Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Mentoring: A Powerful Tool in Organizational Change

Recently, Dr. John Butterworth, Project Director for the University of Massachusetts’ national Training & Technical Assistance Program (T-TAP), approached me about writing a paper to share successful elements associated with my agency’s organizational mentoring experiences. As a member of T-TAP’s Community Rehabilitation Program (CRP) Leadership Network, I have had the opportunity to work with representatives from the federal Department of Labor (DOL) as well as colleagues from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and UMASS to help roll out T-TAP’s strategies. A significant element in T-TAP’s design is supporting CRPs that are interested in promoting organizational change and increased access to customized employment in the workforce for their participants with significant disabilities.
As a part of this process, my organization (Rise, Incorporated) was invited to participate in a structured mentoring program designed to offer peer support to an organization embracing systems change goals. A little more than one year ago, Rise was selected and matched as a mentor organization to offer T&TA support to an agency in Savannah, Georgia called Coastal Center for Developmental Services (CCDS). During this past year, our two agencies have worked closely together to support CCDS’ defined needs in meeting its established goals. The venture proved to be a highly successful one for both parties. The featured article below is a brief summary of our mutual experiences and some of the lessons we learned along the way.
The Role of Mentoring in Supporting Organizational Change & Improving Employment Outcomes in the Workforce

The national T-TAP program promotes the use of an array of tools and strategies in support of organizational systems change and increasing the number and quality of customized employment outcomes accessible to adults with significant disabilities in the workforce. One core strategy used is the concept of mentoring. Efforts are made by T-TAP to match interested community rehabilitation organizations with “mentor” organizations who are selected for their knowledge and proven experience in navigating major systems change issues with a measure of success.

Case Strategy

Based on the experiences of mentor and mentee agencies participating in T-TAP, mentoring is proving to be a successful strategy in the support of management teams and direct service staff who are charged with carrying out desired organizational changes. A central task for T-TAP, therefore, is identifying key factors known to foster change when using a mentoring approach. In other words, what qualities are necessary to build a successful mentoring relationship and help CRPs to increase successful workforce outcomes?

The successful mentoring experiences of Rise, Incorporated (a T-TAP mentor organization) and Coastal Center for Developmental Services (a T-TAP mentee organization) offer some insight on lessons learned. These include the importance of fundamental qualities within both the mentor and mentee organizations.

For example, a successful mentor organization…
  • holds essential content knowledge and competencies at the management, administrative, and direct service levels
  • is willing to commit the necessary time and resources of multiple professionals within its organization
  • is non-judgmental and offers encouragement to the mentee organization and its staff
  • approaches mentoring as a collegial not a subordinate relationship
  • recognizes its own limitations
  • is willing to share relevant information, materials, policies, organizational infrastructure, direct service strategies, funding streams, staff development training, resource management, and other areas crucial to obtaining integrated employment in the workforce
  • offers support from a framework that includes specific training & technical assistance (T&TA) goals and timelines for achieving them
  • shows commitment by offering regular and timely responses to scheduled and ongoing requests for T&TA by the mentee agency
  • solicits honest feedback about the relevance and quality of T&TA to insure efforts are responsive to needs of the mentee organization.

In this T&TA relationship, a successful mentee organization…

  • is committed to change as evidenced by the visible support of the organization’s leadership including its board of directors, executive officers, management team, and direct service staff
  • is committed to change as evidenced by a written plan of action that includes measurable goals, a division of labor among managers and staff, and progress check points to guide present and future activities
  • is willing to openly and honestly assess its strengths and challenges in meeting established goals for change including increased job placement objectives
  • is willing to open its organization to a mentoring organization to establish a mutual consensus concerning T&TA needs, goals, and support activities
  • is willing to temporarily suspend its own judgment about systems change possibilities to consider a full range of ideas, suggestions, and strategies
  • is dedicated to management/staff action to carry out defined systems change goals
  • encourages all levels of its management and staff in the desired planning and implementation of its systems change objectives
  • is committed to measuring progress and systems change outcomes through a quantifiable and qualitative measurement strategy
  • celebrates the achievement of its participants with significant disabilities who obtain integrated employment in the local workforce
  • is committed to long-term change by embracing ongoing problem-solving and quality improvement procedures.

In addition to these above qualities, Rise and CCDS believe it is helpful for mentor and mentee organizations to have mutual opportunities to visit and examine the operations of their respective organizations. This gives both organizations a better frame of reference and clarity about their respective business structures, policies, direct service practices, and capacities to obtain and support integrated employment outcomes. In addition, actual visitations by the mentee organization increases the strength of its theory-to-practice applications by viewing direct service methods, seeing customized employment illustrations, and consulting about administrative strategies critical to organizational change such business marketing methods, use of funding streams, agency resource management, transportation issues, staff development training, and family education programs.

Summary and Recommendations

The use of mentoring as an effective organizational change strategy works best when the mentor and mentee organizations are well matched, share a consensus about their respective roles so expectations are clear, work together from a structured plan of action with identified goals, and are willing to commit the necessary time and resources to building a successful relationship. When these identified qualities are in place, mentee organizations can extend and build upon their internal capacities to reach organizational change goals more effectively, efficiently, and with a higher degree of confidence.

To learn more about T-TAP and its national training and technical assistance programs, visit their web site by clicking here. To learn more about the mentoring experiences of Rise and CCDS, you can read other articles posted here on this blog (Morning in the Garden of Promise and Opportunity and Keeping the Faythe).

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