a key competency for program and project professionals


Project Management Consultant and Educator


Winston Churchill famously observed that “The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, while the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” He could have been talking about mentoring, because a mentor can assist program and project professionals in seeing opportunities and helping them use these opportunities for program and project success as well as overall organizational success. Using a mentor, or serving as a mentor to others, can assist in our quest for success. Furthermore, it is important to do things right, which doesn't mean only following a process, but also using processes and procedures to help us succeed and improving on them as best we can. The mentor can help direct us in this endeavor as we strive to meet and exceed the success criteria as defined in our organizations.

In both the public and private sectors, increasingly, organizations are developing mentoring programs for a variety of reasons. In program and project management, using mentors is a best practice, because organizations are recognizing programs and projects as key strategic assets, and the movement to becoming project based continues at a fast pace, meaning that there are more opportunities than ever before to become a program or project manager and more opportunities for a career path in the field.

This paper presents several definitions for mentoring, describes various types of mentoring relationships, explains how to set up a mentoring program, emphasizes when mentoring is appropriate, and concludes with five skills to consider for effective mentoring.

Key Definitions

It is important to note that mentoring is not a new idea. As Jossi (1997) stated, “the word, ‘mentor’ actually comes from Homer's Odyssey, in which Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, had a guardian and an advisor named Mentor. Mentoring is the process by which one person (the mentor) assists another person (the mentee), either formally or informally, in various tasks related to professional development and growth. It is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a “trusted advisor or guide.” The People Capability Maturity Model defines it as “The process of using experienced members of the organization to provide personal support and guidance to less experienced members of the staff” (Curtis, Hefley, & Miller, 1995, p.17).

Within the U.S. Government, mentoring is defined as “a formal or informal relationship between two people—a senior mentor (usually outside the protégé's chain of supervision) and a junior protégé” U.S. Office of Personnel Management [OPM], 2008, p. 2) In 2004, under the Federal Workforce Flexibility Act, Public Law 108-411, among other things, states that federal government agencies are to provide training to managers on mentoring employees (OPM, 2008).

Project Management Institute (PMI) notes that establishing mentoring relationships is a leadership performance criterion (2007). Mentoring provides a valuable contribution to team member performance and development. PMI (2007) states that mentoring is one of the five elements under leadership, with the performance criterion being to establish these mentoring relationships to support team member development. Evidence suggested is establishing actual mentoring relationships, being sought out as a mentor for others, providing feedback that is documented on mentoring activities, and progress on an individual's development plan (p. 29). Levin and Ward (2011) state it is one of the eight personal competencies of a program manager. Englund and Bucero (2006) explain that it “means two people collaborating for career development, defining career goals, and professional development goals” (p. 155). They specifically state that it is not counseling, tutoring, teaching, a way to get a job reference, or a way to have a gripe session whenever needed.

Types of Mentoring Relationships

The U.S. OPM (2008) states there are several different types of mentors. First, it suggests the mentor can be a career guide, which in project management means that the mentor would offer guidance in terms of how the mentee might best advance in his or her career in the field, such as specific courses to take, credentials to pursue, and assignments to consider. Second, the mentor can be an information source, which in project management could mean suggesting professional associations to join, books and articles to read, and conferences, webinars, and seminars to attend. He or she can also be a friend, as OPM states, to provide information about people. Extending this concept to project management, the mentor could assist the mentee in navigating the various informal networks in the organization and in better understanding the various political influences within the organization and how to use each one to his or her advantage. Finally, the OPM suggests that the mentor can serve as an intellectual guide. In program or project management, this type of mentor may be the most important. In such a role, the mentee can consult with the mentor for advice, receive feedback based on work done and how risks and issues are handled, collaborate with the mentor as appropriate (e.g., on a paper to present at a project management conference) and work with the mentor to focus on receiving constructive criticism as appropriate, which will then lead to improved overall performance.

Curtis et. al. (1995) state that different types of mentoring relationships may be desirable based on different objectives. As an example, they note that mentoring may differ based on one's position or tenure in the organization, especially if the mentoring program is designed for new employees versus one designed for executives. In program or project management such a consideration is useful, especially if the organization has a career path in the field. For example, a less experienced person might be assigned to mentor a junior-level team member, whereas a more experienced person would be assigned to mentor someone who is managing a complex program, which is one of the organization's top priorities in its portfolio.

