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Mentoring has been a part of the workplace for as long as there has even been a workplace. Centuries ago, artisans learned everything from bread making to goldsmithing through apprenticeships, working for scant pay but learning their life’s trade at the knees of older, wiser men. Even hallowed priests, rabbis and Hindu and Buddhist gurus once served as disciples on their way up the religious hierarchy.  

But in today’s complex business environment, mentoring may be more important than ever, particularly when that relationship occurs between members of the same organization. Research shows it’s an extremely effective way for people to develop new skills, navigate diverse companies and understand how to deal with people and problems. n A good mentoring relationship benefits the mentor, the protégée and the overall organization. But, especially for protégées, “mentoring predicts career success,” says Terri Scandura, a professor of management at the School and dean of the UM Graduate School, who has been researching mentoring for more than 20 years.

Scandura says that those who receive mentoring perform better, see more salary increases and earn more promotions. Employees on both sides of the relationship have higher job satisfaction, increased loyalty and lower turnover, and mentoring can provide social support that reduces employee stress. “It helps organizations retain a qualified workforce that might go elsewhere,” she notes. It also helps train that workforce — fast. “Organizations are going through a great deal of change, [but] we don’t have time to send everyone to classes all the time,” she adds. “I think mentoring is the most efficient way to train new people, to socialize them to the job.” 


Alumni and School of Business Mentor Program participants Alexandra Plasencia and Charles Foschini concur on the benefits of mentoring

Because the benefits of mentoring are so clear, companies have been quick to roll out formal mentoring programs. But these programs are often difficult to set up and execute effectively. “The research on formal mentoring programs has not been that supportive of their effectiveness,” Scandura says. There are many reasons they fail, but there are important steps a company can take to increase the chances of success. 

Most important, any mentoring program must have clear buy-in from management, says Linda Neider, a management professor at the School who has studied mentoring and worked with mentoring programs. Both mentors and protégées must devote time and energy to the relationship, and that’s not possible if leadership doesn’t make it clear that the program is important. 

 “You can have a great plan, but if your company doesn’t buy into it and is not engaged, then it’s not going to be successful,” says Catherine Campbell (AB ’89, MBA ’91), a human resources consultant who has worked with mentoring programs at blue-chip companies. “If the organization doesn’t buy into it, then the mentors are not going to be committed. They’re not going to be engaged and will not give the relationship the attention that it deserves.” That is particularly dangerous, since research shows that having a disengaged mentor is worse for employee morale and retention than not having a mentor at all. 

Sometimes companies need to build clear incentives for mentoring into appraisal systems, or at least create some type of reward system, suggest Neider and Scandura. But mandating participation isn’t the way to go. It’s more important that everyone understand the objectives and benefits of the program — and how they are linked to strategic goals within a company or department. People have to want to participate. 

“The biggest mistake organizations make with respect to formal mentoring programs is forcing participation,” Neider says. “Formal mentoring programs only work if both parties feel that each can benefit.” 

While research shows the benefits of mentoring can be tangible for the protégée, it’s best not to focus goals on career advancement, Scandura says. Advancement can never be guaranteed, and promising that, explicitly or implicitly, is one reason mentoring programs fail. She recommends touting goals that focus on personal development. 

Campbell has seen mentoring programs fail because the protégée doesn’t truly understand what mentoring is about. “The role of a mentor is not to get you your next promotion or get you out of trouble,” she says. “A mentor doesn’t remove obstacles for you. A mentor helps you understand how you need to navigate those obstacles.“ 

With expectations set, companies should measure the program’s progress to demonstrate its value and to ensure participants are spending their time effectively. Both mentor and protégée need to be held responsible. 

“There needs to be accountability on both sides,” says Huguette Arza (MBA ’07), senior director of talent management at Burger King Corp. Arza has run mentoring programs and participated in them, and she says a successful program walks a fine line between formal expectations and letting the relationship blossom naturally. “If you make the program itself too structured or too rigid, people’s relationships don’t tend to excel,” she says. 

Arza has found that the most successful programs avoid setting a structure for the pair’s interactions, focusing instead on what they can expect from the relationship and the time commitment. In fact, she says, one of the biggest reasons programs fail is that mentoring pairs don’t make enough of a time commitment. While Scandura recommends an hour a week, Arza notes that often isn’t practical. But, she says, the pair should have a formal schedule and set the expectations up front of how often, and how, they want to interact. “You have to have both parties agree that it’s going to be a priority,” she says. “Make it consistent.”



Of course, a mentoring relationship won’t be successful unless it’s a good match. The mentor should have something to offer the mentee, something that matches that person’s interests and developmental needs. But the most successful relationships match people on more than skills and interests, says Susan Amat, a management and marketing lecturer at the School and executive director of The Launch Pad, a UM entrepreneurship program. The best relationships require compatible personalities. 

