Like most institutions in a world of change, the age-old practice of mentoring is being influenced by new forms of work, technology, and learning. Mentoring is typically defined as a relationship between an experienced and a less experienced person in which the mentor provides guidance, advice, support, and feedback to the protégé (Haney 1997). Mentoring is a way to help new employees learn about organizational culture (Bierema 1996), to facilitate personal and career growth and development, and to expand opportunities for those traditionally hampered by organizational barriers, such as women and minorities (Gunn 1995). The benefits of mentoring are not only work related; it can provide individuals with opportunities to enhance cultural awareness, aesthetic appreciation, and the potential to lead meaningful lives (Galbraith and Cohen 1995).
A traditional mentoring model is the apprentice learning from a master. In the Industrial Age, mentoring focused on career advancement within organizational hierarchies (Haney 1997). Now the Information Age demands a wide range of cognitive, interpersonal, and technical skills, and mentoring is changing to cope with these expanded needs. This Digest looks at new forms of and perspectives on mentoring and the kinds of learning that result from mentoring relationships.
Mentoring and Organizational Change
Organizational trends such as downsizing, restructuring, teamwork, increased diversity, and individual responsibility for career development are contributing to the resurgent interest in mentoring in the 1990s. "Downsizing has heightened the need to preserve institutional memory and to share the information and experience that remain in the company" (Jossi 1997, p. 52). Mentors represent continuity; as mentors, older, experienced workerscan continue contributing to their organizations and professions. The Mentoring Institute (1997) maintains that, in the past, mentoring typically just "happened" as experienced people recognized and developed new talent or as beginners sought the counsel of knowledgeable elders. Now, the institute describes a "new mentoring paradigm": todays protégés are better educated but still need a mentors practical know-how and wisdom ("craft knowledge") that can be acquired only experientially. Therefore, many organizations are instituting formal mentoring programs as a cost-effective way to upgrade skills, enhance recruitment and retention, and increase job satisfaction (Jossi 1997).
Many mentoring programs have been geared specifically to women and minorities as a way of helping them break into the "Old Boy Network" and through the "Glass Ceiling." However, the value of opening these opportunities to all is being recognized. Gunn (1995) suggests that a more democratic approach to mentoring is emerging, open to more employees at more levels. For example, a high-level new employee hired because of specific expertise may still need the coaching in...