Mears and Susemichel (2000) state that one consideration in mentoring is the size of the organization—a larger organization will have a tendency toward a more formal approach, whereas an informal approach is more appropriate for small organizations. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, as corporate culture and the organizational structure are the key considerations. They also note it may be more successful in a team type structure rather than in a hierarchical one, making it one by extension that then is useful for programs and project management.

In program and project management, there are other approaches to consider, such as:

▪     Program/project manager to a team member. This approach is beneficial especially if the program or project manager can use it to model the appropriate behavior to follow, such as using effective problem-solving techniques; providing feedback on approaches used, such as by documenting resolutions on an issue log that is part of the knowledge repository; showing consistency in one's actions and transparency in one's communications; and providing feedback that confidential issues raised by stakeholders are not disclosed to those outside of the program team (Levin & Ward, 2011).

▪     Program/Project Management Office (PMO) to a program manager, project manager, or team member. Kerzner (2009) suggests a member of the PMO assumes the role of a mentor for several reasons, including avoiding a fear of reprisal if advice was requested from one's manager and also because the PMO staff member should have access to lessons learned files that could provide the mentee with guidance as to how to handle specific problems and issues. Kerzner further states that at times a mentor might want to step in and actually manage the project, especially if the mentoring relationship is full time; therefore, the risk of this actually happening is lower if the mentor is working in the PMO.

▪     Senior-level person to a junior-level team member. Mears and Susemichel (2000) state with regard to the Eli Lily and Company's Women's Network Mentoring Group, that the mentor should be at least two levels above the protégé but should also be an individual who is respected throughout the organization.

▪     Program/project sponsor to a project manager or a team member. Englund and Bucero (2006) focus on mentoring as a way toward “excellence in sponsorship” (p. 155). They further point out that in many organizations, sponsorship is not a recognized best practice and may not be considered a core competency; therefore, they explain the importance of being able to “encourage mentoring by those who demonstrate proficiency in sponsorship as a ready means to share the wealth” (p. 160).

•     Expanding on their concepts, the sponsor is the champion for the program or project. The sponsor, therefore, typically is at a higher level than the program or project manager and may not be in his or her chain of command, but the sponsor is ultimately responsible for program and project success. In program management the sponsor is the person who makes the ultimate decision to officially close the program. Therefore, he or she may be an appropriate mentor in informal situations in which the program manager wants someone to be a “sounding board” or to help him or her “think out loud” about solutions to problems and issues before involving the program's governance board or the organization's executives. An example is to help make the case for the priority of the program if the organization's strategic goals change or to help make the business case to add a new project to the program to provide additional benefits.

▪     Functional manager to a team member. This approach is often beneficial because if the team member is to be assigned to a complex program or project for a significant amount of his or her time, the functional manager can provide advice in terms of the technical issues that may arise.

▪     Subject matter expert (SME) to a team member. This relationship often revolves around certain subject areas in program and project management. For example, assume an SME is recognized in the organization for his or her risk management expertise. Recognizing risks will be identified on programs and projects and wanting to see if they may be possible opportunities, the mentee could request a SME in risk management as the mentor to help in risk identification, analysis, risk response planning including when to use a contingency plan, and risk monitoring and control.

▪     External manager outside of the organization to a program manager, a project manager, or a team member. Many organizations form networks for a variety of reasons, including benchmarking. If such an arrangement is in place, mentors from one organization may then be available to assist people in other organizations. This external approach has several advantages in that the mentee is not talking with someone who is in his or her own organization and may feel freer to express opinions. The mentor can also share experiences from lessons learned in another organization, broadening the mentee's knowledge base. Often, these relationships are ones that are handled over the telephone, during lunch meetings, or on weekends rather than during the scheduled work day.

