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This paper provides an explicitly theoretical account of formal mentoring, connecting the development of formal mentoring with salient theories, and the broader implications these have for understanding formal mentoring and its implementation in workplaces. The two theories explored are "social exchange" and "communitarianism." These theories were developed in the course of action research undertaken in companies developing formal mentoring programs. I briefly review my main research findings from one case study company in the context of these theories. In conclusion, the duality of formal mentoring as both an instance of communitarian and social exchange behavior is considered in theory and in practice.
The establishment, extension, and development of formal mentoring programs in workplaces has been accompanied by an extensive analysis of the preconditions for successful implementation. These have tended to explore the "mechanics" of formal mentoring schemes. Substantive theoretical analysis of formal mentoring has been absent, implicit, limited, or underdeveloped. This paper provides an explicitly theoretical account of mentoring, connecting the development of mentoring with salient theories and the broader implications these have for understanding formal mentoring and its implementation in workplaces. The two theories explored are "social exchange" and "communitarianism." In conclusion, the increasing relevance of a broad human relations perspective on the practical business of HRM in workplaces and promoting mentoring in the future is argued.
As a provisional definition mentoring can be defined as an interpersonal relationship in which a senior or more experienced person helps a junior or inexperienced person (Clutterbuck 1992). While many have extended the mentoring concept to other forms of relationship, particularly peer relationships (Kram & Isabella, 1985; Beattie & McDougall, 1994) the essence of the mentoring considered here is that significant differentials exist between the mentor and the person mentored. The latter is sometimes called a protege, or a mentee. The term I prefer to use is the term "learner." The nature and number of activities linked to the concept and practice of mentoring seems to be growing every day. Evidence for this can be found in the coverage of mentoring on television (Channel 4, 1995), and the popular press (Kent, 1995; Dawson, 1996). The existence of special conferences on mentoring (Sheffield Business School, 1994; EMC, 1995, 1996), networks focused on mentoring (Stephenson, 1997), and even the number of links related to mentoring on the ubiquitous Internet all illustrate its potency as an idea. A brief Internet search highlighted the existence and use of mentoring in education, professional development, Business and Information Technology (IT) consultancy, personal development, and even in areas like helping people adjust to life outside religious sects.
In the workplace, in business and management, the role of natural mentoring has long been highlighted (Roche 1979, Levinson 1978) as an important element of learning and career success. Loeb (1995) has recently claimed that formal mentoring is the future, coming on "like a freight-train." In Britain, the number of journal articles and books directly related to formal mentoring further reflects this widespread popularity of and concern with formal mentoring (MacLennan, 1995; IDS, 1996). Surveys have suggested that formal mentoring is more widely used in British companies than coaching (Industrial Society, 1992) or careers counseling (Leadbetter, 1990). An international survey concluded that formal mentoring was more widely used as a management development intervention in Britain than in any other country (PA Personnel Services, 1986). Clutterbuck (1992) suggests that up to one in three of large companies has experimented with formal mentoring.
The growth in Britain has definitely been in formal mentoring schemes (Gibb & Megginson, 1993), but that has not stopped a persistent questioning of the value of institutionalizing mentoring in organizations. Clawson argued that "career planners ought to worry more about the developmental quality of superior-subordinate relationships in the organization than about mentoring relationships that are hard to define and harder yet to institutionalise" (1985, p. 38). It may be valid to argue, given this, for broader Organization Development (OD) initiatives (Kram 1985), but in practice it is the development of a specific formal mentoring scheme that is the most common path adopted. It is this context that needs to be considered as the "reality."
There are some basic questions that can be asked about this apparent evolution. Many texts on mentoring (Shea, 1992; Hamilton, 1993; MacLennan, 1995) tend to be prescriptive "how to" guides for setting up formal mentoring programs rather than research-based explanations of the effectiveness and efficiency of mentoring. Within these prescriptions, proponents of formal mentoring make claims about the range of goals that formal mentoring can achieve. Some writers emphasize the links between mentoring and improving staff performance. The primary concerns are effective career management (Clutterbuck, 1992) and providing better learning (Mumford, 1983). Broader concerns are also evident; MacLennan (1995, p. 39) explicitly states that in his view the "main objective is to improve staff performance," while Megginson and Pedler (1992, p. 51) emphasize that mentoring is "concerned with building a life's work . . . helping the learner through life crises."
This paper aims to get beneath the prescriptions inherent in this literature, and provide a more theoretical analysis and reflection on the reasons why formal mentoring programs may succeed or fail. While formal mentoring programs are now very popular, there is not much critical analysis of the reality of their relative successes and failures, and little theoretical exploration of the whole area. I will outline here two contrasting theories, or explanations, of mentoring as a form of "virtuous" helping behavior; these are social exchange theory and communitarian theory. These theories emerged from exploring action research I undertook while working with companies to develop formal mentoring schemes. One case study in particular, where a formal mentoring scheme involving the whole organization was developed, provides a grounded
context within which to discuss the theories and their application.
THE NATURE OF FORMAL MENTORING
The idea of formal mentoring seems quite straightforward; it is that instead of relying on mentoring to arise naturally a systematic approach should be taken to helping senior and experienced people develop learning partnerships with junior or inexperienced people. The functions of this can vary, but the wish list for formal mentoring is often as follows:
* Better induction and socialization (e.g., new graduate trainees)
* Complement formal learning processes (e.g., professional development)
* To improve performance (e.g., grooming for promotion)
* To realize potential (e.g., equal opportunities)
As companies or institutions developing formal systems they become concerned with the main elements given in Table I.
In a typical formal system, companies will adopt a mentoring policy, decide who is to be mentored, and who should be the mentors. The criteria for selecting learners is often related to membership of a target group (for example, graduate trainees) though the criteria for mentors can vary; from being based on occupying certain positions to being considered a good potential mentor. Companies will develop systems for matching these people, and provide guidelines on how mentors should play the mentoring role. Evaluation is typically done by self-reports from mentors and/or learners, asking participants how they rate their mentoring experiences. Occasionally mentoring will be evaluated with reference to some of the broader objectives it is related to (Gibb, 1994). Four brief case study examples are given here to illustrate this picture of formal mentoring in British business and management; a supermarket chain (Retailco, Table II), a public sector organization (Enterpriseco, Table III), a unit of the NHS in Scotland (Table IV), and a bank (Bankco, Table V).
As these brief cases illustrate, the aims and objectives of business and management formal mentoring schemes can vary. Most formal mentoring programs appear to combine a concern with the self-development of both the vocational and personal capacities of …