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Mentoring Models

Duane Williams, Director of the USDA Office of Operations, welcomes students with disabilities to USDA for mentoring day in October 2016

Mentoring is a term generally used to describe a relationship between a less experienced individual, called a mentee or protégé, and a more experienced individual known as a mentor. Traditionally, mentoring is viewed as a dyadic, face-to-face, long-term relationship between a supervisory adult and a novice student that fosters the mentee’s professional, academic, or personal development (Donaldson, Ensher, & Grant-Vallone, 2000). It is important to acknowledge that the term “mentor” is borrowed from the male guide, Mentor, in Greek mythology, and this historical context has informed traditional manifestations of mentoring.

Today, modern mentoring models offer a variety of options and flexibilities to provide role models and sounding boards to aid in personal reflection, planning and development.  The models listed below are provided as examples. However, it is important to note that models should be tailored for each organization and culture.  In fact, mentoring often occurs in environments without the formal label of a “mentoring" program.  We call that mentoring without the "M-word" -- so try not to look at the list below as limiting, rather as a starting place to learn more about mentoring models.

The definitions below are collected from several resources, with extensive content coming from the Federal Mentoring Workplace Primer.  Developed by the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) in partnership with the Cornell National Technical Assistance, Policy and Research Center for Employers on Employment of People with Disabilities, the primer was created as part of a federally funded grant from the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), U. S. Department of Labor.  The Coalition thanks IEL, Cornell and ODEP for the research and the primer.  Some definitions are pertinent to employers while others relate to school-based or community-based mentoring models.

One-to-one mentoring is the traditional model of mentoring in which a more senior individual is paired with a more junior individual in order to provide the younger person with guidance, support, and encouragement. Formal mentoring programs using this model typically utilize an extensive matching process to ensure the pair has potential to form a strong, long-term relationship. A key advantage of the one-to-one mentoring approach is that it enables partners to develop trust and provides consistent support provided the mentoring partnerships bond effectively at the onset and commit to working together for a significant period of time such as one year or more.

Group mentoring involves one or more experienced professionals providing guidance and support to a group of more junior employees. Mentors and protégés typically participate in structured group activities. Group mentoring has become more common, especially in settings in which recruiting a sufficient number of volunteers for one-on-one mentoring is difficult (Timmons, Mack, Sims, Hare, & Wills, 2006). Unlike one-on-one mentoring, many group mentoring relationships focus more on peer interaction with the mentor acting as a group facilitator. Consequently, fewer group mentoring relationships result in a deep connection between mentor and protégé (Herrera, Vang, & Gale, 2002; in Timmons, Mack, Sims, Hare, & Wills, 2006). OPM describes group mentoring as "one mentor teamed with several protégés who meet at the same time. As the mentor poses questions, listens and reflects he or she engages all members of the group into the conversation. Each one has their own experience and insight to share and can draw their own learning from the discussion" (U. S. Office of Personnel Management, 2008).

Peer mentoring is a form of mentorship that usually takes place between a person who has lived through a specific experience (peer mentor) and a person who is new to that experience (the peer mentee).  In the workforce, peer mentoring is an approach to mentoring in which a professional who is new or less experienced is matched with a more experienced peer - someone whose job is at the same level - who provides support and guidance to the protégé. Peers can be close in age or further apart, depending on the situation and goals of the mentoring relationship. OPM describes peer mentoring as "usually a relationship with an individual within the same grade, organization, and/or job series. The purpose of peer mentoring is to support colleagues in their professional development and growth, to facilitate mutual learning and to build a sense of community. Peer mentoring is not hierarchical, prescriptive, judgmental or evaluative" (U. S. Office of Personnel Management, 2008, p. 15).

Flash mentoring is defined as a one-time meeting or discussion that enables an individual to learn and seek guidance from a more experienced person who can pass on relevant knowledge and experience. The purpose of flash mentoring is to provide a valuable learning opportunity for less experienced individuals while requiring a limited commitment of time and resources for more experienced individuals serving as mentors. While mentors and mentees can mutually decide to meet again after their flash mentoring session, the commitment is to participate only in the initial meeting. Typically, a more junior professional seeking leadership development is paired with a more senior professional from the same or a similar field, for a one-time coaching session (Wills, Cokley, & Holmes, 2009). Coaching sessions may be as brief as one hour long. In this rare instance, the mentoring relationship does not require a long-term commitment from the mentor. This form of mentoring was developed for the purpose of connecting upcoming professionals with senior level professionals who have limited time to devote to mentoring.