▪     Respected professional in the later years of his or her career to a team member. Schein (1990) developed a career stage model with ten distinct stages that one may experience in his or her career. He describes Stage Ten as the retirement or separation stage and mentions that in this stage it may be difficult to motivate the team member as he or she is looking ahead and may lack focus on the tasks at hand. This individual, therefore, is ideal for a mentoring role. He or she can help others in terms of experiences on programs or projects, and the mentee may feel freer to discuss problems with this type of mentor since the mentee knows the person will not be in the organization much longer. The mentor may enjoy this experience as he or she can feel a sense of satisfaction in contributing to another person's career.

Establishing an Effective Mentoring Relationship

It is important to recognize that developing a mentoring program is not something that happens in one's spare time; rather, it takes time to set it up in a way that it will be meaningful to both the mentor and the mentee. It also may take on different forms, depending on the people involved and the organization's culture.

As the U.S. OPM (2008) states, a formal business case for the mentoring program is required that is tied to an organization's strategic business goals. Extending this concept to program and project management, if the organization has a goal to improve the delivery of its products or services, or to increase customer satisfaction with the results of its end products, and therefore, to improve its overall effectiveness in program and project management, a business case can be made for the mentoring program.

Curtis et. al. (1995) state that a best practice for the organization is to have a policy that shows its commitment to mentoring, also noting that it must support the organization's business goals and values. In this policy, the emphasis also is to not force mentoring on people but to encourage the mentoring activities with documented procedures in place to guide the mentoring relationship. As a result, they recommend that someone be assigned to coordinate the mentoring activities in the organization. Therefore, resources are required for mentoring in terms of people who are experienced in mentoring, time is set aside for mentoring activities, training for mentors is provided, orientations on the mentoring program are given to people in the organization, and overall support is available to evaluate the effectiveness of the mentoring program to ensure it is adding value to the organization.

Specific objectives, as Curtis et. al. (1995) explain, are required for an organization's mentoring program. These objectives include orienting people to the organization, which if extended to program and project management, would mean assisting new people in joining the program or project or even the entire team at the kickoff meeting, which would ensure that everyone has a common understanding of the vision of the program and project and his or her own responsibilities in terms of the program or project's specific goals and objectives. Other objectives are to develop knowledge, skills, and core competencies; prepare people for managerial or executive roles; provide one-on-one personal attention; work to improve group effectiveness and team development; focus on career advice and development; provide counseling and advice; and, sponsor the individual and group as appropriate.

It may also be useful if the organization forecasts that in the future it may be losing key SMEs in various areas of program and project management for a variety of reasons, such as the aging workforce or potential downsizing. If the mentor is from another organization, it may facilitate knowledge transfer and a knowledge management initiative.

Once the mentoring program is established, its existence needs to be communicated throughout the organization. An orientation session should be held to show why the organization has developed the program and to explain how people can participate in it, either as mentors and mentees. This session could be set up as a webinar, and as the program matures, successes in mentoring can be added to it. As well, once a new person joins the organization he or she can view the webinar to learn about the program. Such an orientation also shows the executive commitment to the program. The person who is responsible for coordinating the program then needs to be identified so he or she can answer questions about it.

Mears and Susemichel (2000) developed a “Practical Guide to Getting and Keeping a Mentor,” as part of the Eli Lilly and Company's Women's Network Mentoring Group. The purpose of this guide, they explain, is to help a protégé select a mentor and to make sure the mentee can describe why she wanted a mentor (e.g., for technical advice, management coaching, or basic career development); the needed skills and background desired in the mentor; options for possible mentors (e.g., people both internal or external to Lilly); having a “test drive” by contacting the prospective mentor to determine if the mentor is available and can help the mentee succeed, based on the mentee's definition of success; identifying two or three areas in which the mentor might be able to help; and selecting the appropriate mentor and following up. At Lilly, this mentoring network included an Executive Mentoring Initiative, in which upper-level managers had mentors for an 18-month pilot, with the purpose of decreasing the learning curve for newer members of the management team. Of note is that the Women's Network Mentoring Group emphasized project management. In project management, the focus is on the competencies necessary to be an effective project manager in the Lilly corporate environment; as such, the mentoring program is viewed as one that can help lead to an improved, competitive advantage.

