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Thanks for conducting this survey and sharing it with us. It is a critical issue that many/most companies do not recognize. During a review of hourly jobs for a recent client, we uncovered this issue. At the same time, we were defining “what makes for an excellent Supervisor or Lead to hourly employees.” Through the interviews, many directors and managers noted that the promotion to a “lead” or “supervisor” position was based on the incumbent’s ability to mentor/lead/and generally work well with employees and others. It was clear that some of the best hourly workers, whose technical skills were impeccable, would not pass the test of working well with and mentoring others. So, what we found was that while there was no reward for mentoring per se, the gate to a lead or supervisory position depended heavily on the skill to mentor. To your point, it seems that rather than leaving it to chance and a natural proclivity to “mentor,” a plan in place to reward and encourage it could lead to a more well-rounded pool of employees that would be eligible for the lead or supervisory roles.

Hey Jim:
I think many people see mentoring as something people do to pass on knowledge and improve their own skills. They do it "out of the goodness of their own heart." I am sure that some people think that if we paid people for it they would then do it for the money and it would cheapen the process. The activity itself should be its own reward.

Well that is nice, and I do some of that as well. But there is enough of a mercenary streak in me to want to get paid for it as well. Just remember you often get what you pay for. Free mentoring may be worth just that... nothing.

Vita: Right. When you promote your best hourly worker to supervisor, you always lose your best hourly worker and frequently get your worst supervisor. The KSAs required for supervisor are different and often not visible in the hourly work. Testing them first as mentors may solve that.

Michael: Also right. Don't want to over-commercialize and possibly extinguish the intrinsic rewards of teaching, so mentor rewards must walk a fine line. Perhaps some non-cash formal recognition of the value added is possible, plus assurances that mentors will get credit for their extra services.

Bravo Jim. Great post! Additionally, I believe organizations would benefit by adjusting the traditional performance standards for their mentors. That is build in mentoring time by carving out some of their other expected deliverables. For example, dialing down a sales goal in recognition of a mentor's coaching efforts so they aren't penalized for making valuable mentoring contributions to the company.

Sue: Thanks for a perfect example of an effective sensible option that truly belongs in the Total Rewards category.

When interesting topics come up on employee development, I turn to Dan McCarthy for authoritative information. I have found him to be a reliable and knowledgeable person on these matters which is not my field.

I recently posed a series of questions on this topic to Dan and here are his replies which I thought might benefit others and tend to confirm my thinking.


Sidney -
Wow, that's a lot of questions - worthy of a seperate post, but here are my short answers for now:

1. "Do you think that it's appropriate to reward mentors in some way, such as a special bonus?"
I suppose you could, but I don't think it's needed. In fact, some may see it as insulting. Most mentors give back becuase they want to.

2. "Are most mentors the employee's supervisor or next level person?"
Usually not the immediate supervisor, often 2 levels higher, but not always.

3. "Are mentors generally volunteers?" Yes.

4. "Is it necessary to reward people to get them to be mentors?"
See #1.

5."How are mentors selected in general?" Usually there is criteria, sometimes training, and the mentee should have a choice.

Monday, June 21, 2010 6:07:00 PM EDT

Pretty much agree on most of those answers, except I might quibble on #1, where the answer is laudable, normal and totally appropriate for hobbies or nonprofit activities. However, it could be dangerous for businesses to rely on officially unappreciated volunteers to groom their future talent. This may be more a question of management development policy than a "pay" question, because all rewards do not come via cash.

Thanks, Jim - for an engaging post, many angles to consider, and a wonderful follow up of each comment.

I worked at a Fortune 5000 company with 50,000 salaried employees and we successfully used volunteers to perform important, but infrequent duties---diversity awareness group facilitators and process improvement specialists---without a financial inducement.

We felt that we were getting our best employees and that they were attracted by the opportunity to set themselves off from the crowd by acquiring new skills that would help them get promoted and enhance their marketability. We also believed that some of the people we attracted were doing these duties out of sincere interest in their importance to the company (diversity awareness) and that they were in essence giving back to its welfare.

Randy: You are quite correct that volunteer special assignments and task force memberships are wonderful classic developmental training and testing opportunities for mutual enrichment. Recognition is a powerful intrinsic motivator and not all rewards jingle.

Here's a new development in the Federal Government:

Per the Government Executive.com site, "The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed en bloc the 2009 Federal Supervisor Training Act (S. 674)."

2009 Federal Supervisor Training Act (S. 674)


Seems that the Federal Government may be leading the way to better supervisory training. It seems widely accepted that it is needed, and I wonder if it includes the "mentor like" qualities that we discussed here within the Cafe.

"Both bills would establish a program to educate supervisors on a range of common managerial issues, including developing and discussing goals with employees, communicating progress and conducting performance appraisals. In addition, supervisors would receive training on prohibited personnel practices and employee collective bargaining rights."

We will see how this develops.

Good catch, Vita.

Excellent post, Jim. That's one reason, if a company values mentorship (and it should), then "mentoring" should be a formal value included as a reason for recognition. And it should be made clear that "mentoring" doesn't necessarily always come from a formal, designated mentor. In my career, I can name numerous people who have mentored me as I learned and grew, but who were never designated as my formal mentor. In cases such as these, those who have been mentored should be able to say "thanks," formally and significantly.

Great observation, Derek. Maybe others will suggest options to accomplish that very thing.

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