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Knowledge transfer mentoring—Part 2 Designing and implementing a mentoring program focused on knowledge transfer

This article appears in the issue October 2016, [Volume 25 Issue 9]
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In addition to helping employees navigate career and development decisions, workplace mentoring is a powerful outlet for leaders, experts and other long-tenured professionals to convey the knowledge they’ve built over their careers to the next generation. Last month, I made the case for incorporating mentoring into an enterprise knowledge management strategy and shared examples of successful KM mentoring programs from research by member-based nonprofit APQC. This follow-up takes a closer look at the process of designing and implementing a knowledge transfer mentoring program, from how to select and pair mentors and mentees to what kind of support the organization should provide and how to gauge the learning that occurs as a result of mentoring relationships.

Selecting mentors and mentees

In setting up a knowledge transfer mentoring program, the first question is usually, “Who should participate?” Career-focused mentoring initiatives tend to have relatively lenient selection criteria in order to include as many employees as possible, but firms are inclined to be more selective when picking mentors and mentees for technical and knowledge transfer-focused programs.

In most instances, mentees are recommended to those programs because they have specific learning needs—either they must close skill gaps to perform effectively in their current roles or they are classed as high-potentials with aggressive learning plans to accelerate their development and prepare them for more complex responsibilities. Mentors, on the other hand, are chosen based on their mastery of the knowledge to be imparted. In some cases, the mentor must be a true subject matter expert; in others, he or she needs only a certain threshold of knowledge and experience in the field the mentee wants to learn about. Some organizations also look for soft skills in their discipline knowledge transfer mentors, but those requirements must necessarily be secondary to topical expertise.

Praxair’s leadership technical orientation program (LTOP) is an example of a knowledge transfer mentoring program with stringent selection criteria. The program is designed to teach recent science and engineering graduates how to perform technical job responsibilities and maintain the organization’s safety, compliance and quality standards. New technical graduates enter LTOP via a job interview process, in which Praxair looks for graduates who have demonstrated leadership skills on campus and successfully led and worked as part of a team.

To be selected as an LTOP mentor, an employee must have the requisite experience along with strong job performance ratings and interpersonal skills. Praxair actively promotes the benefits of mentoring to targeted, exemplary technical workers to encourage their participation. Those who voice interest engage in an interview process, similar to a job interview. That helps HR select mentors who are passionate about their work, highly regarded within the organization, top performers in their current roles and willing to share knowledge with younger people.

Similarly, MD Anderson Cancer Center has a number of what it calls “job-fit” mentoring programs, which aim to boost technical job performance and develop employees into high performers. Participation requirements for these programs are not as stringent as those for Praxair’s LTOP program, but MD Anderson has guidelines that mentors can use to determine if an employee is a good candidate for job-fit mentoring. Mentors are prompted to ask the following questions before taking on a mentee:

  • Does the employee have a goal that mentoring could help accomplish?
  • Has the employee set aside time to give to the mentoring relationship?
  • Does the employee’s manager support the employee devoting time to the mentoring relationship?

The most important qualification for job-fit mentors is that they have the technical skills and experience required for a given program. For example, preceptorship is a mentoring opportunity in which experienced nurses help their less experienced colleagues gain proficiency in on-the-job nursing skills. For this program, managers hand-select nurses to act as preceptors to ensure they possess adequate technical skills to mentor. In other MD Anderson programs, mentors volunteer their services, but they must obtain manager approval before they are accepted. That allows managers to vet mentors and ensure they have the technical skills to teach what mentees need to know.

In addition to technical proficiency, MD Anderson also seeks a certain personality profile and demeanor in its job-fit mentors. Courtney Holladay, director of organization development at MD Anderson, said that the organization looks for mentors who are good listeners, want to share their knowledge and demonstrate interpersonal skills. The ideal mentor is one with both the right expertise and the right demeanor to impart that expertise.

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