Determining When Mentoring is Most Appropriate

Mentoring is appropriate for many circumstances. In program and project management, it demonstrates organizational commitment to the overall profession to enhance the knowledge, skills, and competencies of the people involved. It also serves to enhance a person's interest in furthering one's own development in program and project management. However, it is also necessary to recognize that some people may not wish to be in a mentoring relationship, and for mentoring to be successful, it is something that should not be imposed on others but instead should be requested by the mentee. However, it does not preclude an informal relationship, offering input and feedback in an indirect and casual way. In some cases mentoring, although desired, may not be appropriate such as if there are major issues or risks affecting the program or project.

As Kerzner (2010) explains his discussion of mentoring at IBM, “Mentoring can be a fragile relationship” (p. 535). He describes a corporate worldwide study, which showed many mentoring relationships end prematurely as there is a lack of a permanent structure for the mentoring program in place or a goal for the relationship between the mentor and the mentee to continue. He states the IBM program is one in which there is a definite beginning and end to the relationship, a plan, a schedule, milestones, tracking, and completion. Although not stated explicitly, IBM therefore views each mentoring relationship basically as a mini project. Kerzner also describes that, at IBM, a “PM Skills Mentoring Guide” is provided on its website with sample mentoring plans, agreements, milestones, and documentation to close the relationship.

Determining How Best to Conduct Mentoring

It is well recognized that the project manager is the project leader, and there are numerous components to this leadership role. They include leader, manager, facilitator, and mentor, and they are not performed in isolation but are performed throughout the project's life cycle. As a mentor, the project manager must model appropriate behavior to follow, serving as a role model for team members, especially in professionalism, codes of conduct, and organizational standards to follow. He or she also helps team members identify their own career development goals and to determine possibilities for problem solving. The project manager needs to show a genuine personal interest in the team member, especially if the person is having personal difficulties in his or her life, either on the job or at home. As a mentor, the project manager can share lessons he or she has learned on past projects to improve both individual and team performance (Levin, 2010, Flannes & Levin, 2005, 2001). In this way, failures can be presented as opportunities if the discussions are supportive and informative and can emphasize development of new skills and competencies. These then can be observed later in a complex or long program and documented as lessons learned (Levin & Ward, 2011). As Englund and Bucero (2006) explain, mentoring is a way for people to give back to the profession and also can enhance one's leadership skills. They further note the mentor is someone who is a confidential advisor offering support and encouragement and serving as a guide.

Levin and Ward (2011) state that mentoring is one of the eight desired personal competencies of a program manager. In their competency model for program managers, they identify four key mentoring elements: supporting mentoring for program team members, establishing a formal mentoring program, supporting individual and team development activities, and recognizing and rewarding individual and team accomplishments. They then expand on each of these elements to show specific performance criteria and the evidence required to see that the performance criteria are met.

Kerzner (2010), in his discussion of mentoring at IBM, explains a corporate on-line directory is used as a tool to match people with mentors as it includes one's skills, career interests, experience, education, internal and external affiliations with professional groups, and contact data.

Englund and Bucero (2006) suggest better results can be achieved by listening to the other person, respecting opinions, providing objective information and avoiding defensive reactions, asking questions, sharing experiences, encouraging decisions, and providing emotional support if needed. They also point out that if the mentor does not know the answer to a mentee's question he or she should feel free to say “I do not know,” recognizing no single individual will have an answer for all issues that can arise (p. 157).

Setting Up a Formal Relationship with the Mentor and Mentee

Mentoring can be done in a formal way or an informal way. Both approaches require mutual respect and trust between the people involved, and initially, the beginning of the process is the mentee's responsibility.

The informal approach normally is handled by one person requesting another to provide assistance from time to time, more as a friend without any oversight or without specific goals or objectives. It also is appropriate when new people join the program or project or the organization itself. Levin and Ward (2011) suggest the program manager can serve as an informal mentor by reviewing efforts under way by both individuals and the team and providing mentoring to help improve overall performance.

In more mature organizations, a best practice is to have a formal program with specific goals to be achieved through mentoring. The more formal approach also shows there is commitment from executives to the program. It is useful especially when it involves the mentor who is not associated with the specific program or project. This approach tends to have fewer distractions over issues on the program or project, as the mentor lacks direct involvement and can take a neutral perspective. Regardless of whoever is selected as the mentor, Curtis et. al. (1995) suggest some other areas to consider include whether or not a virtual relationship is to be used, there are commonalities in the backgrounds of the people involved, similar personalities and interests, and the level of the mentoring involvement.

