How Mentors Drive Agency Performance


As kids, many of us looked to our parents to show us the way. In school, we had our favorite teachers to guide us through science and Shakespeare. So now that we’re professionals working for (or with) the government, why should it be any different?

The truth is that as adults and working professionals, we need mentors more than ever. Government agencies, and the organizations that support them, are evolving. And reconciling shrinking budgets with an increasing number of mission goals leads to a struggling workforce that often has more challenges than solutions. Having a mentor can help guide your employees through any number of professional challenges. But before you jump into the mentorship pool, let’s discuss what a mentor is, where they come from, and what type of results you can expect.

What is a mentor?

A mentor is someone who offers coaching, guidance, or some other form of help.[1] In this case, the assistance being offered is of a professional nature, and results in the protégé overcoming an obstacle or learning how to better meet the demands of their career.

The Harvard Business Review found there are typically six types of mentors,[2] ranging from career coaches to motivators. Each should be strategically aligned with the protégé’s goals, with confidentiality being just as important as any advice being given.

Where do mentors come from?

A mentor can come from anywhere, they just need to bring a “been there, done that, here is how you can win” mentality to improving your workforce’s capabilities. Mentors can be a part of your current organization, or they can come from an external source. Either can be effective and provide value to your employees. Just be sure that whatever the protégé’s goals are, the mentor assigned to them has experience in that arena.

There is no shortage of online resources that provide training to become a mentor. However, a mentor can simply be someone who provides wisdom and experience, but may lack any official training. Either path is OK, as long as the mentor and protégé agree on the nature of their relationship.

How does mentoring work?

In order for a mentorship to be effective, the mentor should have a firm understanding of their protégé’s aspirations and challenges, and leverage their past experiences to help guide the protégé.

Both parties should agree on when and where mentoring should occur. Weekly or monthly? In-person or through video chat? Phone or email? Any frequency or format for mentoring is OK, as long as everyone agrees on the specifics, and that there is stakeholder sign-off.

One government-oriented mentorship website explains the benefits of speed mentoring and flash mentoring.[3] The former is similar to speed dating: multiple protégés engage with a variety of mentors in timed intervals where the mentor gains fresh perspective, while the mentee receives wisdom and counsel from industry experts. Flash mentoring, on the other hand, focuses on a “one-time meeting that enables an individual to learn and seek guidance from a more experienced person who can pass on relevant knowledge and experience.” Whether it’s a one-time session or a longer engagement, mentorship can provide invaluable insights to recipients.

What are the results of mentorships?

Prior to starting a mentorship initiative, organizations, the mentor, and the protégé should all be in agreement as to what the goal is and what success looks like. For long-term mentoring, stakeholders may want to create benchmarks to ensure progress is being made.

Mentorships have a history of improving performance metrics, getting protégés on the right career path, overcoming an obstacle, successfully blending personal and professional goals, and more. What success looks like is different in each partnership, but as long as the agreed upon objectives are achieved it is a major success.

As a best practice, government agencies should work with their employees to determine where, if, or how they can fully realize their potential, then align those goals with a mentor who has personal experience in generating results.

[1] https://mentorscout.com/about/mentor.cfm

[2] Batista, Ed. “Keys to Coaching Your Employees.” Harvard Business Review. Date published: Sept. 10, 2014. Date accessed: March 25, 2015. https://hbr.org/2014/09/coaching-your-employees

[3] http://www.opm.gov/wiki/training/mentoring-and-coaching.ashx

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Katarina Hong

I agree that mentors are so most important, especially because I’m someone that is starting out in the workforce. I really like the how you go through the steps of a mentorship. Thanks for posting!

Sonia Chakrabarty

Thank you for sharing this post! I feel like mentorship is a term that’s thrown around a lot without ever really breaking it down, so I really appreciate your post.