Mentoring in the Best of Times and the Worst of Times

April 20, 2009
No matter what shape the economy is in, how the industry is forecasted, or what is on the horizon for market demands, when it comes to identifying a just-in-time, time-efficient and cost effective way to develop people…it’s mentoring.

If your organization is going through changes right now including a major downsizing due to the economic environment, now is the time to initiate a Mentoring Process.

Why now? Many organizations feel like the timing has to be just right before they can initiate projects. Sometimes that can be true – but mentoring is an initiative that is different. If the organization is downsizing, many things can happen to your knowledge capital:
  1. Valued experience and skills/competencies can be walking out the door

    Within some organizations, “downsizing” may mean early retirement or buy-out packages that are offered to employees. But with this, valued experience is walking out the door. Before that happens, make sure that you have a way to capture it! Mentoring initiatives allow for a knowledge transfer before an individual leaves the organization and even afterward through an organized Mentoring Learning Plan. Many times, individuals retiring or taking early retirement are interested in taking on this role of Mentor. In addition more and more organizations are using these retirees as Mentors after they have left the organization. It indicates to an individual that they indeed were a valuable part of the organization.

    Forward-thinking organizations are employing mentoring technology solutions to assist in capturing the knowledge that needs to be transferred from specific individuals.

  2. Your best employees with the highest skill/competency expertise may seek other employment (possibly with your competition) if they are concerned about having a job in the near future.

    Historically, when an organization announces a downsizing initiative, the best talent starts looking for a more secure situation and the less-than-best talent sticks around to see what happens! Between today’s employment market and having a large generation of employees that no longer feel extreme loyalty to the organization, retaining high performing, productive individuals can be a challenge for the organization. Research does indicate though that individuals do feel more loyalty to an organization when they feel they have helped to shape others or have contributed to the growth of others (as in the case of a Mentor to a Mentee); or when they feel that the organization really cares about them individually (as in the case of the Mentee who is receiving individualized attention from a Mentor).

  3. Individuals that are not considered to have the highest level of skill/competency expertise may not leave through a voluntary basis and may need to be terminated. If that needed skill/competency expertise has already left the organization, new talent must be hired and trained.

    If you have to hire new individuals to bring in the skills/competencies needed to either replace talent that has left or to meet new business initiatives – this costs the organization dollars in learning curves. Even if the new individual has a background in the specific skills/competencies used in the job, he/she still needs to learn how your organization works and how things are done within your environment. This takes time and costs money. Mentoring initiatives reduce that timeline and are more effective than just an “Orientation Program”. In addition, new employees are not left hanging trying to figure things out on their own without proper guidance. New employees can feel lost when they first join an organization and they may ask advice from individuals who do not have the correct information.

    A mentoring strategy will bring new employees up-to-speed faster and give them a higher level of comfort and instruction.


Mentoring as a Business solution during the Best of Times and the Worst of Times!

Mentoring works for an organization whether times are good and the organization is prosperous or if times are hard and the organization is looking to cut costs.

When times are good, normally everyone within the organization is really busy! During these times individuals are looking for ways to learn, grow and develop and probably to obtain new and updated skills/competencies. But because they are so busy, they normally do not have the time to go to a training class or other outside developmental activities.

Peer mentoring, increasingly common in organizations, is one way to ensure successful knowledge transfer through its intentional linking of trained Mentors with newer, less-experienced workers. Recent research found that firms engaged in peer mentoring were able to increase knowledge creation and sharing in their organizations. This research also suggests that increasing peer mentoring may help firms create sustainable competitive advantages (Bryant & Terborg, 2008). And, in uncertain economic times, many organizations are looking to create such competitive advantages.

A mentoring relationship is the answer!

A Mentor is an individual with the experience, knowledge, and/or skills in a specific content area who is able, willing and available to share this information with another individual. A Mentee is an individual who seeks experience, knowledge and/or skills in a specific area and who looks to another individual(s) to gain that which is lacking. A Mentor may be in close approximation to the Mentee, or in increasingly common circumstances the most beneficial Mentor for the Mentee is in another location. In this case, "distance or virtual mentoring" is the answer.

Recent research (Rickard, 2008) reports that e-mentoring (another term for this type of mentoring) is being used to link people on the basis of professional need rather than geographic location, making it a beneficial option for many industries. According to Rickard (2008), the asynchronous and reflexive nature of e-mail based communication help mentors/mentees easily connect and get straight to the issues, allowing for “fairly sophisticated” exchanges between participants, improving the chances of higher learning. Rickard (2008) has suggested that as access to broadband and web-camera technology increases, e-mentoring programs will increasingly have the option of enabling face-to-face contact in virtual space.

Pairing mentors/mentees together and guiding the experience with a well thought-out Mentoring Learning Plan provides the knowledge transfer on a just-in-time basis as well as experience while on-the-job. Supporting this concept of matching Mentors and Mentees with a technology solution allows the organization to ensure that they have access to the very best development talent.

Times are hard – budgets are tightened – learning and development can still take place!

Now if times are more difficult and the organization is tightening its budgets and expenses – mentoring is still the answer.

An organization doesn’t want to stop moving forward developing the skills/competencies, talents and specific areas of expertise that make the organization successful. But how do you do that when it is important to cut costs and keep an eye on the bottom line?

Under these circumstances, mentoring can be the most cost-effective and efficient tool for the development of its people!

Using the great storehouse of talent that is present within the organization makes the most of its internal assets – its people and its knowledge capital. With well-trained Mentors and Mentees, an organized Mentoring Learning Plan, and a supportive Process in place, you can cut or maintain developmental costs and still ensure that your people continue to learn and grow so the organization can meet market demands.


Bryant, S., & Terborg J. (2008, Spring). Impact of Peer Mentoring Training on Creating and Sharing Organizational Knowledge. Journal of Managerial Issues. Retrieved January 18, 2009 from LexisNexis database.

Rickard, Kim (2008). Thinking Mentoring? Consider the online option. Training Australia Magazine, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp.14-15.

Mentoring is one of the most cost-effective tools an organization can use for the development of its people. Having a clear, strategic plan for implementing a mentoring initiative ensures that success.

Mentoring works for an organization whether times are good and the organization is prosperous or if times are hard and the organization is looking to cut costs.

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