A Situational Approach to Mentoring in a Firm

There are several advantages for a firm to build, develop and maintain a mentoring program. The advantages are many and some obvious. Among the reasons for a implementing a mentoring program, expanding the skills of your staff, improved recruitment, retention, and return on investment (ROI). So why do so many firm choose not to implement a mentoring program? Size of the firm may be one factor. However, you really can implement a mentoring program with just two staff – at least a traditional mentoring format. Larger firms of 20, 50, 100 or more have the staff but too often they are concerned that the process takes time (translated – money) and it does, but so does the traditional route of staff training. Finally, a firm may not have anyone knowledgeable enough about how to set up, organize, and run a mentoring program. This leaves them three primary options: assignment to the HR staff function; assign to the program to a professional practice committee; or hire a part-time consultant to run the program.

Taking a firm mentoring program to a higher level – beyond that of the traditional pairing approach - does require a knowledgeable HR manager at the operationally level, or a committed professional practice committee, or an experienced consultant. The foundation to situational mentoring is built upon the management concept of situational leadership, developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. A successful mentoring program requires that a mentor is able to share, convey, teach and/or impart their knowledge or skills to the mentee. The core of the Blanchard model, Situational Leadership II, highlights four primary leadership delivery styles: directive, coaching, supportive, and delegating. Like any good leader, the mentor is likely to be most effective in one or two delivery styles and less so in the others. A practical strength of situational leadership is that it also takes into consideration the development level of the subordinate, or in this case the mentee. Using a four step sliding scale the mentee is rated on competence and commitment.

To build a situational mentoring program think in terms of a social networking format structure, pairing the best or most knowledgeable mentor at the right time and in the right situation when the mentee has the most need or desire to learn. A mentoring program within a firm takes on and becomes part of the firm culture. A mentoring program is not an add-on program and should not be treated as such. Coordinating the program is not an easy assignment but it is critical to the program’s success. Whoever is assigned to manage the program should have the conceptual and personal skills that will be necessary to correctly match mentors with mentees at the appropriate times and under the right situations. Remember, the win – win of situational mentoring comes when the mentor uses his or her most effective delivery style matched correctly to the level of development of the mentee at the time of need.