April 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA2

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Establishing Effective Mentoring Relationships for Individual and Organizational Success

This article reports findings from a study conducted to explore and describe mentoring relationships in Pennsylvania State Cooperative Extension's planned mentoring program based on the perceptions and experiences of proteges and mentors in Cooperative Extension. Factors that facilitate or hinder the mentoring relationship were explored and described by the participants. Also, proteges were asked to describe from their perspectives the qualities of an effective mentoring relationship. Data were collected from a series of in-depth qualitative interviews with mentor/protege pairs

Claudia C. Mincemoyer
Manager, Extension Staff Development
Internet Address: cmincemoyer@psu.edu

Joan S. Thomson
Associate Professor
Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology
Internet Address: jthomson@psu.edu

The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania

Context of the Study

The term mentor is over three thousand years old and has its origins in Greek mythology. When Odysseus went off to fight the Trojans, he left his trusted friend Mentor in charge of his household and his son's education. Mentor's name has been attached to the process of education and care by an older, experienced person.

Mentors have been defined in the literature as higher ranking, influential senior organization members with advance experience and knowledge, who are committed to providing upward mobility and support to a protege's professional career (Collins, 1983; Kram, 1985; Roche, 1979). According to Zey (1984) the outcomes of a formal mentoring program and the result of the mentoring relationship can benefit the protege, the mentor, and the organization. The protege receives knowledge and skills, support, protection, and promotion. The mentor may realize assistance on the job, prestige, and loyalty. The organization achieves development of employees, managerial success, reduced turnover, and increased productivity.

A study was conducted to explore and describe mentoring relationships in Pennsylvania State Cooperative Extension's planned mentoring program based on the perceptions and experiences of proteges and mentors in Cooperative Extension. Factors that facilitate or hinder the mentoring relationship were explored and described by the participants. Also, proteges were asked to describe from their perspectives the qualities of an effective mentoring relationship. A summary of the methodology and conclusions from this study follow.


The research for the study was descriptive and the approach to the research was qualitative. Collecting qualitative data provided depth and detail about the mentoring experiences for both the mentors and proteges.

Phase one of the research was conducted using a pre- assessment survey sent to newly hired county Extension educators who had completed at least 18 months but no more than 30 months of employment. A return rate of 100 percent (N=33) was obtained with no follow-up reminders.

For phase two of the study, three mentor-protege pairs were randomly selected from those pairs whose proteges indicated that their mentoring experience was "not a good experience-very little interaction, very little useful information shared" up to and including, "a fair experience--a fair amount of interaction, some useful information shared." Three additional mentor/protege pairs were randomly selected whose proteges indicated that their mentoring experience was greater than "a fair experience--a fair amount of interaction, some useful information shared," up to and including, "a very good experience--much interaction, a great deal of useful information shared." This type of purposeful, extreme case sampling was used to increase the likelihood that a range of stories and experiences was heard during the interviews (Patton, 1990).

Phase two involved carrying out a modified version of in- depth phenomenologically-based interviews individually with the six mentor/protege pairs. In-depth interviewing allowed for more complete documentation and understanding of the experiences of the mentors and the proteges and the meaning and value they held regarding their mentoring experiences. A semi-structured schedule of open-ended questions was asked of all of the participants.

The interview data were analyzed using content analysis (Patton, 1990) as a process to identify, code, and categorize primary patterns in the data. Initially, the data from the transcripts were coded according to the major research questions. These data were then organized into sub-themes or topics that relate to each of the research questions.

General Conclusions and Discussion

Similar Programmatic Responsibilities

Assigning mentors who shared the same major programmatic responsibility as their proteges was considered a facilitative factor that contributed to the success of the relationship by all of the mentors (100 percent) and the proteges (100 percent). Having both mentors and proteges who are responsible for conducting similar types of programs provided opportunities for more interaction related to the Extension program planning process, more opportunities to meet and interact during professional development activities as well as sharing a common interest in programming. The importance of mentors and proteges sharing similar programmatic responsibilities suggests that mentors fulfilled a career development mentoring function and less of a psycho-social mentoring function (Levinson, 1979; Kram, 1983).

Geographic proximity

Geographic proximity of mentors and proteges was identified as a facilitative factor. All of the mentors and proteges interviewed indicated that mentors should be assigned to proteges from the same Extension region and with geographic proximity. Supporting this concept is research conducted by Burke, McKeen, and McKenna (1993) who found that more frequent interaction and greater success in mentoring relationships occurred in situations where the mentor and the protege had closer offices.