Curtis et. al. (1995) additionally state that in an initial meeting between the mentor and the mentee that agreements are reached and documented in terms of the goals of the relationship and the issues to be covered. They explain issues could be ones such as what both parties expect from the relationship; when they will meet, either periodically or when specific issues arise; the goals they expect to achieve; whether or not they will prepare a plan for developmental issues; how progress will be evaluated; and how they will conduct meetings and communicate in between scheduled meetings.

Levin and Ward (2011) recommend the formal program as a personal competency for program managers. They point out the program manager can inform members of the team of existing mentoring programs in the organization and encourage team members to participate in them. Program managers as well can identify candidates who are working on the program who may be suitable to be mentors for others in the organization and then approach these team members to see if they are willing to participate; this means that, as the program manager, he or she is willing to set aside time for people to be mentored and to be mentors to others. As well, they state each relationship should have formal goals, which are documented, and surveys then can be conducted as to the effectiveness of the mentoring relationship on a periodic basis. The program manager additionally can analyze team member performance to see if the mentoring program is adding value, and if not, suggest that the relationship be terminated.

Providing Training for the Mentor

Typically, people volunteer to be a mentor, and often those who volunteer have had a positive experience working with a mentor earlier in their careers or wanted to have a mentor to talk with and lacked the opportunity to work with one. The organization, however, should identify specific criteria to help select mentors, such as: experience in the program and project management field, noted expertise as a role model in terms of managing successful programs and projects, the ability to motivate others even if the task or activity to be performed is not on the critical path, the ability to provide critical thinking and an interest to work with others on problems they may have, the ability to provide guidance on performance and career development, effective communications skills at all levels, the ability to embrace change rather than resist it, and a way of looking at risks and issues and viewing them as opportunities or problems that can be solved for the overall benefit to the program and project. Additionally, if one does volunteer, he or she should have time available to commit to it and should be able to provide assistance to the mentee on an as-needed basis as well as at formal meeting times.

Specific training for those who do volunteer to be a mentor and who meet the criteria is recommended. This training should cover areas such as:

▪     Working with the mentee to determine specific goals to achieve during the relationship and formally documenting these goals

▪     Setting both short-term and long-term goals with short-term ones designed to show some early successes for both parties

▪     Setting up metrics to evaluate the successfulness of the relationship in terms of overall improvement in the mentee's knowledge, skills, and competencies

▪     Refining one's skills in critical thinking, problem-solving techniques, active listening, and providing advice

▪     Guiding the discussions and keeping them on track to best promote problem solving

▪     Using open-ended questions

▪     Determining proven approaches to provide feedback in a non-threatening way that is constructive and is done at appropriate times

▪     Recognizing methods that can help improve performance

▪     Evaluating one's personal motivational style

▪     Working with people of different ages to become aware of trends and considerations people of a certain generation may possess

Setting Aside Time for the Mentor and the Mentee

If a formal relationship is to be used, time for the mentor and the mentee to work together is required. With the demands to complete program and project work as quickly as possible, and the requirement for many to work on multiple projects, resource overload and stress are increasingly common. Setting aside times for the mentoring relationship by the organization's executives shows their commitment to the program. It is not something the mentor and mentee should do in their “spare” time on nights and weekends, and mentoring should be built into each person's schedule on the job. The time requirement should be based on the goals to be achieved. Also, the relationship should be one that if the mentee has a sensitive issue and wants to discuss it with the mentor, that time can be provided for in an unscheduled meeting.

For example, it may be that the mentee only wants to meet with the mentor when he or she encounters an unusual problem in the workplace; others may wish to meet on a regular basis, especially at the beginning of the relationship as they get to know one another. The latter approach is beneficial, especially if the relationship is one that is planned to last for several months or even a year in case the parties do not feel comfortable working with one another.

