Improving Mentoring and Communication through Online Programs

August 26, 2008

Why is mentoring important?

Over the next three years, more than 19 million American workers will reach 65, the traditional retirement age, causing the Bureau of Labor Statistics to project that there will be a shortfall of more than 10 million skilled workers by 2010. According to Christie Jeavans (2004), a BBC reporter in the United Kingdom, ‘every time a senior worker retires, a whole lifetime of experience and knowledge about the job or organization is lost’. As a result, many companies are turning to mentoring programs in order to capture and retain the knowledge of experienced employees.

According to a comprehensive study of over 1,000 workers in 2006 by Gartner, a Connecticut-based research firm:
  • 25% of employees who enrolled in a mentoring program had a salary grade change, while only 5% of workers who did not participate in a mentoring program had a change.
  • Mentors were promoted 6 times more often than those not in a mentoring program.
  • Mentees were promoted 5 times more often than those not in a mentoring program.
  • Retention rates were higher for mentees (72%) and mentors (69%) than for employees who did not participate.
In 2007, 71% of Fortune 500 companies had a mentoring program, and according to an AccountTemps survey, chief executives of such companies believe mentoring is one of the top three factors affecting career growth (Gray, 2008).

Mentoring opens the lines of communication between employees and allows for knowledge transfer between both the mentor and the mentee. Knowledge transfer helps engage employees by ensuring mentors that they are valued within the organization and providing mentees with the knowledge to progress and succeed.

Why is mentoring changing?

Traditionally, a mentor is seen as someone “who oversees the career and development of another person, usually a junior, through teaching, counseling [and] providing psychological support” (Zey, 1984, p. 7 quoted in Bierema et al, 2002, p. 212). However, such a definition constrains and limits possible relationships as a result of barriers such as organizational structure, geographic location, interpersonal skills, cross-gender relationships, and flexible working arrangements (Hamilton et al, 2003).

To overcome such barriers, organizations are turning to mentoring software, e-mentoring, or online mentoring tools to facilitate the mentor and mentee introduction process. Online mentoring programs provide a systematic process for matching mentors with mentees and suggest the best matches based on competencies, skills, knowledge and goals. Not only does it offer data to make informed choices related to pairings, it provides consistency, is nondiscriminatory and cost effective (Watson and Lindenberger, 2008).

Traditional power dynamics and social limitations such as status, location, time, age and gender constraints are eliminated. For example, the flexibility of distance or virtual mentoring, where the mentor and mentee are in different geographical locations, provides the opportunity for mentors to participate to a greater degree, or for more people to get involved in the program. Furthermore, according to Sherry Turkle, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé professor of the social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it may be easier for some people to disclose personal information more easily due to the non-intrusive nature of the internet and email which can increase intimacy and rapport.

With over 50% of the American full-time employee population having access to the internet, and 87% of those employees using the internet within the last 30 days, it is evident that people are becoming more comfortable with communicating via the internet.

Communicating online in conjunction with other methods including face-to-face or over-the-phone can help satisfy the needs and comfort of participating parties, and also enable mentors and mentees to learn about each other in multiple contexts thereby improving the scope of the mentoring relationship.

What is the difference?

Online mentoring can connect an ever evolving workplace where multiple generations work side-by-side with different online competencies. As the workforce becomes more technical and employees become used to gaining information and developing relationships virtually, then using online programs as a tool to facilitate a mentoring relationship is a natural fit (Ensher et al, 2003). Successful mentoring has to align with where people are and what creates meaning for them. Most mentoring relationships today have a distance or e-mentoring component because that's how people talk to each other (Gannon, 2006).

Due to the increasing pace of technological change, reverse mentoring is becoming more popular whereby the individuals within the mentor relationship can be either the mentor or mentee to one another at any given time, so that mutual learning is possible. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, is widely credited with originating the idea of reverse mentoring in the late-1990s when he paired hundreds of his managers with workers who could guide them through the then-unfamiliar territory of the Internet. With the Millennial generation (see Decoding Generational Differences: How can we get back to work?) entering the workplace with a strong knowledge of Internet and communication technologies, reverse mentoring is once again becoming widespread.

Online mentoring also creates opportunities to improve the mentoring process. Online training can provide customized mentee development plans, assist with scheduling meetings, and track and report results. For example, an online mentoring program can have the capability to conduct evaluative surveys, analyze data, and measure bottom line results so that companies can quickly discern the value of the mentoring process to their organization (Watson and Lindenberger, 2008).

How can Insala help?

Insala’s Hi-Impact Mentoring ® allows individuals to explore mentoring and tailor their initiative by providing tools for matching, pairing, assessment, training, tracking and process implementation.

The Hi-Impact Mentoring® Process demonstrates how mentoring can be linked to career development, succession planning, and performance management, how to implement a mentoring program, and how to supplement limited training funds and time for training activities.

Furthermore, the program caters to all levels of technological ability as it easily integrates into any present HR information system, is easy to customize and configure, and has a quick and easy implementation as there is no software to install.

Hi-Impact Mentoring® provides a strong base for a mentoring program and can be used in conjunction with face-to-face mentoring to gain maximum benefits, while measurement components allow participants to gain insight into the effectiveness of their program. By implementing Hi-Impact Mentoring®, individuals and their companies will benefit from a structured and customized mentoring program.


Bierema, Laura L., Merriam, Sharan B. (2002) ‘E-mentoring: Using computer mediated communication to enhance the mentoring process’ Innovative Higher Education 26(3), p. 211

Ensher, Ellen A., Heun, Christian, and Blanchard, Anita (2003) ‘Online mentoring and computer-mediated communication: New directors in research’ Journal of Vocational Behavior 63, p. 264

Francis, Laura (2007) ‘Mentoring Makeover’ T and D Magazine 61(7) p. 53

Gray, William A. (2008) ‘Before knowledge exits’ Oil & Gas Investor 28(4) p. 83

Hamilton, Betti A., Scandura Terri A. (2003) ‘E-Mentoring: Implications for Organizational Learning and Development in a Wired World’ Organizational Dynamics 31(4) p. 388

Jeavans, Christine (2004) ‘Will we still be working at 70?’ BBC News November 30, downloaded from on August 12, 2008

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