Definition of Mentoring, Benefits of Mentoring, & Other FAQs

Definition of mentoring: what exactly is mentoring?
What does a mentor do?
Are mentoring and coaching identical?
Are buddy systems and employee mentoring programs the same?
Why do organizations implement formal mentoring programs?
Does mentoring happen naturally?
How are informal and formal mentoring different?
What do you mean by “chemistry” and “compatibility”?
Why do organizations need a structured corporate mentoring program? Aren’t managers already
performing this role?
What are the benefits of mentoring?
How does an organization know when it’s ready to implement a formal mentoring program?
What does a Mentoring Program Manager do?
How can we create a pilot mentoring program?
How can you determine an organization’s need for mentoring?
Are there different types of mentoring models in a structured program? What are they?
What is the role of diversity in mentoring?
What results can be achieved in a structured mentoring program?
Why shouldn’t we create a program ourselves?
What does an outside consulting firm offer a prospective client?


What is mentoring?
Mentoring is most often defined as a professional relationship in which an experienced person
(the mentor) assists another (the mentoree) in developing specific skills and knowledge that will
enhance the less-experienced person’s professional and personal growth.

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What does a mentor do?
The following are among the mentor’s functions:
  • Teaches the mentoree about a specific issue
  • Coaches the mentoree on a particular skill
  • Facilitates the mentoree’s growth by sharing resources and networks
  • Challenges the mentoree to move beyond his or her comfort zone
  • Creates a safe learning environment for taking risks
  • Focuses on the mentoree’s total development

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Are mentoring and coaching identical?
No. People often confuse mentoring and coaching. Though related, they are not the same. A mentor may coach, but a coach is not a mentor. Mentoring is “relational,” while coaching is “functional.” There are other significant differences.
Coaching characteristics:
  • Managers coach all of their staff as a required part of the job
  • Coaching takes place within the confines of a formal manager-employee relationship
  • Focuses on developing individuals within their current jobs
  • Interest is functional, arising out of the need to ensure that individuals can perform the tasks required to the best of their abilities
  • Relationship tends to be initiated and driven by an individual’s manager
  • Relationship is finite - ends as an individual transfers to another job
Mentoring characteristics:
  • Takes place outside of a line manager-employee relationship, at the mutual consent of a mentor and the person being mentored
  • Is career-focused or focuses on professional development that may be outside a mentoree’s area of work
  • Relationship is personal - a mentor provides both professional and personal support
  • Relationship may be initiated by a mentor or created through a match initiated by the organization
  • Relationship crosses job boundaries
  • Relationship may last for a specific period of time (nine months to a year) in a formal program, at which point the pair may continue in an informal mentoring relationship
There are many other differences. Download our free white paper on coaching vs. mentoring to learn more.

coaching vs mentoring


Are buddy systems and mentoring programs the same?
No. Buddy systems are initiated by organizations to help new employees adjust to jobs during their first few months of employment.

Buddies are most often peers in the same department, who assist new employees for short periods of time and require no specialized training as a buddy.

Mentoring is a more complex relationship and focuses on both short- and long-term professional development goals. Though a mentor may be an employee’s peer, most often a mentor is a person at least one level higher in the organization who is not within the mentoree’s direct supervisory line of management.


Why do organizations implement formal mentoring programs?
Interest in mentoring has varied over time and has been affected by economic and social factors.
Organizations recognize that workforce demographics have changed dramatically in recent years, as women and members of different minority groups have joined the workforce in greater numbers. In addition, technology has automated traditional employee functions and continues to affect on-the-job performance, altering the way people see themselves within the corporate structure.

With these changes, organizations are finding it difficult to recruit and retain qualified personnel. As corporate downsizing continues, organizations are also experiencing a flattening of their organizations, challenging them to provide sufficient growth opportunities for employees.

On the plus side, organizations find today’s employees exhibit a more flexible approach to work. On the minus side, employees may feel less loyalty to the organizations for which they work.
Organizations now look to mentoring to implement a strategic game plan that includes:

  • Recruitment
  • Retention
  • Professional development
  • Development of a multicultural workforce
Interested in launching a formal mentoring program? Our e-mentoring software, MentoringComplete, can help. Learn more about MentoringComplete.

