When Covance's five-year-old mentoring program was digitized, there was understandably some resistance from the HR staff.

Still, something needed to change. Each year, the drug development services company expanded its mentoring program to more and more applicants who were increasingly geographically dispersed, as well as spread across various business units.

"It was an investment of 300 to 400 hours of time among the senior HR folks to review all the applicants and make matches and communicate that out to all the people that were matched," says Michael Kauer, Covance's global director of organizational development.

There also was a significant time commitment on the part of the mentors and mentees. Originally, they attended an extensive in-person orientation of eight hours during one day. They also had an 80-page packet to supplement the orientation.

Throughout the one-year mentorship, the mentor facilitated communication to discuss issues to help the mentee reach his or her goals. Typical goals included learning about different parts of the business, how to navigate political waters, how to progress in their career, or for a new manager, how to manage a team that is not all onsite.

With automation through the Mentor Scout software, participants continued to accomplish their goals, thus freeing Covance's HR team from the burden of the matchmaking process.

"There was a significant time savings for them, so that they could allocate a very significant portion of time to some other pressing business needs, rather than playing matchmaker for the mentoring program," explains Kauer.

 

Automation saved money

Originally, it cost $140,000 per year with 300 participants, approximately $500 per participant. By automating the program, the amount decreased to $34,000 total per year and $115 per participant - a savings of some $370 per person.

The nature of the orientation session also changed. It went from an eight-hour, in-person, instructor-led session, to a 90-minute Web-based presentation.

"We pulled out the key things people need to know to have a positive partnership," says Kauer of the change.

Although Kauer says the shift caused apprehension among the HR team, the automation was well-received.

"It was relatively low-risk from a financial perspective. The data has shown that the risk paid off not only from a financial perspective, but also from a quality perspective," he says.

There are three different tiers for the automation process, Kauer explains.

1. A company could automate collecting applicant profiles and do the matching manually.

2. Applicants complete mentoring profiles and can indicate preferable matching.

3. The employer can collect profiles and match mentors with mentees digitally.

Covance opted for tier three, and while automation may seem impersonal, in Covance's case it helped more efficiently match participants with mentors and allowed HR professionals to be more hands on with other aspects of their job.

"I wish we'd done it years ago becaus e it saves so much time and effort," Kauer says. "Why not put development into hands of those who are seeking it? Who says HR has all the right answers?"

 


Tips for a successful virtual mentoring relationship >> Give your mentor/mentee a sense of yourself; share things that are important to you in your personal and professional life.

>> Frequency of contact is important, especially in the first few months. It will help you move beyond small talk and show that you want to discuss a variety of issues.

>> In emails, give thoughtful answers, thank your mentor/mentee for sharing ideas and giving feedback.

>> If you don't hear from your mentor/mentee, don't hesitate to send him or her an email asking what's new and sharing what you've been doing.

>> Keep copies of all conversations. This will help you evaluate the experience and will enable you to go back and follow up on earlier discussions.

>> Be aware of mirroring! If you write short, quick answers, your mentor/mentee is likely to respond with short answers. If you are open and go into more depth, your mentor/mentee likely will follow your lead.

>> Don't feel you have to start a new conversation each time; tell your mentor what has happened since your last conversation.

>> If you don't have time for a thoughtful reply, send a quick note saying when you will be able to respond. Don't leave your mentor/mentee wondering if s/he did something wrong.Source: American Speech-Language Hearing Association

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