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Streamline mentoring program administration with these new online tools

Published on March 27, 2002
on TechRepublic.Com

Providing a mentoring program not only helps employees acclimate to a new job role and corporate environment, but also boosts employee retention and recruitment. But a productive mentoring program requires time, effort, and commitment— resources no enterprise can afford to waste these days. Now, most of these hurdles can be overcome with the help of software specifically created to streamline the administration of mentoring programs.

Eliminating the downside of mentoring programs

Mentoring programs can produce a significant return on investment, according to a study by Interim Services Inc., an outplacement firm. On average, companies with mentoring programs have a 19 percent lower turnover rate than those without such a program. That retention boost can translate into a substantial cost benefit. A mentoring program could save a 1,000-person company nearly $9.5 million a year, based on a $50,000 average turnover cost, according to Interim's 1999 Emerging Workforce Study.

Yet, while clearly a sound investment, mentoring has its pitfalls. Establishing a formal program requires strategic time, administrative responsibilities, and a commitment from staff. If administered via a paper-based process, mentorships can take four to eight hours per mentor/mentee pair to administer, say experts. For an enterprise with 50 mentor partnerships in place, it could mean 400 to 800 workhours, says Ian Frazer, director of business development at the Sidney, British Columbia-based Corporate Mentoring Solutions Inc. Corporate Mentoring Solutions is one of several providers that offer a Web-based application aimed at streamlining mentoring programs and administration issues.

Corporate Mentoring Solution's Online Mentoring Solutions System (OMS) automates the process of filling out forms, templates, and reports typically used to coordinate mentoring programs. It interlinks a series of mentoring tools that can easily be modified to suit various enterprises. For example, the Mentoring Compatibility Indicator uses a series of scales to more objectively and quickly match partners. After mentors and protègès have completed a needs-expertise exercise, the system uses an algorithm to generate screens so that the program coordinator or mentor task force can pair up participants.

The system can be hosted on a SQL server in-house or through an ASP, says Frazer. Although Corporate Mentoring Solutions sometimes hosts small pilots of the service for customers, Frazer emphasizes that hosting the service is not the company's core business.

Pricing is based on three factors: the number of seats purchased, an annual maintenance fee that includes bug fixes and upgrades, and customization. Once a seat license is purchased, the license lasts for the life of the product. The product can sell for under $10,000 for a single program group, or the price could extend into six figures for a larger, enterprise-wide deployment.

Case in point

Mentorships are used for many reasons: from instilling a specific management approach to training a replacement for a retiring technology manager. In an informal program, the OMS tool can help identify staff experts who can answer questions on work-related projects.

This year, BC Hydro, a Canada-based utility, began piloting the OMS mentoring tool for its decades-old engineer-in-training program. BC Hydro chose the tool after evaluating several mentoring products.

Currently, BC Hydro's online mentor database system has 27 mentors and nine new hires, says Sol Friedman, an engineer and BC Hydro's business improvement manager. Mentors volunteer without any financial incentive.

"They do it because they want to help develop the young EITs [engineers in training]," says Friedman.

The business leader says the online system has made the mentoring program much more efficient by significantly reducing the paperwork load and speeding up the process to bring participants into the training program.

"An online system is obviously more efficient and neater way of doing things," says Friedman, who hopes to increase his pool of mentors in the near future.

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