Frequency and Type of Information Shared

Mentors who shared a variety of information frequently were perceived as contributing to successful mentoring relationships. The information identified as being the most helpful to the proteges was the information on program development or technical/subject information. Because program development and technical information were identified as the most useful information shared by mentors, a career development mentoring function is again supported while the psycho-social mentoring function is less evident.

However, the proteges indicated that for mentors to be effective, they need to possess a great deal of organizational as well as program knowledge to share, supporting both the career and psycho-social role of mentors. Mentors who shared limited information on an as-needed basis appeared to inhibit the success of the relationship. Knox and McGovern (1988) identified willingness to share knowledge as an important characteristic of a mentor which supports the finding from this study.

Initiation of the Relationship

Successful initiation of the relationship affected the perceived success of the relationship. Mentors who initiated contact with their proteges as soon as possible and had face-to- face mentoring meetings appeared to contribute to the success of the relationship. After the initial contact, the proteges in this study indicated that regular structured interaction would support an effective mentoring relationship. As both Kram (1985) and Phillips-Jones (1982) found, the first phase of a mentoring relationship is initiation. Mentors and proteges must progress through each phase of the relationship to be successful.

In this study, in those relationships where the initiation phase was not successful, the subsequent relationship was perceived by the protege as not being helpful. Zimmer and Smith (1992) found that the more time mentors and their proteges spent together, the greater the perceived success. The findings from this study indicate that the interaction needs to be frequent even if it cannot be exclusively face-to-face.

Ability to Establish Mentor/Protege Friendship

The ability of mentors and proteges to establish friendships in their mentoring relationships also appeared to facilitate the success of the mentoring relationships. A friendly, empathetic relationship was also identified by the proteges as a characteristic of an effective mentoring relationship. Phillips- Jones (1982) explored mentoring relationships and described six developmental phases in which a mentoring relationship progresses. The last phase is transformation. The primary task during this stage is the development of peer-like friendships. The findings from this study suggest those relationships which were able to progress to the last stage, transformation, either with their formal mentor or an identified informal mentor, were perceived as being successful. This finding supports the psycho- social function of mentoring as described by Levinson (1979) and Kram (1983).

Mentor Expectations

Clearly defined mentor expectations would comprise an ideal and effective mentoring relationship, according to the proteges and the mentors. Three of the six (50%) mentors indicated that they felt prepared for their mentoring role; however, all mentors indicated that if they had a job description or a checklist of expectations and information to cover with the participants, it would have been very helpful.

Organizational Knowledge

Having a mentor who is knowledgeable about Extension surfaced as an important factor in an effective mentoring relationship. With the changing nature of Extension work and the need to keep current in their jobs, proteges felt having a mentor who was knowledgeable about the Extension organization was important. Roche (1979) also identified organizational knowledge as a important characteristic for a mentor to posses. His respondents rated knowledge of the organization and the people in it and a willingness to share knowledge and understanding as two of the most important characteristics for a mentor to possess.

Protege Experience

An inhibiting factor in the success of some mentoring relationships identified by the mentors was their feeling that the proteges did not need assistance or orientation because of the perceived level of experience the proteges had when joining the organization. However, even the proteges entering Extension with career experience and knowledge about Extension desired frequent interaction. Mentors appeared to be intimidated when asked to mentor new staff members with relevant strong educational and/or experiential backgrounds.

Mentor Attitudes

Poor mentor attitudes about Extension were perceived by the proteges as an inhibiting factor in their relationships. Although a positive attitude was not defined in the mentoring literature (Roche, 1978; Knox and McGovern, 1988) as a trait of a successful mentor, sharing and counseling traits were identified. Assuming that successful counselors are positive in their interactions with those whom they counsel, the concept of mentors possessing a positive attitude is supported.

Mentor Orientation

Both the proteges and the mentors interviewed supported an orientation program for mentors. They indicated mentors needed to be oriented toward their mentoring roles and understand their responsibilities. Also, mentor role confusion with the role of the county Extension director (CED) in the new staff orientation process was identified as an inhibiting factor. Mentors were unclear about what information was being covered by the CED and what information was their responsibility to discuss with their proteges.

