Executives can share an hour of their wisdom with up-and-comers.
Well-intentioned mentoring programs aimed at connecting federal executives with promising up-and-comers in government sometimes have trouble getting off the ground. Executives are busy people who struggle to make the lengthy time commitments that formal programs demand. Formal mentoring programs often require both potential mentors and learners to fill out lengthy applications, complete training and pledge regular meetings with each other over the course of many months.
Many executives decline to participate. They don't want to make a time commitment they can't meet, they worry that they will end up with a bad match, or they don't like the way the program is structured.
Scott Derrick, a founding member of 13L, a group of mid-career federal employees who explore leadership issues, pondered that problem. If the goal of mentoring programs is to provide employees with an opportunity to learn from executives, one-on-one, what is another way to make that happen?
Derrick came up with a concept he calls "flash mentoring." The idea is informal, one-time meetings between successful executives and mid-career workers. They meet for an hour, perhaps over coffee or lunch, to confidentially discuss career development and personal growth. The participants can get a lot out of such sessions without all the bureaucracy and hard-to-meet commitments of more formal programs.
"Developing options that provide for short-term commitments to mentoring might indeed increase the participation of those individuals who feel that they generally do not have sufficient time to devote to
traditional mentoring programs," Derrick explains. "Flash mentoring allows senior managers to participate in giving advice and passing along valuable knowledge and experience without having to make a long-term commitment. For some of those managers, participating in a flash mentoring session can also hopefully show them that serving as a mentor doesn't have to be burdensome."
An hour is enough time for participants to learn at least one thing they can apply to their careers. And the relaxed settings encourage executives to share their real-world experiences. The mentors and mentees focus on particular topics, such as identifying worthwhile learning experiences, building trust and respect with colleagues and bosses, balancing work and personal life, discussing time-saving tips, taking personal responsibility for job satisfaction, and exploring career development strategies.
A mid-level worker can set up a flash mentoring session on his or her own by identifying an executive and asking for a meeting. People who run more formal mentoring programs in federal agencies can create a second informal option. Executives also can volunteer to meet with rising stars through organizations such as federal executive boards.
Derrick doesn't imagine that flash mentoring will replace longer-term mentoring relationships. "To be sure, most people would probably agree that traditional long-term mentoring arrangements have advantages and disadvantages compared to this flash mentoring approach," he says. But the approach does provide another way for executives to share the lessons of their professional lives with workers moving up in the federal government. You can learn a lot in an hour.
Brian Friel covered management and human resources at Government Executive for six years and is now a National Journal staff correspondent.