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Does mentoring happen naturally?
Absolutely. Informal mentoring occurs all the time and is a powerful experience. The problem is that informal mentoring is often accessible only to a few employees and its benefits are limited only to those few who participate. Formal or structured mentoring takes mentoring to the next level and expands its usefulness and corporate value beyond that of a single mentor-mentoree pairing.


How are informal and formal mentoring different?
Informal and formal mentoring are often confused, but they are very different in their approaches and outcomes.

Informal mentoring:

  • Goals of the relationship are not specified
  • Outcomes are not measured
  • Access is limited and may be exclusive
  • Mentors and mentorees self-select on the basis of personal chemistry
  • Mentoring lasts a long time; sometimes a lifetime
  • The organization benefits indirectly, as the focus is exclusively on the mentoree
Formal mentoring:
  • Goals are established from the beginning by the organization and the employee mentoree
  • Outcomes are measured
  • Access is open to all who meet program criteria
  • Mentors and mentorees are paired based on compatibility
  • Training and support in mentoring is provided

Organization and employee both benefit directly.


What do you mean by “chemistry” and “compatibility?”
"Chemistry" is an intense, very personal feeling – an initial connection or attraction between two individuals that may develop into a strong, emotional bond. Unstructured and unpredictable, it is the basis for an informal mentoring relationship.

"Compatibility" occurs when individuals work together in harmony to achieve a common purpose. In formal mentoring, that means a more-seasoned person leading someone less experienced through a structured professional-development program in much the same way teachers facilitate learning.


Why do organizations need a structured mentoring program? Aren’t managers already performing this role?
While many managers demonstrate mentoring behavior on an informal basis, it is very different from having a structured mentoring program. There is a qualitative difference between a manager-employee relationship and a mentor-mentoree relationship.
  • Managerial Role

    The manager-employee relationship focuses on achieving the objectives of the department and the company. The manager assigns tasks, evaluates the outcome,conducts performance reviews,
    and recommends possible salary increases and promotions.

    Because managers hold significant power over employees’ work lives, most employees demonstrate only their strengths and hide their weaknesses in the work environment.

  • Mentoring Role

    A mentor-mentoree relationship focuses on developing the mentoree professionally and personally. As such, the mentor does not evaluate the mentoree with respect to his or her current job, does not conduct performance reviews of the mentoree, and does not provide input
    about salary increases and promotions.

    This creates a safe learning environment, where the mentoree feels free to discuss issues openly and honestly, without worrying about negative consequences on the job.

    The roles of manager and mentor are fundamentally different. That’s why structured mentoring programs never pair mentors with their direct reports.


What are the benefits of mentoring?
Mentoring benefits the organization, mentors and mentorees. A successful mentoring program benefits your organization by:
  • Enhancing strategic business initiatives
  • Encouraging retention
  • Reducing turnover costs
  • Improving productivity
  • Breaking down the "silo" mentality that hinders cooperation among company departments or divisions.
  • Elevating knowledge transfer from just getting information and to retaining the practical experience and wisdom gained from long-term employees.
  • Enhancing professional development.
  • Linking employees with valuable knowledge and information to other employees in need of such information
  • Using your own employees, instead of outside consultants, as internal experts for professional development
  • Supporting the creation of a multicultural workforce by creating relationships among diverse employees and allowing equal access to mentoring.
  • Creating a mentoring culture, which continuously promotes individual employee growth and development.

Mentors enjoy many benefits, including:
  • Gains insights from the mentoree’s background and history that can be used in the mentor’s professional and personal development.
  • Gains satisfaction in sharing expertise with others.
  • Re-energizes the mentor’s career.
  • Gains an ally in promoting the organization’s well-being.
  • Learns more about other areas within the organization.

Mentorees enjoy many benefits, including:
  • Gains from the mentor’s expertise
  • Receives critical feedback in key areas, such as communications, interpersonal relationships, technical abilities, change management and leadership skills
  • Develops a sharper focus on what is needed to grow professionally within the organization
  • Learns specific skills and knowledge that are relevant to personal goals
  • Networks with a more influential employee
  • Gains knowledge about the organization’s culture and unspoken rules that can be critical for success; as a result, adapts more quickly to the organization’s culture
  • Has a friendly ear with which to share frustrations as well as successes.

