The first formal or supported mentoring programs emerged in the U.S. 30 years ago. Rapidly adopted and radically changed by European organizations, mentoring split into two schools, or models.
Sponsorship mentoring was adopted by U.S. corporations. This model largely focuses on one-way learning relationships, in which the authority and influence of the mentor plays an important role and where the junior partner is referred to as a protege.
Developmental mentoring is the European approach focusing on the quality of the mentee’s thinking and on stimulating self-reliance and mutual learning.
In recent years, as supported mentoring has spread across the globe, numerous hybrids of these two mentoring models have emerged. For example, Malaysian oil company Petronas provides designated employees with two mentors, one in the same area of business who tends to take on more of a sponsorship mentoring role, and a mentor from elsewhere in the business. Mentees often find the latter more useful long-term. These hybrids took the moniker “second wave mentoring” and address many of the shortcomings of traditional programs, such as inadequate training and support for participants and too little or too much bureaucracy.
Drivers Behind Second Wave Mentoring
One of the drivers behind this mix of approaches has been organizations’ desire to learn from their own and other people’s experiences. At a July virtual round table by Career Innovation, a U.K.-based consultancy specializing in career and leadership development research, more than two-thirds of HR professionals responsible for mentoring programs indicated they were, to a greater or lesser extent, dissatisfied with either the management of their mentoring program or the outcomes from it. They felt the programs should be delivering more, with greater consistency and sustainability. Some of the other drivers behind mentoring transformation include:
• Reach: Making mentoring available to a wider audience is challenging when lowering costs without sacrificing quality. However, many attempts to do mentoring inexpensively — especially by using canned, online options — fail to deliver the quality required. In particular, they tend to push mentoring toward shallow, transactional skills and knowledge transfer, rather than longer-term deep, personal change.
• Alignment: There is a need to link mentoring more closely with talent management and succession planning strategies.
• Measurement: Enterprise leaders increasingly require data about mentoring outcomes for participants and for the organization.
• Consistency: Mentors in one approach, such as developmental mentoring, may lapse into sponsoring behaviors, causing frustration with mentees.
• Push-back: Some groups and communities are averse to traditional programs as they are currently practiced. Over-bureaucratic programs tend to produce less mutual learning and are less sustainable than informal ones. But overly informal programs tend to produce fewer benefits. Balance is key. Also, some minority groups object to being targeted for programs where they have had no influence on the design.
• Program success: There is a disparity between programs in terms of failure rates, leading to re-examination of matching and rematching processes.
• Standards: The International Standards for Mentoring Programmes in Employment (ISMPE), for example, has begun to set expectations for what a good practice mentoring program looks like, requiring more flexibility in program components. The standards cover clarity of purpose for the program, which is associated with relationship quality, continuing support and measurement. For example, an effective program would have a policy and process to ensure potential mentors who attend training but do not have the capability to be non-directive receive counseling.
• Expectations: There is a need to bridge the gap between expectations from new graduates to use mentoring as a shortcut to getting a job and a program focus on supporting a reflective approach to understand possibilities and look at competencies in a broader perspective.
Joining the second wave requires HR to commit to create and market a comprehensive mentoring strategy based on evidence of what works and on a systemic perspective of how people learn and grow. Talent managers can help by ensuring that mentoring initiatives are based on sound business cases with clear benefits for the organization and participants. They also can play a role in facilitating the quality of training and subsequent mentoring support as well as identifying and engaging with top management champions.
In contrast to the significant sums many organizations invested in the first wave, second wave mentoring is relatively inexpensive because professionals in the field now have a much better understanding of which hot buttons produce the greatest impact on both individuals and the organization. The cost varies from organization to organization, but a good estimate would be less than half the cost for twice the impact in terms of learning outcomes and talent retention.
Riding the Second Wave
While the structure of second wave mentoring programs varies from organization to organization, some key characteristics are common to most programs. Those characteristics include:
• Program management: Most programs have a designated mentoring program manager. Increasingly, these individuals receive specialized training for the role. They tend to be responsible for promoting and supporting mentoring in general, rather than just managing a single initiative.
