Should Corporate Mentoring Be Linked to Performance Management?

In the world of talent management, words like coaching, mentoring, and performance management are often misused. Why? All three are processes for development--processes that share common goals. But what's different about these processes is how they work and achieve the goals. We're hoping this issue of Mentoring Minute provides clarity.

Performance Management Defined

Performance management is a system for measuring whether an employee is "performing" adequately on the job. This information is then used to assist the employee in becoming a better performer. The goal of performance management is to develop an employee in his/her current position. While performance management sometimes involves planning for future performance, most often it centers on the employee's current job performance. As a result, any support system implemented will be focused on current job development. One of the more common support systems is coaching.

Coaching Defined

Coaching involves using an expert in a specific area and having this person help an employee gain the requisite knowledge or experience needed to perform better. Coaching should be linked directly to an employee's performance so that the goals of coaching mesh with the performance objectives. This is why immediate managers are usually involved in assessing an employee's performance, making recommendations to a coach on what to focus on in the coaching session, and evaluating results to see if the coaching was successful.

Corporate Mentoring Defined

Since corporate mentoring is also a process for development, then shouldn't mentoring be tied to the performance management system? The answer is "yes." However, the problem isn't whether there should be a link, but rather what that link should consist of. This is the part that people tend to misunderstand.

Should Mentoring & Performance Management Be Linked?

Mentoring programs should absolutely be linked to performance management--in other words, to those competencies deemed important by an organization as employees develop for future roles. There is a difference, however, between linking mentoring to performance management and turning mentoring into a performance management system. Let's use an example for clarification.

If I want to develop one of my employees into a true leader, then I'll probably use various approaches: seminars, training, coaching, etc. I'll want to measure progress in these areas and determine if the development is successful. This requires me, as a manager, to be "hands on" with the development of this employee into an effective leader.

Coaching Disguised as Mentoring

Now, let's say I think it would be great for my employee to have a mentor who is experienced in leadership. I bring in this mentor, we have discussions, and the person mentors my employee. I get periodic reports from the mentor, and we discuss the results. This process has turned the mentor into a "second manager" as opposed to letting him or her simply support the employee's development. In essence, it has created a relationship that focuses on results and measurement as opposed to one of development and transformation. There's nothing wrong with this approach per se, but it isn't mentoring, and it shouldn't be called mentoring. It's more akin to coaching.

True Corporate Mentoring Transforms Mentorees

On the other hand, let's say I've identified my employee as a talented person with leadership abilities. I could recommend that he or she participate in our company's corporate mentoring program to develop more leadership skills as well as other necessary career-building skills. Since I'm focusing on this person's long-term development--development that could move this person out of my department or even out of my company--I should not be directly involved with my employee's mentor. It may be useful for my employee to receive feedback from me regarding what to focus on with the mentor, but this is by way of suggestion as opposed to requirement. I should be informed of meeting schedules to ensure they don't disrupt my department, but in a mentoring program, my role is to support my employee's meeting time with the mentor, offer suggestions to my employee on areas of development, and STAND BACK and let the relationship happen.

Measuring a Corporate Mentoring Program's Effectiveness

If my job as a manager is to "stand back" and let the relationship simply happen, how does my company ensure that mentoring is having a positive impact on the bottom line if it's not directly tied to performance? Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Your company can--and certainly should--set guidelines and goals for its corporate mentoring program, including focus areas that remain critical to performance and the bottom line.
  • When employees have true mentors, they're much more likely to share the "real" issues that hinder their performance--issues that they wouldn't normally share with their managers.
  • Mentoring allows honest, two-way discussions to take place. This gives the mentoree the opportunity to be truly changed. This transformation will affect performance, which will, in turn, affect the bottom line.
  • Research shows that employees who are mentored through a formal mentoring program will be promoted faster, receive higher salary increases, and stay longer with the company.

Is your company using a true corporate mentoring program, or is it coaching disguised as mentoring? I'd be happy to provide your company with a 30-minute phone conversation to discuss your talent management strategies and goals for the future.

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