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How does an organization know when it’s ready to implement a formal mentoring program?
An organization that values its employees and is committed to providing opportunities for them to remain and grow within the organization is an ideal candidate for initiating a mentoring program. Ideally, the organization has an internal structure to support a successful program. Examples include:

  • A performance management program
  • Developed competencies
  • A valued-training function
  • Diversity training
  • A succession-planning process
  • A management development program
  • Strategic business objectives

In addition, there should be individuals within the higher ranks of the organization who will champion the mentoring initiative and help make it happen. Advocates may include the organization’s president, vice presidents and other influential executives.

A Mentoring Program Manager (MPM) is also needed to coordinate the mentoring program. The MPM should be someone who is perceived as a facilitator, listener and coalition-builder – a person who is trusted. MPM is not a full-time position, so mentoring responsibilities must be balanced with the MPM’s other duties. Typically, such a person works in a Human Resources, Organizational Development, Training or Diversity Department.

Learn how to get a pilot mentoring program off the ground in our free white paper.

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What does a Mentoring Program Manager do?
Coordinating the mentoring process within the organization means working with a Management Mentors consultant, as well as fellow employees, to design and implement a mentoring initiative that fits the organization’s culture.

The initiative forms the basis for ongoing mentoring. During the pilot, a Mentoring Program Manager (MPM) typically works with 20 to 30 individuals (10 to 15 pairs). The manager contacts them on a regular basis, making certain the relationships are going well and that the mentoring program is achieving its goals. The MPM offers each pair whatever resources may be needed.

The MPM also becomes the organization’s internal mentoring expert, serving as a resource for various departments and divisions that have an interest in pursuing mentoring.

The amount of time this take varies. Normally, a MPM spends one to four hours per week coordinating the project, depending on how often the mentor-mentoree pairs meet.

Further reading: Identifying Model Program Managers

TRAINING: We have an online certification program for mentoring program managers. Take it at your convenience from the comfort of your home or office.
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How can we create a pilot mentoring program?
The Mentoring Program Manager forms a task force of 6-8 people. Members of the task force should represent a cross-section of the organization, including potential mentors and mentorees, supervisory personnel and any stakeholders who can bring value to the process. For example, a representative from Human Resources might help tie department goals with the goals of the mentoring program.

The task force:

  • Determines the goals of the program
  • Chooses the proper mentoring model
  • Selects criteria for mentors and mentorees
  • Defines other critical components of the program
  • Interviews potential candidates
  • Matches participants
  • Evaluates results at the end of the pilot program
Want to learn more? Download our FREE white paper on how to create a pilot mentoring program.

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How can you determine an organization’s need for mentoring?
Some organizations conduct focus groups, employee surveys or both to determine where the
need for mentoring is greatest, and whether there is sufficient support for a mentoring program.

Other organizations rely on task force members, who have been asked to participate because of
their knowledge of the organization and the population being targeted. The appropriate method
depends on what steps an organization has already taken as well as what resources are available.

Not sure what direction to go in? We can help. Contact Management Mentors now for a free consultation.


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Are there different types of mentoring models in a structured program? What are they?
One of the advantages of mentoring is that it can be adapted to any organization’s culture and resources. There are several mentoring models to choose from when developing a mentoring program, including:

NOTE: Download our free thought paper: Corporate Mentoring Models -- One Size Doesn't Fit All

  • One-On-One Mentoring
    The most common mentoring model, one-on-one mentoring matches one mentor with one mentoree. Most people prefer this model because it allows both mentor and mentoree to develop a personal relationship and provides individual support for the mentoree. Availability of mentors is the only limitation.
  • Resource-Based Mentoring
    Resource-based mentoring offers some of the same features as one-on-one mentoring. The main difference is that mentors and mentorees are not interviewed and matched by a Mentoring Program Manager. Instead, mentors agree to add their names to a list of available mentors from which a mentoree can choose. It is up to the mentoree to initiate the process by asking one of the volunteer mentors for assistance. This model typically has limited support within the organization and may result in mismatched mentor-mentoree pairing.
  • Group Mentoring
    Group mentoring requires a mentor to work with 4-6 mentorees at one time. The group meets once or twice a month to discuss various topics. Combining senior and peer mentoring, the mentor and the peers help one another learn and develop appropriate skills and knowledge.