“[Mentors] are not going to invest their time, energy and resources — and, quite frankly, their emotional side — into developing somebody who they don’t like,” says Amat, whose doctoral dissertation was on mentoring for innovation. Making good matches, she says, is “almost an eHarmony kind of mind-set,” referring to the online dating site that uses in-depth profiling.

Large organizations, however, need a more structured approach to making matches. In that case, it’s important to focus on the protégée’s goals and find a mentor who can best help accomplish them. Scandura recommends building an element of choice into the pairings. “In the end, both the mentor and the mentee have to feel like they initiated the relationship,” Scandura says. 


Successful programs let relationships flow, says Burger King’s Huguette Arza (MBA ’07).


Mentoring doesn’t just happen in formal programs, of course. In fact, most mentoring relationships exist outside of such programs. That’s a good thing, since the current thinking is that successful people have more than one mentor. “You need different mentors, not just at different points in your life, but for different parts of your life at the same time,” Amat says. That is best accomplished by mining one’s network of contacts and approaching potential mentors directly. 

It’s called “multiple mentoring,” and Scandura is studying the topic with John Mezias, an associate professor of management at the School. Helped by a grant from the UM CIBER (Center for International Business Education and Research), they are looking at multiple mentors in the context of workers on international assignments. Expatriate workers typically experience difficulties adjusting to foreign assignments and repatriating when they return. Mezias and Scandura think that multiple mentors may help ease those transitions. That mentor network could include someone back home to keep the expat visible to the main organization, someone in the new location to illuminate the office culture and politics, and someone well versed in the country’s culture. The pair’s research will examine multiple mentoring in the international context by assessing benefits of multiple mentors on expatriate performance and outcomes. 

Mezias thinks they’ll find that companies can reap significant benefits from fairly simple measures. “We don’t believe that they’re going to have to do formal mentoring programs,” he says. “With a little bit of help, companies can just encourage people who are going on assignment to use their networks.” In fact, research shows that the most successful mentoring relationships begin in just that manner: an individual seeking out a mentor to serve a clear goal. And whether the relationship is part of a formal program or not, one thing is universal: “It’s ultimately up to the mentee to drive that relationship,” Arza says. 

This may be particularly important for women and minorities. Mentors tend to seek out protégées who are similar to themselves and have similar interests. “This has often put women, as well as minority group members, at a disadvantage, because the top of most organizations has been dominated by men,” Neider says. Those women who do successfully develop mentoring relationships say they are crucial to their success. For instance, a School-led study of women who own or run companies in Florida found that 62 percent of them had been mentored, and are mentoring other executives. They named it as a key aspect of growth in the study, “Optimism and the March Forward,” conducted this year by the School’s Johnson A. Edosomwan Leadership Institute in partnership with The Commonwealth Institute South Florida.


In the end, successful mentoring pairings are reciprocal relationships, and Scandura’s research shows that mentors benefit as well. They value having people in the company who are loyal to them, and can gather important information from protégées, such as what’s going on at other levels of the organization, insights into a younger generation and new perspectives on old problems. Finally, there is the personal satisfaction of leaving a mark on the next generation of managers. 

Arza found that her own work as a mentor was a great way to build her network and stay on top of developments in the business. “It’s a very enriching experience,” she says. “You learn a lot from people as a mentor. Sometimes you learn more than the mentees.” 

What Goes into a Succesful Program

  • Clear delineation of program goals and expectations for mentors and protégées.

  • Careful selection and pairing of mentors and protégées.

  • Both mentor and protégée held accountable for the relationship’s success.

  • Recognition for mentors who make a difference.

  • A timeline with a beginning, middle and end, so participants can end the relationship gracefully if it isn’t working.

  • Organizational followup to benchmark the success of individual pairings and develop best practices.

Components of a Positive Mentoring Experience

  • Protégée-driven. Protégées should define their development needs and make sure they are addressed.

  • Clear, learning-based goals. “Focus on what the mentee is learning from the relationship, rather than the tangible benefits,” says Professor Terri Scandura.

  • Realistic expectations. For protégées, understand that a mentor doesn’t guarantee career advancement. For mentors, understand that the relationship is about more than meeting with someone every few months and listening to complaints.

  • Confidentiality. Both parties must be able to share difficult experiences and knowledge. “With a good mentor, there’s a certain amount of candor, especially when it comes to the political,” Scandura says. “A mentee needs to have the savvy to know what to share with others. And that goes both ways.”

  • Dedicated time, and an agenda. Scandura recommends setting aside one hour a week to meet; the protégée should have a clear, organized agenda for most meetings.

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