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How to Use Mentoring for Knowledge Transfer

Page history last edited by pamholloway 14 years, 10 months ago

STEP 1 – Define Purpose and Focus

The first step in a mentoring initiative is to define the purpose or focus of the initiative. These questions will help you do that.

  1. Why do you want to do a mentoring program? 
  2. What are you looking to achieve?
  3. If transfer of knowledge, what knowledge?  Be specific.
  4. How much of the knowledge to be transferred is predictable and task oriented – doing x, y or z, versus higher level knowledge and ability to respond to new and unique situations?
  5. Have you looked at other alternatives for transferring this knowledge?
  6. Why do you think mentoring is the best way to go?
  7. How will you measure results?
  8. How will you know when you’ve achieved your objective?


Mentoring versus other knowledge transfer alternatives 

Organizations sometimes choose mentoring for situations where it is not the best choice.  There are several alternatives for knowledge transfer and different situations tend to lend themselves to different solutions.  The optimal solution for an organization is to know how to use all the different approaches and be able to apply whichever one makes sense for a particular situation.  Our focus here is mentoring, so let’s look at where the mentoring approach makes sense.



Situations Where a Mentoring Approach Makes Sense 

  1. The experts have mentoring or teaching DNA – they are “natural” mentors or teachers and are motivated to achieve excellent results.
  2. Time – the mentor is not leaving the organization immediately – there is time for them to be a mentor.
  3. There are good candidate(s) for the mentoree role – i.e. people who have the skills and motivation to learn.
  4. The knowledge area lends itself to mentoring.  Work is more hands-on and knowledge to be transferred is definable, straightforward and more “doing” focused rather than “thinking” focused.  
  5. The organization has been successful at mentoring in the past (it is part of the culture).
  6. There is consensus and buy-in among all stakeholders, including supervisors, teammates, upper management, and HR.


Mentoring Versus Apprenticeship – Doing Versus Being 

The terms mentoring and apprenticeship are often used interchangeably, but they are a bit different. The distinction is important only to the extent that it helps us crystallize our focus.  Apprenticeship typically involves an apprentice learning a particular skill or trade. It is more task-focused.  An apprentice will learn how to do x, y or z.  Mentoring, on the other hand, is broader, more about becoming an x, rather than doing y.  Knowledge transfer will likely be both deeper and broader and require that the mentor take a greater responsibility for not only offering up knowledge but also for guiding and shaping the learner. 


One way to think about it is, apprenticeship is more about doing, while mentoring is more about being.  It is a subtle distinction, but important, because it helps us better define the goals of our program, and provides insight we can use in choosing the best people for the roles of teacher and learner. 


Predictable Versus Unique 

If the knowledge to be transferred involves regular and predictable work, then the program is much easier to script.  If, on the other hand, you are looking to transfer high level knowledge (critical thinking, resolution of problems that are unpredictable or complex), then it may take more work to outline the “what” and “how” of knowledge transfer. 



STEP 2 – Identify Best Candidate(s)

Mentoring is sometimes implemented on a large scale throughout an organization, and other times used in specific situations to achieve specific objectives. In the case of the later, the organization will typically have a mentor and mentoree in mind.  We also find that often there are not a lot of candidate choices beyond those already suggested.  That said, the analysis of candidates is important regardless. You want to know whether the mentor has the DNA and motivation for teaching.  You also want to know if the mentoree has the DNA and motivation for learning.


If you have a choice between candidates, obviously you want to pick the ones who have the best skills base and psychological profile (good teacher, good learner).  If you don’t have a choice, you still want to know, so that you can make the appropriate accommodations.


What if the mentor is not a good teacher? 

What do you do if the person with the knowledge doesn’t have the mentoring or teaching DNA?  In other words, they are not naturally inclined to teach and motivated to transfer knowledge.  Or what if they have the motivation, but lack the skill?  This is where the Mentoring Facilitator role becomes critically important.


A Mentoring Facilitator is typically responsible for:

1.       Helping to determine the focus of the project – i.e. the specific knowledge to be transferred

2.       Administering surveys to help identify the best candidates or understand the mental makeup of existing candidates

3.       Helping to determine project plan and time and activities commitment

4.       Working cultural issues: Ensuring manager(s) and team members are all on board with the initiative

5.       Measuring results

6.       Communicating status


If the mentor is not a good teacher, the Facilitator will work with the duo and use questions to enable information flow.  This process is very similar to Knowledge Harvesting Eliciting, and often performed by someone in the organization who has been trained in Knowledge Harvesting. The Mentoring Facilitator will also work with the mentoree one-on-one to help them develop good questioning skills and strategies.  


The Facilitator will also help the mentoree collect and organize learnings through use of various tools and templates, such as the What-When-Where-How-With Whom-With What template.  These tools provide a structure to help mentorees ensure they’ve covered all aspects of a task. Some of the tools used in Knowledge Harvesting can also be used in mentoring.


What if the mentoree is not a good learner?  

In a perfect world, you select apprentices or mentors that have the skills and the motivation to be effective.  In the event that this is not the case, you may want to consider: 

1.       Skills training to bring them up to a level where they are better able to receive and integrate the knowledge transferred

2.       Motivational (i.e. performance) incentives tied directly to mentoring results

3.       One-to-one coaching to help the mentoree learn how to ask good questions, apply knowledge, practice skills



STEP 3: Map Out Activities and Time Commitment (Project Plan)

In order for mentoring initiatives to produce optimal results, you need to treat these initiatives with the same importance and rigor you do other business objectives.  That means developing a plan for how time will be spent, the specific knowledge areas that will be covered and the specific activities that will be engaged to enable knowledge transfer.

This plan is typically developed by a team consisting of mentor, mentoree, supervisor and facilitator. The team sits down together to map out the activities that will ensure knowledge is successfully transferred.

One way to go about this process is to think in terms of Actions and Results.  What are the results that the Mentor produces and what Actions produce those results?  This is similar to what is typically done during the Work Profiling portion of a Knowledge Harvesting project.

Mind Maps are useful in this respect because they help break apart and visually organize all the different things a mentor may want to teach the mentoree.


Once you complete the map, then you can begin to think about situations and activities that will enable the mentoree to learn these things. 


STEP 4 – Ensure Consensus and Commitment

It is essential that you ensure everyone involved is aware of the initiative, understands the importance and is committed to a positive outcome. This is an area where the Mentoring Facilitator is important.  They take responsibility for speaking to all stakeholders and ensuring everyone is on the same page.


STEP 5 – Facilitate, Monitor, Measure and Report

It is essential to have ongoing observation and oversight even if you are blessed with an optimal situation where both mentor and mentoree are skilled, motivated and self-directed. You’ll want to tract and report progress and use this information to make course corrections as needed.  Make a point to establish checkpoints along the way and have the team regroup and do a “how are we doing?” level check. Depending on the nature of knowledge transfer, you may also choose to do testing of the mentoree to monitor and measure skills learned.


Measurement and feedback are important to keeping the mentor and mentoree motivated and feeling like they are accomplishing their objectives.  It is also important for the organization to ensure they are achieving their objectives and realizing the return on investment.



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