. Of course, honesty,
integrity, and confidentiality are essential.

To ensure objectivity
regarding the protege’s situation and plans, it is important
that the mentor be independent of the protege’s chain of
command and that the two not have a direct working relationship that might
make it difficult for the mentor to be impartial. It is easier to foster
trust when there is no question of the mentor having a conflicting purpose or
agenda. In addition, it is generally preferable for the mentor to be no more
than one or two levels senior to the protege, because a mentor
who is closer to the protege’s career stage will find it easier to
relate to the protege’s position and provide helpful guidance.
There is also then less risk of the protege becoming overly
dependent on the mentor.

Many companies invite all salaried employees to apply to their mentorship
programs, but accept only a limited number. Proteges should be chosen based
on their potential and desire for future growth, not just their performance
at current tasks. Also, companies should consider the implications of
rejecting a mentoring candidate. Such rejection may be interpreted by the
applicant as a reflection on his or her potential, and compromise the
applicant’s performance. If necessary, expand the mentoring program to avoid
the elimination of qualified candidates.

Perhaps the most
important attribute for both mentors and proteges is the
willingness and ability to commit extra time and effort to the program, on
top of current responsibilities. Both roles should be taken strictly on a
volunteer basis, to ensure enthusiastic rather than reluctant participation.
Both parties must be committed to the mentor relationship and make its
meetings a priority. Many proteges complain that a potentially
successful situation was side-railed by the mentor
failing to follow through and keep appointments. It is also important for
both to be available outside of scheduled meetings, at least by telephone and

Matching Not every mentor and
protege will be a good match. The mentor need not be similar in
all respects to the protege – or else no learning would
occur – but he or she must be able to perceive, understand, and accept
the protege’s experience, and have the skills and knowledge the protege needs to develop. In some programs communication style
is also used to match mentors and proteges.

A mentor serves as a role
model and therefore should be in a position similar to that of the
protege: Developers mentor developers, managers mentor
managers, and so on. Although it is not ideal, it can even work if the mentor
is not in the same geographic location as the protege, but
provides guidance and support over the phone. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to
a successful mentoring relationship is lack of availability and difficulty
scheduling meetings. If feasible, it is a good idea to check for
compatibility of schedules when matching mentors and proteges.
Mentoring skills can be trained if a potential mentor is a fit in other

It is generally
considered best to allow the protege to choose his or her
mentor, or at least to have a part in the choice, instead of following a
top-down approach in which management assigns each protege a mentor.

Meetings At the first meeting, the
mentor and protege should jointly discuss their expectations
for the mentoring relationship, including the following:

  • How often to meet, the length
    of each meeting, and where to meet (if not already established by the
    mentoring program). It is essential for there to be face-to-face
    meetings, or at least phone calls, rather than only written
  • How long the mentoring
    relationship should continue (if not already established by the
    mentoring program). Most programs extend for six months to a year. A
    more intensive program might last three months but have more frequent
    meetings. After the formal program concludes, the protege
    is encouraged to call the mentor as needed for advice regarding any
    issues that come up.
  • Confidentiality. Both mentor
    and protege must commit to treating their discussions as
    confidential. To avoid later misunderstandings, both should make
    explicit what information is considered private.
  • The procedure for ending the
    mentoring relationship if either party does not want to continue.

To get the most out of
each meeting, both mentor and protege should create an agenda
in advance of the meeting by writing down a few topics or goals to be
achieved and ranking them in importance. At the end of the meeting, they can
review whether the goals were met and set an agenda for the next meeting.
These goals should tie directly into the strategic objectives of the overall
mentoring program. Some programs provide mentors and proteges
with checklists and worksheets so they can check off skills and topics as
they are covered, and ensure that the program remains on track and
productive. Activities and topics that might be covered during the meetings
include the following:

