Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

'Hands Up': Mentoring in the New Zealand Public Service

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

'Hands Up': Mentoring in the New Zealand Public Service

Article excerpt

While the literature on training and development (T&D) in organizations is vast, the same cannot be said of mentoring as a form of T&D. Still, mentoring is now considered to be a mainstream tool for accomplishing many important human resources (HR) or staff development goals, including individual career development, management training, encouraging multi-tasking, and employee retention and succession planning. It has been deemed an increasingly important tool given the rise of flatter organizations, which require employees to make a "quantum leap in responsibility" (1) and which necessitate new forms of preparation for senior roles, including through mentoring. All in all, there is universal recognition that mentoring is a useful component of an organization's HR toolkit.

This paper examines mentoring, and presents empirical evidence emerging from the Career Progression Survey carried out in the New Zealand Public Service (NZPS). It contextualizes the discussion with a review of the conceptual bases of mentoring, and of the key issues and conclusions evident in the existing literature. The findings from the NZPS are followed by a discussion of the policy implications (including the extent to which the New Zealand evidence corroborates existing evidence). The paper responds to Hale's concern that there has been a dearth of practical evidence on mentoring and how it is practiced in various settings. (2)

The Concept of Mentoring

There are several definitions of mentoring but, in essence, it involves a "more experienced individual taking particular responsibility for a less experienced colleague." (3) A more formal definition is given by Anderson: "A nurturing process in which a more skilled or more experienced person, serving as a role model, teaches, sponsors, encourages, counsels, and befriends a less smiled or less experienced person for the purpose of promoting the latter's professional and/or personal development." (4) Aired and Garvey, for their part, point out that mentoring is "broader and deeper than management, and qualitatively different from formal training." (5) They also argue that the mentor need not necessarily be an individual but could be a group of individuals or even institutions. This notion they term the 'mentoring organization' that is then used in conjunction with a learning organization.

Mentoring is, therefore, symbolized by an ongoing relationship whereby the mentor plays the role of coach, counselor and sometimes champion of the protege. It can be formal, as part of a formalized mentoring scheme, or informal--yet still organized and structured--by the two individuals involved. It is important to keep in mind, however, that there is no formal mechanism or set way of mentoring and different organizations in different settings approach this relationship in their own unique ways. (6)

Mentoring is often used in conjunction with the term 'coaching,' but there are fundamental differences between the two. (7) While coaching is associated with management and raising the level of performance, mentoring deals more with career or personal transitions (which could still lead to performance enhancement but is not necessarily the primary objective). Megginson argues that mentoring is concerned with helping the learner through life crises (e.g., career hiccups) or into new stages of development. (8) While coaching is centered on tasks, mentoring is much wider and can encompass many other facets of employees' work, careers, and even life-work balance. Coaching also has connotations of formal hierarchy (akin to that between teacher and student) whereas mentoring is a much more shared relationship.

Mentoring is considered to be a useful development intervention because it has the following attributes:

1. Mentors and proteges choose each other by mutual agreement; this implies that there is a much more open and trusting relationship between the two parties;

2. …

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