Management Matters: Mix and Match

July 11, 2012

One time-tested ingredient of success is the colleague who can teach you almost everything you need to know—a mentor. Mentoring usually involves a seasoned employee or manager working one-on-one with a junior employee. But this style of dispensing guidance in the workplace may not be the most effective. Another method—group mentoring—is becoming increasingly popular.

More mentoring programs fail than succeed, says Mindy Zasloff, mentoring practice leader and senior consultant for Strategic Partners Inc. "One-on-one mentoring, particularly hierarchical mentoring, where an older sage person mentors a junior person, is very difficult to make work," she says, adding that most people don't learn effectively in that kind of setting. It's not necessarily productive to focus on what worked for the mentor in the past. New employees and organizations should be forward-looking.

One-on-one arrangements often fail to take into account a mentor's many roles. Mentors can be educators, career advisers, networking facilitators, sponsors or promoters of their protégés' talent, and sometimes just really good listeners. In government, where mentors and protégés often are nominated through formal programs, the assumption is one mentor should play all these roles. But, Zasloff says, it is more realistic to recognize that each mentor has different strengths and each of those mentored different needs. 

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