Mentoring Goes Virtual

By Brittany Ballenstedt

March 26, 2012

Government workers are finding their perfect matches online -- at least when it comes to mentoring relationships.

The Mentoring Connection, a new website and program created by social networking website GovLoop, is allowing younger employees and more seasoned, experienced workers to create online profiles and match up based on common skills, interests and challenges.

Last year, GovLoop teamed up with software vendor The Training Connection to create the pilot program in which 100 mentors and mentees formed partnerships based on information in their online profiles. Once a match was made, participants committed to meeting on Skype or face-to-face twice a month for the duration of the three-month pilot.

Andrew Krzmarzick, director of community engagement for GovLoop, told Wired Workplace on Thursday that the pilot phase of the program was a huge success, with 93 percent of mentees and 71 percent of mentors saying the program was either effective or very effective in helping them grow personally and professionally.

"There seems to be this huge need for knowledge transfer from one generation to the next," Krzmarzick said. "The younger generation, Gen X and even younger Baby Boomers -- all of those folks are interested in having a coach or mentor to help them advance their career. Mentoring can make that knowledge transfer and leadership transfer all that much more effective."

Perhaps more interesting, however, is GovLoop's unique approach to the program. While many mentoring programs across the federal government involve in-person relationships, usually within the confines of the same agency, the GovLoop program leveraged technology to connect participants from different levels of government and from different areas of the country.

For example, 47 percent of matches included participants that were not located in the same region, and 27 percent of matchups included participants that were not at the same level in government . Sixty different organizations participated, and 92 percent of pairings were not in the same organization or agency.

"I think more and more we're moving towards a performance-based and more mobile and measurable workforce," he said. "Technology enables all of that, and this [program] is just one more indication that a virtual mentoring program can work and that operating virtually as an organization is possible."

Krzmarzick said GovLoop is expanding the program this year to include two four-month sessions in the spring and fall. The spring program will include 70 mentorships crossing organizational boundaries. For example, 69 percent of pairings will not be co-located, 42 percent will be on different levels of government, and 99 percent will work in different organizations or agencies. "It's going to become more virtual," Krzmarzick said.

At this point, GovLoop is currently picky in choosing mentors and mentees for the program in order to keep growth sustainable, Krzmarzick said. The program has invited members of the National Academy of Public Administration and senior-level government workers who are active on GovLoop to serve as mentors, while mentees are often selected based on the clarity of their career goals, he said. "The spring program was more selective," he said. "We weighed potential mentees higher if they had three clear goals for their career and three clear goals for the program."

The short-term goal is to have 1,000 mentors and mentees in the system by the end of this year, and then grow the program incrementally over time, Krzmarzick said, adding that he envisioned a long-term goal of supplementing mentoring programs already existing at agencies. "We see agencies calling us up," he said. "As we generate a level of expertise in this, we could help stand up and/or run programs for agencies that don't yet have mentorship programs."

By Brittany Ballenstedt

March 26, 2012