Mentoring is strategy for building competence and nurturing talent. The methods organisations use to develop new skills often guarantee their people long periods of anxiety and low productivity. Connecting the learner with a mentor accelerates personal development and flows down practical knowledge that can't be found in a classroom.
What is the Mentoring Process?
Mentoring is the process of one person (the mentor) helping another person (the mentee) through a period of change to achieve a well defined result.
The concept dates back to the dawn of humanity where older wiser practitioners passed on expert knowledge in the pragmatics of life to their younger less experienced followers.
Through exposure to a mentor in an environment of respect and trust a person undergoing a change in job function or personal life is more likely to develop an expectation of
Why is Mentoring Necessary?
James is a business analyst in a manufacturing organisation. He has been tasked with specifying the software requirements of a large production management system. His boss sends him to a two-day course on writing software requirements. Now he's back at his desk and has begun to realise the enormity of the task. He's never done anything this size before. The days go by and his stress levels grow as he realises he is not making progress with the massive complexity of the system and the brand-new methods for documenting what the system is supposed to do.
After two weeks with little progress he decides he needs help. But who can he ask without sounding like an idiot? After all he's been to the training.
Variants of this scenario are played out in many workplaces. Intelligent and motivated people are left to flounder for the want of some simple guidance on how to approach a new problem for the first time.
Mentoring Increases the ROI in Training
Formal classroom training is only the first step in developing competency. Elements of personal development not addressed are:
- Application. Training provides awareness of the subject matter. True learning only occurs when you attempt to apply the principles 'in anger' and examine the results (see side bar - How We Learn)
- Real world problems. Skills gained from working the toy examples you encounter in the classroom are difficult to scale up to tackle the larger and more complex problems of the real world
- 100% relevance. Training (especially that conducted by external vendors) cannot focus 100% on your specific needs. For example, you may receive excellent external training in industry best practice but be unable to apply it in your workplace due to lack of budget or support from management and issues of scale
- Commitment. Attending training in a particular knowledge area does not guarantee that you will apply it in your workplace. Trying out a new technique involves change, a state of affairs that many of us find uncomfortable. Building confidence to actually apply new techniques often requires post training reinforcement by an experienced professional who's been there before.
What Does Mentoring Achieve?
Mentoring is widely used to help a mentee:
- Complete a specific task for the first time
- Develop a new competency
- Attain a professional qualification
- Settle into a new job
- Make a career choice
- Understand and assimilate the culture of an organisation
- Provide support to isolated individuals from managing directors to disadvantaged minorities.
- The confidence to succeed. Through observation of the mentor as a role model the mentee becomes confident that he can achieve his goals
- Accelerated personal development. The mentee develops the required competence sooner than she would if left to her own devices
- Job satisfaction. The mentee's general satisfaction with the job improves as a natural consequence of being more productive, achieving something in a new field of endeavour and feeling that the organisation respects his needs and cares about him
- Higher profile. Mentees can achieve a higher profile in their profession through a mentoring relationship. Through networking they meet more people faster. For example, a systems engineer may get the opportunity to socialize with a diverse cohort of experienced professionals from may industry sectors
- Business perspective. Through contact with senior mentors the mentee gains a better understanding of the bigger picture: the role of the professional in today's business operations.
CA people bring a wealth of industry experience and unique perspectives to the role of mentor. CA engineers have decades of international experience in developing software and electronic systems. In the context of projects in the USA, Asia, the Middle East and Australia our people assume the roles of project manager, quality manager, configuration manager, business development manager, V&V manager, safety authority, requirements engineer, V&V engineer, design authority, system architect, controls engineer, software developer, hardware designer and systems engineering trainer. Our industry sector experience includes telecommunications, road and rail transportation, military aviation, armed forces integration, chemical processing, government, gaming and construction. Our people have had management responsibility for multimillion dollar projects and transferred technology internationally. Our application experience ranges from commercial data processing to safety critical control systems.
In more than 20 years of operation CA has developed a substantial international network of professionals drawn from associate companies and our client base. Our mentees benefit from the wealth of knowledge available to us from this network.
In the role of mentor we:
- Facilitate, pointing the mentee at sources of information and creating opportunities to use new skills
- Coach, showing the mentee how to carry out a task and providing feedback on the result
- Counsel, acting as a sounding board, helping the mentee explore the consequences of potential decisions. Being a
friend, adviser and guide
- Network, helping the mentee develop networks of contacts within and across organisations.
||CA routinely provides mentoring services to client employees in the context of consulting assignments or project work. We enjoy staying in touch with people sometimes decades after a project is complete.
||CA provides mentoring services to our training course attendees to assist in applying principles and practices covered in our workshops.
||CA has mentored undergraduate engineering and information technology students from Griffith University, Queensland. Subject matter has varied from support of student projects to general career advice.
How We Learn: Kolb’s Learning Cycle
How do people learn? Are there concrete steps a mentor
can take to guide the mentee down a path of enlightenment?
In 1984 American psychologist David Kolb developed a model
for adult learning that can be used as a tool to make learning
more efficient. He modelled learning as a continuous cycle
with four classes of activity:
- Concrete experience. You have an emotional
or behavioural experience either by accident or
- Reflection / observation. You take stock of
the experience in terms of the significance it
has for you
- Abstract conceptualization. You develop
structures or explanations for the way things
- Active experimentation. You test your
structures and explanations against the real
The mentor is responsible for advancing the mentee around
the cycle, verifying that she is gaining practical experience,
asking questions that encourage reflection and
conceptualization and exploring ways of testing new ideas.
The Mentoring Relationship
Mentoring demands a one-on-one relationship of
confidentiality, trust and respect. Successful relationships are:
- Confidential. The mentor should view the mentee as his
client. The mentor may not divulge details of
conversations without the permission of the mentee
- Relaxed/egoless/informal. The mentee feels free to
broach any subject with the mentor. For example,
personal fears, dumb questions, needs and wants,
ambitions and career goals. The mentee looks upon the
mentor as a friend not a superior
- Driven by goals. The relationship is formed to achieve
the mentee’s clearly defined goal. For example,
demonstrating a competency, passing a test or completing
- Time boxed. The conditions that will signal the end of the
relationship are clearly defined at the beginning
- Positive. If a critique is required it is constructive rather
- Consultative. The mentor questions, guides and advises.
He does not direct
- Empowering. The mentee makes all final decisions on
courses of action and takes responsibility for the
- Non-exclusive. If the mentor cannot answer a question
the mentee may be directed to one or more people who
can help. In this way the mentee develops and widens her
network of contacts
- Communicative. The parties to the relationship agree on
a regular schedule of meetings and stick to it
- Honest. Both parties enter into a pact to be honest with
- Unemotional. The mentor does not get emotionally
involved with the mentee’s issues. She takes an objective
view of the mentee’s needs and maintains a professional