Hudson (1991) supported this finding, indicating that there are many professionals who are mentors, but very few who have been prepared for the role. Findings from this study strongly support role definition, orientation, and training for the mentor.

Implications and Recommendations
for Cooperative Extension Mentoring Programs

The results generated have important implications for cooperative Extension in structuring a mentoring program, pairing mentors and proteges, and developing training and orientation programs for mentors:

1. The study findings support the establishment of guidelines which outline the roles of the mentor and what his/her responsibilities will be. These guidelines should include: (a) the goals of the mentoring program; (b) the Extension mentoring philosophy; (c) the perceived benefits of mentoring to the protege, the mentor, and the organization; (d) information about positive mentoring behaviors (i.e. active listening, envisioning outcomes, productive confrontation), and (e) information about the roles of the mentor.

2. In-service opportunities for mentor self-development should be made available to present and future mentors.

3. Biodata and other relevant information should be shared between the mentor and the protege to assist with successful initiation of the relationship. Suggested guidelines for frequency of contact should be established and communicated to the mentors prior to the initiation of the relationship.

4. An informal needs assessment conducted by the mentor with the protege would be helpful to identify what information is needed and most important for the mentor to share with the protege.

5. A record-keeping system should be developed to monitor mentoring activities and provide a place for mentors to document time spent on their role as well as the type of information shared. These records could help administer and evaluate the program, provide information for future training, and also serve as a prompt for the mentor to continue to maintain contact with his/her protege.

6. A set of recommendations for those administering the mentoring program should be established. These recommendations should include: (a) factors to consider when assigning mentors to proteges; (b) process to follow to initiate the relationship successfully and early; (c) process to monitor and support the mentoring relationship, and (d) sample letters to send to mentors and proteges to initiate the relationship.

7. When selecting staff to serve as mentors, administrative representatives should select mentors who possess the following personal characteristics: (a) knowledge of the Extension organization; (b) empathy towards new staff; (c)program knowledge in their respective fields, and (d) a friendly personality and a positive attitude.

8. Information to be shared by the mentors with the proteges should include a combination of program development and career development information.

9. County Extension directors should be introduced to the roles and responsibilities of the mentor. It is important that county Extension directors who have new staff members in their counties work in concert with the mentors. The county Extension director also needs to be supportive of the role of the mentor and the time commitment which is necessary for successful mentoring.

10. The formal mentoring program should last for one year to assure that the mentoring relationship has been in place for one full program development cycle.

11. The mentoring guidelines and mentoring program need to be institutionalized within the organization to assure continued success.


Burke, R., McKeen, C., & McKenna, C. (1993). Correlates of mentoring in organizations: The mentor's perspective. Psychological Reports, 72, 883-896.

Collins, N.W. (1983). Professional women and their mentors. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Hudson, F.M. (1991). The adult years: Mastering the art of self-renewal. San Franciso: Jossey-Bass.

Knox, P.L., and McGovern, T.V. (1988). Mentoring women in academia. Teaching of Psychology, 15(1), 39-41.

Kram, K. E. (1983). Phases of the mentoring relationship. Academy of Management Journal, 26, 608-625.

Kram, K. E. (1985). Mentoring at work: Developmental relationships in organizational life. Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman.

Levinson, H. (1979). Mentoring: Socialization for leadership, paper presented at The 1979 Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Atlanta, GA.

Patton, M.Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods. Newbury Park: Sage.

Phillips-Jones, L.L. (1982). Mentors and proteges. New York: Arbor House.

Roche, G. R. (1979). Much ado about mentors. Harvard Business Review, 57, 14-28.

Zimmer, B. and Smith, K. (1992). Successful mentoring for new agents: Dedicated mentors make the difference. Journal of Extension, 30,(1).

Zey, M. G. (1984). The mentor connection. Homewood, IL: Dow Jones-Irwin.


Establishing Effective Mentoring Relationships for Individual and Organizational Success. The purpose of this article is to report findings from a study conducted to explore and describe mentoring relationships in Pennsylvania State Cooperative Extension's planned mentoring program based on the perceptions and experiences of proteges and mentors in Cooperative Extension. Factors that facilitate or hinder the mentoring relationship were explored and described by the participants. Also, proteges were asked to describe from their perspectives the qualities of an effective mentoring relationship. Data were collected from a series of in-depth qualitative interviews with mentor/protege pairs.