The Importance of Having a Good Mentor
by Gregory P. Smith

A mentor, basically, is someone who serves as a counselor or guide. Being asked to serve as a mentor is an honor. It indicates that the company has faith in the personís abilities and trusts him or her to have a positive impact on the situation. Many companies have discovered that the use of a mentor for new employees not only helps employees settle into their job and company environment, but also contributes to a lower turnover rate. The use of a mentor may be an informal, short-term situation or a more formal, long-term assignment.

In an informal mentoring program, the mentor usually helps the new employee for a limited period of time. Advice from the mentor may include the most basic of information about everyday routines including tips about ďdoís and donítsĒ not found in the employee manual to helping the employee learn job responsibilities. A mentor available to answer routine questions also saves time for the supervisor or manager. In addition, new employees often feel more comfortable asking questions of a peer instead of a supervisor.

In a program of this type, mentors often are volunteers. Forcing someone who does not want to serve as a mentor to do so can quickly create problems. Obviously, someone with a negative attitude, who might encourage a new employee to gripe and complain, should not serve as a mentor.

A more formal version of mentoring occurs when an organization appoints an employee with extensive knowledge and experience to serve as a mentor to a new professional the company feels has excellent potential for growth. The mentorís role usually lasts for an extended period of time and possibly may not end until the person mentored reaches the level of the mentor.

Whether informal or formal, both parties need to understand the parameters. These may be more important in a long-term, formal mentoring situation, but can also influence the success of short-term, informal mentoring.

* The mentorís role is to teach and advise the new employee. The mentor does not interfere with the supervisor or managerís decisions. The new employee, while expected to seek the mentorís advice particularly on critical issues, is not bound to accept that advice.
* Confidentiality is important. Both parties need to feel confident that discussions remain between them--not immediately relayed to a supervisor or manager.
* Certain areas may be considered off-limits. The mentor needs to outline these areas at the beginning.
* Decide in advance how you will communicate. Will you have regularly scheduled meetings? Will discussion be face-to-face, over the telephone or even via e-mail communication. Both parties need to make their preferences known at the beginning and reach an acceptable compromise if the preferences are different.
* Discuss time limits. If the mentoring period has a time limit the mentor should state that at the beginning.
* Discuss time commitments. Again, this may be more critical for the long-term, formal mentoring. The mentor must expect to give the new employee adequate time, but the newcomer should not expect excessive amounts of time. Setting a schedule at the beginning (example: meet once a week the first month, then once a month after that) avoids irritating misunderstandings later.
* Openness and respect: Both the mentor and the person being mentored need to be open and honest, yet respect the other. A mentor who withholds important information or comments does not contribute to the other personís success. However, such comments should be delivered with tact and courtesy--and (even if somewhat hurtful) received with an open mind.
* Professional relationship: The relationship between the mentor and his or her protťgť is a professional one, not a personal one. This is particularly important for the new employee to understand.
* It would be particularly helpful to conduct a DISC assessment profile on both the mentee and mentor. The DISC assessment helps both understand each otherís communication styles, strengths and limitations.

Gregory P. Smith is a retention expert and shows businesses how to build productive work environments that attract, keep and motivate their workforce. He is the author of the forthcoming book called, Here Today Here Tomorrow: How to Transform Your Organization from High-Turnover to High-Retention. He speaks at conferences, conducts management training and is the President of a management consulting firm called Chart Your Course International located in Conyers, Georgia. Phone him at 770-860-9464 or visit

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Copyright 2001 by Gregory P. Smith. All rights reserved.

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