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Career Paths: Paying It Forward

November 6, 2013
by Tim Tolan
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Tim Tolan

I am a huge fan of mentoring—always have been. I try to mentor in part to pay homage to the great mentors I’ve had, and to whom that I owe an extreme amount of gratitude. Mentoring, in a nutshell, is a unique relationship between an experienced person in your organization and a less experienced person hungry to soak up their healthcare information technology (HCIT) knowledge like a dry sponge.

The mentor’s role is to guide, instruct, encourage, and provide constructive feedback to the protégé. The protégé in turn, should be willing to listen to the constructive feedback, learn from it and understand that it’s never intended as personal criticism when they make a mistake; nor should they feel bad when they ask basic questions in their endeavor to learn. The mentor is (hopefully) using the mistakes as a learning and teaching opportunity. You can’t learn unless you make mistakes. Promise!

There are lots of styles and ways to mentor, and while I don’t purport to be an expert mentor, I know what has worked for me in the past. Here are a few methods commonly used:

One-on-One: One of the most common mentoring models is one-on-one mentoring. Simply match a mentor with a protégé based on the HCIT knowledge you want to transfer. Most people prefer this model because it allows both the mentor and protégé to develop a personal relationship, and communicate regularly while the mentor provides individual guidance and support. Usually the primary challenge is the availability of quality mentors who match the need. However, this model is one of my favorites, as the results and outcome are both qualitative and measurable.

Group Mentoring: Group mentoring requires a mentor to work with several protégés at a time. The group meets regularly to discuss various topics and exchange ideas. The biggest challenge with a group model is it lacks the personal relationship of one-on-one mentoring. Knowledge transfer can be more challenging as some members of the group may excel and assimilate the information while others struggle to keep pace.   

Executive Mentoring: Top-down mentoring is clearly the best way for an organization to create a mentoring culture. It should be used by leadership to set the tone on the importance of information sharing and cultivate skills to help the organization grow and scale. It is also an effective tool for building a strong management bench. Succession-planning can be another benefit to the organization. Having a bench that is deep and wide in knowledge learned by the executive leadership can minimize the downside when a key employee decides to leave or retire.

Mentoring is a great retention tool for organizations. If an employee does the same thing day in and day out, eventually he or she will become bored and move on. Often clients tell me the reason they’ve decided to hire my firm to find a key executive is because they don’t have the talent to promote from within. That would not always be the case if they had a solid mentorship program.

There are other benefits to having a mentoring program in addition to the reasons I’ve already covered:

Onboarding: This greatly speeds up the process of bringing on new hires. The first month of a new hire is critical to the employee’s overall success. Employees view the first month as a preview of upcoming attractions. Make it count.

Employee Productivity: Employees participating in mentoring programs have an effective mechanism for getting answers quickly, allowing them to move on quickly and not waste time trying to “wing it.” Winging it is never a good plan.

Quality: You cannot improve your internal processes if everyone is doing them the wrong way. The best way to insure consistency is to make sure new employees are mentored on the right way to accomplish their tasks early in their employment. Always.

Reduce Frustration: Employees who don’t understand their jobs and don’t know where to go for help become discouraged and eventually leave. Frustration also causes morale problems. Never good.

Tim Tolan is senior partner of Sanford Rose Associates-Healthcare IT Practice. He can be reached at or (904) 875-4787. His blog can be found at