Proper guidance Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

While mentoring programs are an effective way to help employees get up to speed, it is an uncommon practice for companies to match new hires with mentors — either formally or informally — according to a recent survey conducted by Accountemps, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The survey, which was conducted by an independent research firm, included responses from more than 1,400 chief financial offices from a random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.

“New hires are often left to take it upon themselves to find someone to help them up the career ladder,” says Lisa Morgan, an Akron branch manager with Accountemps. Morgan noted that 58 percent of those surveyed said that mentorship programs were not common in their companies.

Smart Business spoke with Morgan about her own valuable experience as a mentor and mentoree, and the importance of establishing formal mentorship programs in a company.

Why are mentorship programs uncommon among the U.S. companies that were surveyed?

I don’t think that companies are completely unaware of the benefits of mentor-ship programs, but I believe that the major roadblock is time. Typically, the best mentors in an organization are also, not surprisingly, top producers or model employees. Their supervisors may not want these employees to take time away from their normal day-to-day business activities in order to mentor a new employee.

That said, I believe that mentoring is really a valuable way to transfer the wisdom of these individuals to the next generation; it is also a great way to get new hires integrated quicker into the culture of an organization. And a confidant mentor is invaluable for explaining the nuances — and the unspoken rules — of a company and its expectations to a newcomer.

Could you explain, from your experience, the benefits of being a mentor and a mentoree?

From the mentoree perspective, it helps new hires learn more about how they can fit into the organization and see the bigger picture. It also helps to have a mentor who is not a direct supervisor because the newcomer can talk to the mentor more freely about any concerns or challenges without holding back or feeling like comments may have an negative impact on his or her career. An added benefit is that when the formal mentor program is over, often the mentor/mentoree relationship continues. In my case, I still contacted my mentor for advice even after the formal 12 week program was over.

It is also beneficial for those doing the mentoring as well. From my personal perspective, it certainly was an honor to be asked to be a mentor. And it turned out to be a rewarding experience to help someone who was struggling with some of the same things I struggled with when I was a new hire. There is also pride when the people you mentored get promoted — and become mentors themselves.

What are some steps that a company can take to start a mentoring program?

The most important thing is to talk to employees at all levels, from veterans to the newly hired, to get input on how they would see a mentoring program and how it ought to be structured. The mentoring program will look different for every business, and even vary from department to department within one business because needs are different.

Once information is gathered from employees, you need to clearly define the parameters of the program. Some questions to ask include: How long does the program need to be? What are the top three goals — for both the employee and the company? When do you want employees to start a mentoring program (ideally, it should be when the employee has settled into the job for several months)? And how long should each mentoring session take (for example, one hour once a week)?

Without these parameters a mentoring program can easily become just two people talking with nothing to gauge whether it is effective and what it needs to accomplish.

What should employees do if there is no mentoring program available at their work place?

The next best thing is to join professional organizations, which is a great way to align yourself with individuals in your field who are serious about a profession. Employees can also take it upon themselves to do their own internal networking; this can include trying to find an informal mentor by picking out key employees and aligning themselves with them (asking them out to lunch, asking their advice, etc.).

LISA MORGAN is a branch manager with the Accountemps office in Akron, Ohio. Accountemps has more than 350 offices throughout North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com. Reach Morgan at (330) 253-8367 or lisa.morgan@rhi.com.