  • The mentor’s past projects,
    responsibilities, and relevant professional experiences, addressing both
    technical and political aspects.
  • The protege’s
    resume, professional registration, and career progress.
  • Resources, professional
    organizations, and benefits available.
  • New position listings.
  • Practical advice and
    suggestions regarding how the protege addressed past
    issues, and how to handle current business issues. Guidance that helped
    the mentor in the past in a similar situation.
  • What the
    protege is learning in training.
  • Management styles, goal
    setting, conflict resolution, time management, and reacting to a
  • Learning activities and
    projects, including coaching, role play, simulation, brainstorming,
    structured lessons, homework, and personality/aptitude testing.
  • Group discussions with several proteges and one mentor, or several mentors and
  • Going for a walk together.
  • Attending an event or touring
    a business.
  • Whether both mentor and
    protege are getting what they need from the mentoring
    program, and any needed modifications.
Evaluation and Feedback After the mentoring
program has been operating for several months, its success in meeting the
needs of the protege, mentor, and organization should be

  • Do proteges
    think mentors are helping them build skills, capabilities, and insights
    that make them more effective in their roles?
  • Is the program enabling
    employees to meet developmental goals and achieve program goals and
  • Do proteges
    show improvement in performance ratings?
  • Are proteges
    advancing to greater responsibility?
  • Is retention better for those
    who are mentored?
  • What is the number of
    mentoring relationships at the company?
  • How many employees are
    waiting for a mentor to become available?


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Various resources are
available to help a company design, implement, and manage a mentoring
program, including informational Web sites, articles, books, case studies,
conferences, seminars, training, and consulting. Software is available that
can help facilitate group or one-to-one mentoring, managed or self-directed
mentoring, matching between mentors and proteges, and
reporting. Below are several organizations that offer mentoring-related

  • The Coaching & Mentoring
    offers articles, book referrals, and case studies, as well as
    mentor matching software that helps match mentors and proteges based on desired skills, location, experience,
    and personal characteristics.
  • Peer Resources Program supports
    mentor research, training, consultation, and program development;
    their Web site lists articles for download, books, conferences,
    workshops, and links to other resources.
  • The Mentoring Group offers
    mentoring-related consulting, technical assistance, assessment, and
    training, as well as resources in printed, audio, and video formats.

Most of the cost of a
mentoring program is in the time expended by the mentor and the
protege. There may also be the salary or fee of a program
coordinator, if one is used, as well as costs for program materials,
training, ongoing administration, and outside consultants. Most companies who
have experience with mentoring programs consider them a worthwhile investment
that pays off by speeding staff development, reducing turnover, and helping
new employees become valuable contributors to the company.

In general, a mentoring program
does not have to take a lot of time. Mentors and proteges who
are pressed for time can keep in contact during the normal course of work,
through informal meetings of a few minutes, by e-mail discussions, or with
occasional lunch meetings.

Mentoring Priorities

While mentoring programs generally reflect organizational needs, and are
tailored to produce the type of employee that best serves the company,
agency, or nonprofit for whom the mentor and protege labor, certain
requirements are nearly universal:

  • Communicating effectively, especially in writing;
  • Eliminating unforced errors, or the type of miscues which could have been
    avoided if the protege had exercised greater due diligence. In a
    computer programming context, for example, many, if not most, failures can
    be attributed to inadequate software testing.
  • Achieving a self-directed state,
    or the condition in which the protege functions with minimal supervision. Employment ads often feature self-directedness as a key criterion for

Mentors should concentrate on helping their charges achieve these
highly-regarded capabilities.

Reverse Mentoring

From an information technology perspective, every employee today is a
technical employee. Even executives are expected to master smartphones and
tablets as business instruments. Unlike other technical areas, younger
employees, who literally grew up with information technology, are generally
experts while older employees may be novices.

As Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal reports1, There is a growing digital divide in
tech-impaired older managers. To address it, more companies are trying
reverse mentoring, pairing young employees with older colleagues to work on
tech skills.
 As Didier Bonnet, a global practice leader in London for Capgemini
Consulting, observes, The main aim is to raise the digital IQ of business
leaders in the firms.

While reverse mentoring can be awkward – intimidating for the young mentor
and embarrassing for the older protege – a program targeted narrowly on
transferring basic IT and social media skills can be enormously rewarding, both

  • The established protege, improving his or her job performance; and
  • The novice mentor, by providing high-level organizational exposure at a
    young age.