However, as Mears and Susemichel (2000) explain, those who are involved in mentoring activities tend to be people who have the ability to manage their time well and also can commit to not only just doing their assigned work but taking on assignments of increasing difficulty, working on multiple activities without sacrificing one for another, and managing complexity. While identified in 2000, and looking forward, with many people believing multitasking is something that is a desirable skill and typical, the mentor can help show that it must be managed in order to complete assigned work without undue stress and, in fact, should be avoided if possible to further one's productivity.

Determining Appropriate Times to Provide Feedback

As noted by Levin (2010) and Flannes and Levin (2005, 2001), there are times when it is appropriate to provide feedback and other times in which it is inappropriate to do so. The interaction, however, between the mentor and mentee serves to promote listening skills and interpretation skills. As part of the details of the Lilly competency model used for its mentoring program, communication with the mentor should allow a safe and comfortable environment for discussing issues, proposing new ideas, and changes. Trust between the two parties is essential to show the value of the relationship, which in turn will help provide feedback that is taken seriously and is managed to build one's own competencies as well as to lead to greater personal development and job satisfaction (Mears & Susemichel (2000).

Five Skills for Effective Mentoring

A number of issues can be handled through a mentoring relationship. Curtis et. al. (1995) emphasize evaluating performance and behaviors, use of time, setting priorities, interpersonal styles and skills, replaying with the mentee specific situations to see if a different approach would have been more beneficial, identifying areas of strength and ones in which improvement is required, identifying areas in which changes in attitudes or style are beneficial, and analyzing career options for the mentee. Levin (2010) and Flannes and Levin (2005 and 1999) suggest there are five key soft skills for effective mentoring.

Serving as a Role Model

As a role model, the mentor should demonstrate skills, behaviors, and attitudes that are desired in the organization by his or her own actions. This means the project manager must lead by example and can debrief the mentee on recent work, providing guidance as to ways in which the mentee might have approached a difficult situation in a more effective manner. On a program, for example, at times team members may be unsure as to how their specific work fits into the program, as well as the organization's goals and objectives. If the program manager is mentoring others, he or she can help to show how each project fits in to the program and inter-relates to other projects in the program to better understand the overall vision of the program and its contribution to the organization's strategies. The program manager in this role serves as a link between the organization's executives and the project managers and team members working on the program. A useful approach is to also explain why the program was established and why projects are not being managed in a stand-alone fashion. Additionally, if the program manager is serving as a mentor to project managers, he or she can help them develop various plans at the project level and set them up in order that they complement plans at the program level.

Demonstrating a Genuine, Personal Interest in the Mentee

It also may be necessary to provide advice as required, especially if the project manager sees that a team member is having difficulty in a key area that may lead to a risk in the project, which may become a major issue. At the project level, if the project manager is mentoring a team member or at the program level if the program manager is mentoring a project manager, the mentee can use the mentor as a way to escalate risks and issues and receive guidance in the best approaches to consider. At the program level, the program manager can document the results of a training development needs analysis after the team is established to see if additional training is required and can have each individual, and the team, set up development plans. In addition, the program manager can demonstrate skills, behaviors, and attitudes that may assist others and provide opportunities for team members to meet one-on-one to discuss problems and the best way to handle them (Levin & Ward, 2011). In this way, the program manager is showing interest in the individual's accomplishments along with those of the entire team.

Offering Suggestions, Resources, and Problem-Solving Approaches and Opportunities

In this area, the project manager can provide information to team members as to how similar issues were handled on other projects and can also offer advice in terms of possible future issues and risks they may encounter. Such an approach is especially useful when the current project has similarities with other projects that have been conducted before in the organization. It also is helpful in terms of providing information as to when a certain process should be followed in its entirety and when changes are required to tailor the process to the specific project. This approach also supports Kerzner's (2009) suggestion of using someone in a PMO as the mentor.

Providing Feedback that is Supportive but Frank and Accurate

In the mentor role, a key role is to provide feedback to the mentee. This feedback basically is constructive criticism, but for it to be accepted, it should be provided in a supportive manner. It also should focus on a few critical areas, and in doing so, the mentor can work with the mentee to develop a plan to help improve in these areas that is achievable. Difficulties then need to be portrayed in a way that the mentee can turn them into learning opportunities enabling improvements in overall knowledge, skills, and competencies. However, both program and project managers, and whoever may be serving as a mentor, should consider the mentee's ability to accept constructive feedback and whether or not he or she is comfortable receiving it. A formal relationship, in which time is set aside to focus on feedback only, is desirable rather than imposing it at an impromptu time.