    Group mentoring is limited by the difficulty of regularly scheduling meetings for the entire group. It also lacks the personal relationship that most people prefer in mentoring. For this reason, it is often combined with the one-on-one model. For example, some organizations provide each mentoree with a specific mentor. In addition, the organization offers periodic meetings in which a senior executive meets with all of the mentors and mentorees, who then share their knowledge and expertise.
  • Training-Based Mentoring
    This model is tied directly to a training program. A mentor is assigned to a mentoree to help that person develop the specific skills being taught in the program. Training-based mentoring is limited, because it focuses on the subject at hand and doesn’t help the mentoree develop a broader skill set.
  • Executive Mentoring
    This top-down model may be the most effective way to create a mentoring culture and cultivate skills and knowledge throughout an organization. It is also an effective succession-planning tool, because it prevents the knowledge "brain drain" that would otherwise take place when senior management retires. For further information, click here.

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What is the role of diversity in mentoring?

Mentoring can be of great value to women and people of color. These are the employees who have often been disenfranchised within organizations and have not been “chosen” by informal mentors.

However, if mentoring is to be successful as a tool for empowering employees, it needs to be truly diverse – representing everyone within the organization and not just women and people of color. By including the broadest spectrum of people, mentoring offers everyone the opportunity to grow professionally and personally without regard to gender or race. A successful mentoring program needs to balance the need for inclusion with the need for fair representation.

For many years, some organizations thought of mentoring only as a tool to help women and people of color. Viewed inappropriately as a remedial program, mentoring lacked widespread support within most organizations.

These mentoring programs did not provide mentorees with the assistance they really needed. Good intentions gone astray resulted in a misapplication of mentoring.

Diversity is equally important when choosing mentors within organizations. Because many mentoring programs are geared to management levels, today’s mentor population still tends to be made up of white males.

As organizations seek to devise mentoring programs, they need to include mentors who are both non-white and non-male. Using the resource-based or group-based models, tied to the one-on-one mentoring model, can help diversify the mentor population.

For example, one of the mentoring goals might be to learn how to navigate effectively through the organization’s culture. Using the group model, an organization might have a panel of diverse employees meeting with the entire mentor-mentoree population to share how they have successfully navigated that culture.

Further reading on diversity:

The Diversity Manager's Role in Your Mentoring Program

How to Start a Diversity Conversation in Your Mentoring Program

Diversity Initiatives & Mentoring Programs

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What results can be achieved in a structured mentoring program?
Though a great deal has been written about mentoring, there is little statistical data supporting its value. Much of the published information available is based on theory alone. Because mentoring is about human relationships, it is more difficult to quantify scientifically.

Using interviews and questionnaires, Management Mentors has evaluated mentoring programs implemented by client companies. The results consistently demonstrate that well-designed programs lead to the acquisition of knowledge and expertise within a trusting and supportive mentoring relationship.

Learn more about specific results by reading some of our client case studies and client testimonials.


Why shouldn’t we create a program ourselves?
Creating a structured mentoring program requires a solid understanding of mentoring dynamics.
There are myriad examples of mentoring programs that failed because organizations mistakenly believed they fully understood mentoring. Rather than create a successful program, they negatively impacted the careers of both mentors and mentorees. Typically, such programs have put people together without clear guidelines, offered no training about mentoring relationships, lacked internal support, paired employees with the bosses of the employees’ immediate supervisors, and violated other fundamentals of mentoring.
The amount of outside expertise needed to establish a mentoring program varies from organization to organization. Most organizations have found that using a consultant to set up a pilot program has made the difference between success and failure.


What does an outside consulting firm offer a prospective client?

Experienced consultants provide:

  • Cost effectiveness - reduces the time and effort needed to establish a program
  • Successful design - program operates more efficiently based on successful designs employed by similar organizations
  • Improved results - focuses on specific competency areas

Higher success rate - previous mentoring expertise helps organizations avoid pitfalls that have derailed many mentoring programs.

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Would you like to learn more about our services? Call us at 617-789-4622617-789-4622 or contact us to see how you can achieve desired business results through a well-designed mentoring program.