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Mentoring matters: a story

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

Introduction: One of my biggest leadership lessons occurred in 2000. I was completing my Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership and was an Executive Director at a geriatric care/Long Term Care facility (LTC). I had the fortunate ability to apply what I was learning in real time. Mentoring effectiveness became my greatest lesson.

A bit of background: Turn over in LTC is typically very high…well over 100% annually. The work is back-breaking, regulations and expectations of adult children are challenging and often conflict, and it can be emotionally draining.

Long story short, I had implemented a one-week shadowing program for new hires. Even this one-week shadowing program wasn’t enough to fully socialize new caregivers. It was however more than any other facility had, and I was determined to not “throw new hires to the wolves.”

The bad news: Not all caregivers are created equally. Many are very caring doing this difficult work because they truly care. There are some in the profession who are not good people. Sadly they continue to exist because the work is difficult, often completed in isolation, and some Executive Directors just can’t keep up. It becomes an ideal place for abuse to occur.

I had a new hire, and committed to ensuring some level of effective on-boarding had her shadowing with a particular caregiver. About 45 minutes into her on-boarding, she was resigning. She did take the time to explain: the caregiver I had paired her with was very abusive to those in her care, talked terribly about the community, and overall a not so great person. I was very fortunate that she took the time to fill me in.

The lesson: Mentoring, shadowing, on-boarding whatever you want to call it, requires that we as leaders select effective mentors. They must be 1) capable of doing the work, 2) good, committed stewards of our organizations, and 3) –and most importantly– exhibit integrity, honesty, and ethics. The wrong person with this power can do a lot of good or a lot of damage.

Mentoring and its impact: Mentoring is a powerful tool that is used for knowledge transfer, engagement, retention, and organizational commitment. They need to understand how mentees learn, how to maintain trust, how to share and apply new information, and so much more!

Many mentoring programs form spontaneously over time. Therefore, they are open to passing along bad or misinformation. Research has also shown that younger or more junior team members will solicit information covertly, usually by connecting with another junior team member. These younger team members now placed in an accidental mentor role may not have the same level of knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to pass along solid information.

The result: Lesson learned! Feedback from the new hire (she stayed), KSA benchmarking, and setting a “team” vision made a huge difference. The bad caregiver: she was terminated. More than likely this also had a positive impact on the team. But that story and the organizational psychology of abuse and power is for another day.

The solution: Develop a solid mentoring program from the onset. If you’re considering a program make sure that you can create a culture of knowledge transfer. This ensures that mentors share organizational goals and the right information. ALS offers a course and materials to help you understand the fundamentals, expectations, and roles. It also offers a tool kit of effective mentoring best practices to ensure success from the start.

The end!

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