Additionally, the feedback should show the mentor has established an environment in which respect for individual differences is evident, and if the mentor is in the mentee's supervisory chain, has created conditions to enable and motivate the mentee to do his or her best. Along the course of the program or project, successes should be recognized, and celebrating success can assist in terms of formal recognition of both the individual and the team.

Offering Motivation to Identifying and Achieving Long-Term Professional Goals

In this area, the mentor provides suggestions that can help motivate the mentee to achieve his or her own performance goals, especially in terms of overcoming barriers that may impede career growth. For example, assume the organization has decided to adopt a certification program for its project managers who wish to move into program management roles or the management of more complex projects. In this role, however, the mentor might first suggest that, before applying for the organization's internal certification program. he or she first obtain PMI's Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential. The mentor may also notice that the mentee needs to make some changes in his or her own personal style; for example, in conflict resolution if the mentor sees the mentee always using one approach, such as competing or forcing, where smoothing or accommodating or a focus on problem solving or collaborating may be more appropriate. The mentor then may suggest that the mentee use an instrument, for instance that provided by Thomas and Killman (1974) to see his or her primary and secondary styles to resolve conflict and then discuss when it may be appropriate to use some of the other available methods.

Levin and Ward (2011) list achieving long-term professional goals as a performance criterion in one of their elements in a program manager's personal competencies. They describe examples to show this has been met as suggestions given to help team members they are mentoring, providing information about the organization's career path to help determine specific strategies to pursue, providing information about existing training opportunities, providing opportunities for the team member to participate in professional associations and conferences, and providing time in the program schedule for professional development.

Evidence to Demonstrate One is Performing Effectively as a Mentor

People serving as mentors should be rewarded for their successes as appropriate and recognized. Such recognition could be additional financial compensation, acknowledgment of success from the mentor's manager, or even a mention of success on a corporate portal without naming the specific mentee.

Further, although those who want to be mentors typically volunteer for these assignments, they need to be evaluated to assess their helpfulness to the mentee. A formal relationship should document some Key Performance Indicators such as the mentor's ability to provide sufficient time to work with the mentee; the mentor's success in terms of assisting the mentee through a neural party, such as a member of the PMO or the individual responsible for the mentoring program in the organization talking with the mentee's program or project manager to see if skills and competencies have been enhanced through the relationship; whether the mentor expressed the goals, vision, and values of the organization to the mentee; and whether the mentee should be consulted to see whether he or she would want to recommend the mentor to others. Over time, when the mentee is performing at a higher level, the intent is for the relationship to be one that is more consultative in that, from time to time, the mentee might seek advice from the mentor on a new issue, a new methodology, or a new process. In this way, the relationship changes from a formal one to an informal one.

The organization's mentoring program also should be evaluated to assess its value according to its objectives. Such an evaluation could include the number of mentoring relationships established; whether mentoring relationships were terminated earlier and if so, why; the number of people who volunteered to become mentors; whether actual time was available as planned for the relationship; and the problems identified to see if they are ones that were mentioned regularly so a common solution may be able to be provided, such as training in a key area or a change to a process or procedure.

Parting Thoughts

The complexity of our programs and projects and the changes in which we work in this global environment require that we act quickly when problems and issues arise. To do so, people with the highest levels of competencies, skills, and knowledge are needed, and mentoring can assist people to gain confidence and make personal improvements. It is essential for us to be able to analyze information quickly, integrate it, make sure decisions are ones that are congruent with our organization's values, enhance creativity, integrate diverse and unconventional points of view, and embrace and exploit change. No longer is “getting by” and the “tried and true” approaches acceptable.

As Thomas Edison said, “Vision without execution is hallucination. Having a vision is not a big deal. Getting anything done — that is the hard part.” Mentoring can assist us in getting things done, as excellence is required at all levels.

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© 2011, Ginger Levin
Originally published as a part of 2011 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Dallas, TX, USA



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