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Mentoring is at heart a
relationship between individuals, and therefore its success depends not only
on setting up a program with a clear focus and strategic purpose, but also on
less tangible factors relating to the personalities and histories of the
people involved. Mentors should guard against falling into one of the
following dysfunctional roles:

  • The needy mentor, who builds
    himself or herself up by trying to impress the protege with self-talk
    and war stories, or uses the mentor arrangement and the
    protege to enhance his or her own prestige, position, and
  • The vicarious mentor, who
    treats the mentoring relationship as a do-over for righting his or her
    own past mistakes.
  • The rescuer, who loans money
    to the protege, gets involved in dispute resolution on the protege’s behalf, or tries to prevent every mistake
    instead of allowing the protege to learn through some of
  • The micromanager, who tells
    the protege exactly what to do and how, and gives answers
    rather than helping the protege come up with his or her own.
  • The cloner, who tries to fit
    the protege into the mentor’s mold rather than providing
    guidance based on the protege’s unique perspectives and

Those organizing a
mentoring program should avoid the following potentially counterproductive

  • Using a mentoring program for
    remedial work or discipline, rather than keeping a positive focus on
    growth and development.
  • Coercing mentors or proteges to participate when they may lack the time or
    desire to do so, or not providing a way to choose a new partner or withdraw
    from the program if it isn’t working. A stressed-out mentor might
    quit the company, which would become a lose-lose situation for the mentor and the company.
  • Beginning a mentoring program
    when the company is going through difficult times and everyone’s focus
    and priorities are elsewhere.
  • Failing to maintain clear,
    visible, and continuing senior leadership support.
  • Beginning a mentoring program
    during the summer vacation or winter holiday season, when it will be
    more difficult to get mentors and proteges together.
  • Using a mentoring program to groom a mentor’s successor. Mentors should
    not be expected to facilitate their own layoffs.
  • Allowing mentors and proteges to primarily communicate through text
    messages, tweets, and other social media instruments.

While confidentiality is critical to any mentoring relationship, both the
mentor and his or her protege must understand that there is no absolute
mentor-protege privilege. If either party crosses the line in terms of
acceptable enterprise behavior, the other party is responsible for reporting
such transgressions to the mentoring program administrator. Potential
violations include:

  • Excessive use of profanity (a casual utterance is usually acceptable);
  • A physical, especially sexual, overture;
  • Derogatory statements directed at enterprise officials; and
  • Any endorsement – explicit or implied – of illegal, immoral, or
    unethical activity – particularly enterprise-related activity.

Before certifying any individual as a mentor, he or she should be subjected
to a series of role-playing exercises in which the mentoring program
administrator (or his or her designee) assumes the position of potential
protege. In this way, the administrator can get a feel for whether the
mentor-to-be is good for the program, and even offer suggestions for

A mentoring program can
be supplemented with a training or coaching program, but they are not the
same. Mentoring is a long-term, multifaceted relationship, whereas training
and coaching focus on teaching specific skills related to an employee’s
current position and are finished when the skills are learned. Mentoring is
also more than a buddy system, which exists only to help a new employee
adjust to the company, has no strategic goal, and lasts only two or three

Even if they lack the resources – or inclination – to establish a
formal mentoring program, the owners and operators of small-to-medium-sized
businesses (SMBs) should mentor their employees. It’s good for them; it’s
good for their employees; and, perhaps most importantly, it’s good for their

Even the best mentor can experience
unsatisfactory results if his or her protege is not
prepared to be mentored. Even an eager protege can waste a
mentoring opportunity if events, situations, or circumstances conspire
to interfere with his or her receptivity to the mentoring process.

For mentors and proteges alike, most importantly is to not allow
failures – which are usually temporary – to distract from one’s
commitment to mentoring or being mentored.


1 Sue Shellenbarger. "Pairing Up with a Younger
Mentor: In ‘Reverse Mentoring,’ Tech-Savvy Twenty-somethings Help Older
The Wall Street
. May
28, 2014.

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About the Author

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Brady Hicks is an
editor with Faulkner Information Services. He writes about computer and
networking hardware, software, communications networks and equipment, and the

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