FORMAL MENTORING IN THE U.S. MILITARY: Research Evidence, Lingering Questions, and Recommendations

Article excerpt

Mentoring is a developmental relationship in which a more experienced person serves as a guide, rolemodel, teacher, and sponsor for a less experienced person-usually in the same organization. A mentor typically becomes invested in the career progression and development of the protégé or mentee and often provides such essential functions as counsel, challenge, and support. At times, mentorships evolve into enduring friendships, even after the active phase of the relationship has ended.1

In the last several years, mentoring has become a hot topic among military leaders. The U.S. Army's field manual series now includes a specific publication on the development and effective conduct of mentorships with subordinates.2 In his 2003 "Guidance for the Navy," the Chief of Naval Operations at that time, Admiral Vernon Clark, specified that mentoring sailors should be a preeminent focus of the Navy; Admiral Clark went so far as to direct that a mentor be assigned for every service member on active duty.3 In the last three years alone, formal mentoring programs and online e-mentoring matching services have proliferated within the armed forces.

Why has mentoring so captured the military's attention? There are several good reasons. Evidence in the civilian world suggests that effective mentoring relationships can enhance corporate recruitment and retention efforts, help to bring new hires up to speed, support diversity initiatives, enhance employee satisfaction and promotion success, support strategic succession planning, and improve communication and knowledge transfer within organizations.4 In the military, anecdotal evidence and survey research suggest that flag officers often report having been mentored by senior officers at key junctures in their careers; mentors play a role in getting new talent noticed and promoted.5

Perhaps evenmore important, extensive literature reviews of three decades of research on mentoring outcomes in civilian organizations reveal that mentoring clearly fosters career success.6 Across organizations, settings, and research designs, those who report having had a mentor enjoy more rapid promotions, greater productivity, better professional confidence, higher competence, lower levels of job-related stress,more positive attitudes toward work,more career satisfaction, and even a greater perceived chance of becoming eminent in their fields.What's more, mentored employees are more committed, both to their organizations and to their careers.7 The most extensive meta-analytic crossdisciplinary review of mentoring research to date reviewed 15,131 articles and reports on the topic.8 Findings from 112 studies that satisfied the rigorous inclusion criteria of that review revealed that mentoring had significant positive correlations with work performance, retention, organizational citizenship behavior, positive work attitudes, personal health, quantity of interpersonal relationships, greater career recognition, and general career competence. Although a variety of other variables clearly influence career success (e.g., ability, personality,motivation), it is clear that the positive effects of mentoring are pervasive and consistent.9

In light of the success of mentoring in the business arena,many organizations have instituted formal mentoring programs. "Rather than leave mentoring to happenstance, formal programs give the organization control over who is mentored,when they are mentored, and even how they are mentored."10 Considering the "war for talent" in the contemporary business environment, institutions such as the military are well served by programs that attract, retain, and develop top-notch talent.11 Further, recent survey research indicates that new college graduates are more attracted to organizations depicted as having formal mentoring programs.12

Although formal mentoring programs are multiplying in the military and other organizations, there is relatively little research evidence bearing on the design, key ingredients, and ultimate efficacy of these programs. …