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Mentoring is one of the most effective professional and career development options available for people. A major challenge for mentoring, however, is the lack of available time (or perceived lack of time) on the part of potential mentors to participate. A solution? How about mentoring in a flash.

Flash mentoring is a one-time meeting or discussion that enables an individual to learn and seek guidance from a more experienced person who can pass on relevant knowledge and experience. The purpose of flash mentoring is to provide a valuable learning opportunity for less experienced individuals while requiring a limited commitment of time and resources for more experienced individuals serving as mentors.

Most traditional mentoring programs require participants to complete lengthy program applications and sign mentoring agreements. The standard flash mentoring session involves only the one-time meeting or discussion -- in person or using telecommunications technologies. The pairing of the mentor and mentee is usually done informally, without any commitment on the part of the mentor or mentee to stay in contact or meet again. However, the mentor and mentee can mutually decide to meet again after their initial meeting, assuming that they both found the session to be productive. If the mentor and mentee aren’t compatible, then there is no need for a tumultuous break-up.

The term flash mentoring came about though my work with 13L and its partnership with the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA). In the fall of 2007, 13L recruited 30 early- and mid-career federal employees to serve as mentees, and NAPA recruited 30 Academy Fellows to serve as mentors. Pairs were matched for one-hour flash mentoring sessions. This flash mentoring pilot program was a huge success, thanks to the combined efforts of Kitty Wooley, Mike O'Leary, Chris Osborne, Patricia Armstrong, and Don Jacobson of 13L, and NAPA Fellow Mark Abramson.

With this success, other organizations began implementing their own versions of flash mentoring, including the U.S. Army at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey; the Chicago Metropolitan Library System; York University in Toronto, Canada; and Executive Women in Government. The Senior Executives Association (SEA) launched a flash mentoring program for its members in the fall of 2008. Under the program, active and retired senior executive members of SEA volunteered approximately one hour of their time to meet one-on-one (in person or via telephone) with a newly appointed senior executive or a GS-14/15 member of SEA who was seeking advice on personal growth and career development. Both the mentor and mentee committed to only a one-time meeting, but they could mutually agree to stay in touch if they wished to do so.

SEA followed up with all mentors and mentees to obtain feedback about their experiences with the flash mentoring session. SEA received evaluation feedback from almost all of the participants, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. With these positive results, SEA is running its flash mentoring program again this fall and is now recruiting association members to serve as mentors and mentees.

Mentoring doesn’t have to be difficult and time-consuming. Could you see the value of implementing flash mentoring in your corner of the world?


Scott Derrick is the Director of Professional Development at the Senior Executives Association, a nonprofit professional association of career federal executives. The views expressed here are his own.

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Tags: askleadership, career, flash, leadership, mentoring, project management

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Comment by K. Scott Derrick on November 17, 2009 at 4:21pm
Tricia - Yeah, I have found that many of the flash mentors prefer this mentoring approach because they can "give back" without a huge time commitment, especially given their unwieldy calendars.
Comment by Tricia on November 17, 2009 at 12:07pm
Definately! I think that many more people would prefer this (by people I'm referring to the mentor) as often they are often busy managing multiple tasks and feel the time constraint. My thoughts are that with less time management pressures, perhaps more managers will be willing to make the commitment to mentoring!

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