CHCOs create speed dating for mentors, mentees

Wednesday - 11/16/2011, 5:35am EST

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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The Chief Human Capital Officers Council is taking a page out of the singles scene. It will hold speed matchmaking sessions each quarter starting in 2012 to pair up mentors and those who are looking for such support.

Kathryn Medina, the executive director of the CHCO Council, said Tuesday the success of the first speed mentoring session earlier this year presented an opportunity to address a long-standing need.

"Years ago, mentoring was done and it was done informally and it was done on the job," Medina said during the Human Capital Management Federal conference sponsored by WBR in Arlington, Va. "I've heard a lot of CHCOs say that is how you grow HR leaders, sort of on-the-job training. When they scaled back on HR staff and everybody had to take on collateral duty that time that you have to informally mentor on the job diminishes. We are really trying to recreate that scenario and that opportunity."

So the Treasury Department and NASA CHCOs led the effort to create this mentoring initiative. They based it off of the Office of Personnel Management's internal event from earlier this year.

"The topic of it was a being a strategic HR partner and all the mentors were talking basically to that topic," Medina said. "So the mentees knew what area they were going to get in terms of what information."

She said there were about 12 mentors-most CHCOs-and 8-to-10 people at each table.

The discussion lasted a specific amount of time and then the mentees moved to the next table for a total of about 12 rounds.

Packed house

She said the turnout and interest was high with a waiting list for the event developing after only 48 hours of the sign up posted on the HR University portal.

"When I got the feedback from that session, it was very specific," Medina said. "One email that was like was two paragraphs long, talking about making a contact, having a mentor who is willing to talk to me ongoing, making some good peer contacts, [with] some colleagues I can talk to about problems across agencies, I have a better sense from a leadership perspective of where I need to go with my career, and some very simple common sense anecdotal feedback from leaders, which you don't always get the opportunity to get."

Now the CHCO Council plans on running these speed mentoring events quarterly in the Washington metro area in 2012.

She said the events benefit both mentors and mentees, and costs agencies and personnel nothing, but a little time.

The CHCO Council is putting more emphasis on mentoring and bringing together like communities.

Fred Lang, the chief learning officer at the Commerce Department, said every employee needs a mentor to foster his or her career progress.

He said the need for this type of knowledge transfer becomes more important as agencies lose long-time federal employees to retirements and buyouts.

Budget cuts, hiring freeze

Medina said the budget crunch and hiring freeze is pushing agencies to better utilize mentors as well.

"Given the fiscal situation we are facing and the real possibilities ahead, we've all come to the realization there isn't a single position to lose," she said. "On performance management, you have to be on top of that, you have to do it the right way, and you have to be engaging. On training and development, particularly for leaders, but really on all levels, you have to be engaged, you have to be developing and you have to be investing. And that's the way you are going to get the work, the product and the results out of the workforce you have."

Commerce has had a mentoring program for the last five years.

Lang said Commerce created leadership programs for all grades of employees, including the SES, and mentoring is a key part of those programs.

He said mentees should find "a mentor that is someone you like, someone you trust and someone not in your chain of command. You should work with them and ask them questions that you wouldn't ask anyone else."

At the department, Lang said they use an electronic mentoring program to bring mentors and mentees together.

"Each person, the mentor, who has a number of skills, puts their name in there and the mentee puts their name in there, and they get two or three matches," Lang said. "They are not told this is your match. They both look at the matches and decide if they want to have a handshake with this person or not. It's a great program. We've had almost a thousand matches last year."