Outcome linkage in formal & supervisory mentoring in a business organization.

AuthorSrivastava, Sushmita


The impact of mentoring on protege career was found to be stronger when comparing "mentored versus non-mentored" individuals, as opposed to the mentoring functions provided to proteges alone (Allen et.al, 2004).Therefore, mentoring functions may be stated to be a necessary but not a sufficient condition for establishing the existence of a mentoring relationship. As mentoring functions/roles focus on what a mentor does rather than what a mentee feels there are little distinction across studies with regard to the implications of being in a mentoring relationship (relational mentoring) versus receiving mentoring function (traditional mentoring functions). The mentoring literature is yet to examine the relational processes that drive the formation of high-quality mentoring relationships that are potentially more impactful and are fundamentally different from average relationships (Ragins & Fletcher, 2007). This makes the study relevant in business organizations. The study examines mentoring - outcome linkage in respect of a large manufacturing organization, particularly with respect to the factors in the mentoring process, linked to the goals, content and nature of the relationship, that may impact mentoring outcomes.

In this study, the mentoring process has been examined both in formal and supervisory mentoring programs. We felt it important to examine the process of supervisory mentoring in order to investigate, if they are likely to impact outcomes other than the psychosocial support e.g., friendship found in earlier studies, and also clarify the fundamental debate that supervisors cannot be mentors. This study tries to derive process explanations as to why mentoring would lead to its outcomes. Despite the amount of mentoring research, few studies have examined processes through which supervisors direct their subordinate mentoring relationships. Based on prior mentoring research, one could extrapolate that a mentor-protege relationship between a supervisor and subordinate may result in positive outcomes, but the same needs to be tested.

Whether the mentoring process has contributed to the protege 'significant transition', could be best ascertained by examining the factors in the mentor-protege relationship process that may have caused such outcomes. Further a 'relationship-rich' environment necessitates examining interdependent work and non-work relationships that contribute to one's growth (Ramaswami & Dreher, 2010).

The study is therefore designed to answer two research questions

  1. What are the factors in the process of mentoring in both formal and supervisory mentoring that may influence the quality of relationship?

  2. Why are the underlying processes in mentor-mentee interactions different for different types of developmental relationships such as formal and supervisory mentoring?

We expect our study to theoretically integrate mentoring theory with theory on superior subordinate relationships. This investigation is important to academicians and practitioners for three reasons. First, this investigation extends prior mentoring research through examination of the underlying factors that influence the mentoring process--outcome linkages. Second, little research to date has examined the dynamics of supervisor to subordinate mentoring relationship. Thirdly, there are no comparisons of the dynamics of the supervisory with formal mentoring relationship.

Literature Review

Mentorship traditionally refers to collaboration between two individuals (not necessarily in a hierarchical relationship), where one facilitates the professional development of the other, with the intent of optimizing work performance and enhancing career progress (Scandura, 1992; Allen & Poteet, 1999). Mentoring is a process of transferring specific knowledge from the mentor to the protege (Hendrikse, 2003).

While several definitions of mentoring have been provided, in the past research, mentoring definitions mostly emphasized career functions, "helped you by supporting your career" (Aryee, Lo & Kang, 1999: 568) or "looks out for you, or gives you advice"(Wallace, 2001: 374) the phrase "is committed to providing upward mobility and support" to the protege's career (e.g., Ragins & Cotton, 1991: 942) therefore career outcomes of mentoring became the most significant benefit of mentoring. Psychosocial functions and role modeling were referenced less frequently (Haggard et al, 2011) in the definitions provided on mentoring.

The operational definition of mentoring we have used in this research is as an "off line help by one person to another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work or thinking" (Clutterbuck, 2001). The focus in our definition is on relational mentoring, developmental mentoring or diversity mentoring that enables significant transition in knowledge, skill and thinking through a process of open dialogue characterized by suspension of judgments.

The mentoring process has been defined as a working relationship that significantly affected protege career mobility in their firm (Scandura & Ragins, 1993: 256). This description has the advantage of being broad and inclusive and does not indicate which actions were taken or who took them on behalf of the protege, hence the mentoring process has not been defined in clear terms, based on the goals, content and nature of the relationship.

While the mentoring process in informal mentoring programs has been studied stating the distinct phases: initiation, cultivation, separation and redefinition (Kram, 1983), there has not been the same degree of attention given to the evolution of formal mentoring relationships (Collins, 1983; Ragins & Scandura, 1997). We know there is an initiation phase when the mentor and protege are first matched and that there is a separation when the formal program ends. There are no study that offers an empirical investigation of how the formal relationship evolves between those two phases (Blake-Beard, 2001).Similarly, while the leader member exchange construct has been widely studied, the process of mentoring in superior-subordinate relationship has been less so. Also while there have been work related and career related outcomes of mentoring through over 90 or more studies, as per meta-analytic studies, there are fewer studies on the process -oriented predictors of protege outcomes (Haggard et al, 2011)

Formal Mentoring

Formal mentoring is defined as a deliberate pairing of a more skilled or experienced person with a lesser skilled or experienced one, with the agreed-upon goal of having the lesser skilled person grow and develop specific competencies (Murray, 1991: 14). The purpose of formal mentoring is to support and challenge the mentees to recognize their career potential and to work towards their personal and professional goals (Connor & Pokora, 2007). Formal mentoring can be seen as a strategy, a formalized scheme, ranging from relationships that provide advice and sponsorship to those that are highly intense, career focused and developmental (Kram, 1985; Gibson, 2004).

Despite the increasing popularity of formal mentoring programs, this area is currently under researched (Wanberg, Welsh & Heslett, 2003; Eby & Lockwood, 2005; Allen, Ebby & Lentz, 2006; Baugh & Fagenson-Eland, 2007; Parise & Forret, 2008). Wanberg et al. (2003) state that there are "black box gaps in terms of exactly what and how learning is achieved for both mentors and mentees and what factors contribute (or not) to this.

Supervisory Mentoring

"Supervisory mentoring is defined as a transformational activity involving a mutual commitment by mentor and protege to the latter's long-term development, as a personal, extra organizational investment in the protege by the mentor, and as the changing of the protege by the mentor, accomplished by the sharing of values, knowledge, experience, and so...

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