Spring 1992 // Volume 30 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA8

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Successful Mentoring for New Agents

New personnel are interested in building mentoring relationships that will benefit them personally and professionally, while gaining knowledge about the Extension organization. The mentor brings to the relationship expertise, ideas, feedback, and friendship. With proper guidance, structure, and encouragement, a successful mentoring system can be established and maintained. The key to success may ultimately be the selection and training of mentors who are willing to commit the time necessary to build an open and trusting relationship.

Bruce P. Zimmer
County Extension Agent
4-H/Youth Development
Ohio State University - Monroe County, Ohio

Keith L. Smith
Acting Director
Ohio Cooperative Extension Service and Professor
Agricultural Education
Ohio State University - Columbus

Building helping relationships is a critical rung on the career development ladder for new employees. Most organizations use an orientation program to help with the process of integrating personally and professionally into the organization. Increasingly, organizations are using the benefits of mentoring as a part of the orientation process. Many state Extension Services have incorporated mentoring relationships into traditional training and development programs because mentoring objectives can be effectively accomplished in a relatively short period of time.

Need for Mentoring

New employees have the potential to become the new life and energy of any organization. Nurturing this energy is important if organizations want to keep new agents from being overwhelmed. New agents enter Extension with novel ideas and a vision of improved programs. This abundant energy is quickly diminished as the new agent becomes "spread thin" among organizational, administrative, and clientele expectations-not to mention personal, family, career, and professional obligations.

Mentoring isn't a quick fix for personnel orientation. However, it does offer an open door for mentors to become an influential sounding board of professional expertise. Since Ohio mentors aren't assigned proteges they directly supervise within the Extension Service, proteges view mentors as trustful and open.

Mentoring research1 has linked successful relationships to employees who were relatively new to their jobs. Therefore, the success and impact of a mentor relationship weighs heavily on the mentor to be readily accessible to the protege when questions arise and help is needed. Mentoring has been defined most often by focusing on behaviors mentors perform: teaching, guiding, advising, counseling, sponsoring, role modeling, validating, motivating, protecting, and communicating.2 Once a mentor relationship has begun, the mentor provides the informal link between the protege and organizational expectations. Mentors are the key to successful relationships because mentors support, challenge, and provide vision to their proteges.3

Mentoring in Ohio Extension

The mentoring system for Ohio Extension was developed in 1983 as a supplement to orientation activities provided during the agent's first year of employment. To establish the system, all Extension agents were asked to identify three peers to be considered as mentors. Nominations were based on personality characteristics and technical expertise. A point system was established in which nominations from peers outside the named agent's geographical and program area received higher point values. This allowed an agent with widespread recognition to be ranked higher than the agent whose reputation was limited to a specific geographical area or subject-matter program. Nominees with the highest points were selected as mentors. They were then assigned to proteges based on geographical location, program area, and particular needs of the new agents.4

Evaluating the System

The program was evaluated after the first full year of its existence. Enough positive feedback was obtained to continue the program. In 1989, after five years, a comprehensive study was undertaken to determine satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the program.

For this study, the 60 mentors and 60 proteges who had completed a one-year team relationship were surveyed using mail questionnaires designed by the researchers. Reliability of the instruments was established using a test/re-test procedure and validated for content by faculty at Ohio State University. Responses were received from 58 of the 60 mentors (96.7%) and 57 of the 60 proteges (95.0%).

The 20 female and 38 male mentors had an average age of 44. The mentors averaged 18 years in Extension work and 14 years in their present position. Proteges in the study consisted of 32 females and 25 males with an average age of 34. Their length of employment at the time of this study averaged four years in Extension work and two years in their current positions.

The mentor/protege teams met an average of three times for a total average time together of 15 hours. The mentor's county office or protege's county office was the location for the majority of these meetings. During the one year length of the program, home economics mentors spent significantly more hours mentoring (23.8 hours) than agriculture (13.9 hours) or 4-H mentors (11.2 hours). As mentors and proteges spent more time mentoring, they felt the success of their mentoring experience increased.

The findings also indicated that mentors must be able and willing to commit the needed extra time to the relationship. Some of the proteges commented that their mentors were either too busy or not interested in carrying out the relationship. Once the mentor and protege were paired by the OCES state leader of Personnel Development, mentors were asked to make the initial contact with their assigned protege. According to study results, over 25% of the relationships were initiated by the protege.

