Mentoring Programs

One of the most effective devices to train and develop aspiring PMs (or any staff for that matter) is through a mentoring program. This device will likely achieve the fastest development of key staff and will enhance the performance of all who participate. Younger staff gain the benefit of the experience and wisdom of older hands and the more senior individuals are exposed to new ideas and techniques.

While mentoring seems to be a win/win situation for all involved, it is not always embraced in design and owner/client organizations. Depending on how extensively the program is developed, there can be sizable costs for staff time, administration, training fees, lost billable time, and many other items. Older staff may resist mentoring newcomers for fear of job security. Senior management may ask, “Why pay the higher salary of the older staff when the younger individuals can do almost the same (or the same) job?” Personality conflict can also be an issue if the assigned mentor is unable to achieve a good working relationship with the individual to be mentored.

In some situations, firms are strongly in favor of establishing mentoring programs; however, sometimes the younger staff members fail to appreciate the benefits of the program or the opportunity being presented to them. A number of years ago, as the chair of the Chicago AIA chapter Practice Management Committee, I helped to establish a mentoring program. A chief goal of the program was to match up architectural practitioners in Chicago with fourth, fifth, and sixth year architecture students at the local architectural schools. Practitioners were grouped by their spe-cialty such as design, technical areas, computer technology, and management, and students could select from their area of interest. Many practicing architects were enthusiastic about the program and readily signed up. Despite heavy promotion at the three local architecture schools, very few students applied for mentors. Sadly, this was a lost opportunity to learn a great deal about their chosen profession from those with real-world experience.

Types of Mentoring Programs

Mentoring programs exist in many forms; however, they can be broadly classified into two major groupings.

  1. Formal mentoring programs: A formal mentoring program requires a significant commitment of resources. Extensive record keeping is required, training budgets must be expanded, administrative systems for the program need to be developed, and lost billable time must be anticipated and monitored. There are typically four steps to the development of a formal mentoring program:

a) Description: Each job/position in the organization must have a written position description. Career paths must be laid out for each job grouping such as project managers. The criteria for advancing into a particular job/position needs to be described, and the criteria for performing a particular job/position must also be outlined. This step requires the organization to develop a process for mentoring. The firm must evaluate each position, staff advancement practices, training needs, and so on. It also provides benchmarks to measure performance and goal setting. For staff, this step provides a road map for advancement and improvement. Obviously, the achievement of goals must bring an appropriate reward such as a promotion or salary increase.

b) Skill assessment: Less experienced individuals participating in the mentoring process must first be assessed as to their current skill level and performance. This provides a benchmark for them and for the firm to measure their growth. Mentors must also be assessed for their capabilities in meeting the requirements of their role.

c) Mentoring: The actual mentoring process is time-consuming and continues over a long period of time. Implementation may require less experienced staff to seek an advanced degree, take other college courses, attend professional development seminars, read books, or undertake a myriad of other activities. The mentor must monitor and encourage this effort. Eventually, a mentor’s role may end and a new individual may take over as mentor.

d) Performance assessment: The success or failure of the mentoring effort must be regularly assessed. This process must be on an individual basis and for the program as a whole. The mentoring program must be continually appraised and adjusted to reflect the needs, capabilities, and growth of your staff.

  1. Informal mentoring programs: This is the most common type of mentoring program and is widely practiced in the construction industry. Informal programs occur in two types.

a) Kismet: In this type of informal program, mentoring is left to fate as younger and older staff develop friendships and working relationships. In some cases, a more experienced individual is committed to the development of junior staff and seeks to help them advance. Generally, the firm plays little or no role in this mentoring process.

b) Active encouragement: In some firms, the informal mentoring process is developed by encouraging more experienced staff to mentor junior members of the team. Activities may be planned to foster this effort, budgets may provide funds for mentoring and training programs, and a general atmosphere of concern for the development of younger staff may pervade the organization.

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