Situational mentoring is a short-term discussion and happens for an express purpose.  This type of mentoring is often project-based and involves giving advice for a specific circumstance, such as preparing a project plan or deploying a new system.  Situational mentoring is short-lived and is often limited to the time the individuals are brought together to work on a particular project. Unlike flash mentoring, situational mentoring is not necessarily limited to a one-time meeting or discussion between the mentor and the mentee. (from www.flashmentoring.com/

Reverse mentoring is a mentoring relationship in which a more senior professional is mentored by a more junior professional when the junior person has certain knowledge or skills that the more senior person aims to learn. Reverse mentoring is commonly used to support older professionals in learning how to use new technology, a skill that younger generations tend to know or pick up on more quickly. OPM (2008) describes reverse mentoring as the mentoring of a senior person (in terms of age, experience or position) by a junior (in terms of age, experience or position) individual with the aim of helping older, more senior people learn from the knowledge of younger people, usually in the field of information technology, computing, and Internet communications. OPM emphasizes that the mentoring partners need to create and maintain an attitude of openness to the experience and dissolve the barriers of status, power and position in order for a reverse mentoring relationship to be successful (U. S. Office of Personnel Management, 2008).

Virtual mentoring is a contemporary model commonly used when face-to-face interaction is not possible or impractical. Like traditional mentoring, virtual mentoring approaches typically involve a one-to-one matching; however, the individuals communicate using electronic methods such as e-mail correspondence, instant messaging, and video conferencing. Virtual mentoring may be especially suitable for agencies with offices and employees in different geographical locations. It also makes mentoring possible for employees who are unable to leave their workplace and employees who work in rural or remote communities (U. S. Office of Personnel Management, 2008). As electronic communications replace face-to-face interactions more and more in the modern workplace, virtual mentoring is also becoming more commonplace; however occasional face-to-face interactions are advised, where possible, to develop a trusting, personal relationship.

E-mentoring is a means of providing a guided mentoring relationship using online software or email. Becoming popular in the early 1990’s, E-Mentoring was first used for programs connecting schoolchildren with business people.  E-mentoring is now popular around the world and includes websites offering online mentoring (not just matching of a mentor and a mentee) and often retains face-to-face connections via online video chat services. (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-mentoring

Cross- group mentoring involves pairing a person of one group or segment of the agency's employee population with a person of a different group. Employees may differ in terms of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability or any other significant difference that can affect how employees interact and relate to one another. Cross-cultural, cross-gender, and cross-generational mentoring are all examples of cross-group mentoring.  For cross-generational mentoring, one can consider Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials and use mentoring opportunities for each generation to learn from the other.

Cross -agency mentoring involves pairing a person from one agency with a person outside their own agency. This approach is most commonly used in a traditional one-on-one mentoring program to provide a junior level protégé with guidance and perspective from a senior level professional outside his/her own workplace. Cross-agency mentoring is especially useful when a program aims to mentor junior level professionals from a particular under-represented group (ex: women, African Americans, Asian Americans) and senior level professionals from the same group are limited in number within the agency. Another advantage of cross-agency mentoring is the ability for employees to gain new perspectives and learn about different practices from external mentors.

Blended mentoring is a mix of on-site and online events, projected to give to career counseling and development services staff the opportunity to integrate mentoring into their ordinary practice.

Internship-embedded mentoring involve experiences that are enhanced with an embedded mentor, often a peer mentor who has successfully transitioned from internship to employment.  This model empowers younger adults in transition and aids in workforce preparedness. By working with peer mentors, interns find success in building confidence, developing workplace skills, and transitioning to professional careers. (from www.broadfutures.org

No “M-word" included forms of mentoring that are common include Peer Counseling, Apprenticeship, Sponsorship and Friendship.  Although the programs do not formally use "Mentoring" as a label, there are opportunities for informal mentoring to occur that enhances the experience and often includes one-on-one, cross-cultural and reverse mentoring.

Professional networking is an important complement to mentoring. Professional networking is the act of connecting and interacting with individuals who share certain interests, perspectives, or experiences in common. While professional networking is not a new concept, technological advances have increased the ease with which individuals can identify and interact with individuals with common interests or experiences not just locally but nationally and globally. As a result, people are utilizing Internet-based social networks to exchange ideas, share knowledge, and make new professional and personal contacts relevant to their career and personal goals and interests. 

Authentic/natural mentoring is a youth-led process and relies on the decision-making power of the youths to identify their natural mentors. Natural mentoring puts control in the hands of youth or young adults by allowing them to self-nominate an adult whom they determine to be important. This model has an important role in the foster care community (for more information: www.socialworktoday.com/archive/070714p10.shtml).