• Management engagement: There tends to be a high level of engagement among top management in these programs.
• Training: Most programs ensure mentors and mentees are trained initially and that both are supported over the life of the supported relationship.
• Continuous development: Programs support continuous development and improvement as well as supervisory oversight.
• Multimedia approaches: Programs value the role of IT platforms to support both face-to-face and distance mentoring.
• Robust processes: Matching and measurement play a key role in these programs.
• Variety: Organizations increasingly offer an array of programs and opportunities to take part in, such as reverse mentoring.
Many second wave employers are taking a hard look at their mentoring offerings and aligning them with global good practices. For example, in 2010 gaming company The Rank Group wanted to support participants as part of the group talent program, providing opportunities for professional and personal development and encouraging networking across the group. It was critical to Rank that its mentoring program follow best practices, be measurable, be built on internal capability and deliver high-impact training for the executive committee as well as be a special feature of one-to-one training for the senior team.
Second wave companies also typically monitor progress toward a mentoring culture. Some seek accreditation under the ISMPE, both as a recognition of quality and as a means to benchmark against evolving good practices. Rank validated its mentoring program success by being assessed by the ISMPE. The company was awarded the Gold Standard in recognition of its program’s high quality in 2011.
Second wave mentoring offers more than individual or organizational benefits, however. Mentoring programs are now creating opportunities for women and closing gaps in social justice in Morocco. AFEM, a Moroccan association for women in business and management, set up a mentoring program to support new initiatives by women.
The program was developed in cooperation with two Danish organizations: Kvinfo, a research and development organization, and Danish Trade Union, a union for professional employees. These organizations give support and inspiration to women as they establish themselves in the business world and deal with associated issues regarding family and social prejudice.
The introduction and training for the mentors and mentees was done through sessions in Denmark and Morocco. These included awareness of both the possibilities and challenges of participating in a mentoring program.
“The outcome of the project so far is first of all a much bigger awareness of what mentoring asks from both mentor and mentee,” said Else Iversen, from the Danish Trade Union. “But the biggest achievements lie in the fast-growing self-awareness among the mentors and the mentees that the program has managed to give the participants.”
Looking Toward the Future
Second wave mentoring will continue to evolve in a number of ways, including:
• Greater integration between different mentoring programs in the same organization. For example, cascade mentoring takes the perspective that people who receive mentoring also should become mentors. An organization could pilot a program in which graduate recruits are mentored by junior and middle managers, and in return, they mentor disadvantaged people from the wider community. One of the benefits of this approach is that it links employee development and corporate social responsibility agendas.
• Clarity amongst the different interpretations of mentoring within the same organization. For example, IBM has identified four types of mentoring, each aimed at different audiences for different purposes. Centralized resources support all of these types of mentoring for big-picture clarity, but interpretation and program management are customized.
• Cultural considerations such as differences in expectations for mentoring across diverse cultures. It is important to make these different expectations overt and to enable mentors and mentees to address them in the individual relationship.
• Social media holds the potential to radically change how mentoring is delivered. Multinationals, such as communications company Telus, regularly conduct both one-to-one and group mentoring through social media. However, a key issue now emerging for such companies is the extent to which employees — and particularly talented employees — can be supported in developing dynamic mentor networks. In these networks, there may be one or two close mentoring relationships focused on medium- to long-term career development, several medium-term relationships focused on development of specific competencies such as leadership, and ad hoc short-term relationships focused on knowledge or skills transfer. In these mentor networks the traditional senior to junior hierarchy of relationships is often irrelevant; it is the learning exchange that is important, and peer and reverse mentoring will play an increased role.
The bottom line of all these changing perceptions of mentoring is that second wave mentoring both offers and demands more flexibility from organizations and participants. At the same time, it creates the potential for organizations and participants to gain more from their investments in this form of co-learning.
David Clutterbuck is co-founder of The European Mentoring and Coaching Council and visiting professor at both Sheffield Hallam University and Oxford Brookes University in the U.K. He can be reached at email@example.com.