On a seven-point Likert-type scale, ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree, mentors and proteges "agreed" (mentors = 6.5, proteges = 6.1) that their communication was open. Openness of the communication atmosphere entails the presence of a calm and relaxed interaction period between the mentor and protege. Both groups believed this was a key factor related to a successful mentoring experience.

The mentors and proteges were asked to list what they perceived as the five most important outcomes the protege gained from the mentoring meetings. The four outcomes listed most frequently by proteges were the same as those listed most frequently by the mentors (see Table 1). Both groups perceived program planning ideas, knowledge of Extension policy and procedures, expertise from the mentor, gaining a friend, and knowledge of available resources as important outcomes.

Table 1. Most listed outcomes from mentor/protege meetings.
Outcome1 Mentor Protege
No. %2 No. %2
Program planning ideas 28 12.1% 16 8.7%
Knowledge of Extension policy and procedures 25 10.8 22 12.0
Expertise from the mentor 22 9.5 26 14.1
Gained a friend 21 9.0 21 11.4
Knowledge of available resources 18 7.8 11 6.0
Release for ideas and frustrations 17 7.3 13 7.1
Specific advice in technical areas 16 6.9 16 8.7
Office policy and procedures 16 6.9 14 7.6
Time management 16 6.9 9 4.9
1. Open-ended question.
2. Percent of total responses: n = 232 for mentors; n = 184 for proteges.

Perceived Relationship Success

More than 90% of the mentors reported their mentoring experience was successful, and 70% of the proteges indicated a successful experience. The dependent variable of perceived success was correlated with the characteristics of the study to identify possible relationships. As noted in Table 2, "Understanding of Extension organization" correlated highly to the success of the mentoring experience for proteges. Openness of communication, program planning skills, and hours of mentoring were also correlated with perceived success. The low correlation for the variable of initiator of the relationships, while not statistically large, may have some practical significance. The negative relationship suggests proteges may view the mentoring relationship as less successful if they're forced to make the original contact.

Table 2. Correlations among selected variables.
variable Levels of success1
n = 58
n = 57
Understanding of Extension organization .39 .79
Openness of communication .18 .64
Program planning skills .50 .67
Hours of mentoring .43 .45
Initiator of relationships .12 -.18
1. Pearson Product-Moment Correlation.

For mentors, perceived success correlated with protege program planning skills, hours of mentoring, and the protege's understanding of the OCES.


Based on this study, the following recommendations were made to the Ohio CES and may apply to other Extension mentoring programs:

  1. Provide guidelines and training to mentors before the relationship is initiated. Mentors should understand factors that can contribute to a successful mentoring experience and receive training in personal communication skills. Mentors should also be counseled on the importance of making the original contact with the protege and the need to commit the necessary time to build a trusting relationship.
  2. Establish the mentoring relationship early in the protege's employment. Comments from proteges indicated that mentoring relationships were less beneficial the later they occurred.
  3. Be realistic about the type of information transferred through a mentoring relationship. Both mentors and proteges rated technical subject-matter advice as a less important outcome than the establishing of friendships and an opportunity to exchange ideas and concerns. A vital component of the mentoring relationship is the opportunity for proteges to gain knowledge of the organization they work for.
  4. Assure experienced agents they're not obligated to participate in a mentor/protege relationship unless they're able and willing to commit the needed time. This voluntary time factor also has surfaced in other mentoring research.
  5. Conduct more research to determine which men-toring activities should take place during the mentoring sessions.


New personnel are interested in building mentoring relationships that will benefit them personally and professionally, while gaining knowledge about the Extension organization. The mentor brings to the relationship expertise, ideas, feedback, and friendship. With proper guidance, structure, and encouragement, a successful mentoring system can be established and maintained. The key to success may ultimately be the selection and training of mentors who are willing to commit the time necessary to build an open and trusting relationship.


1. B. Kaye, "Career Development Puts Training in Its Place," Personnel Journal, LXII (No. 2, 1983), 132-37.

2. D. Lea and Z. B. Leibowitz, "A Mentor: Would You Know One If You Saw One?" Supervisory Management, XXVIII (No. 3, 1983), 32- 35.

3. L. A. Daloz, Affective Teaching and Mentoring (San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1986).

4. K. L. Smith and W. E. Beckley, "Mentoring: Is It for Extension?" Journal of Extension, XXIII (Fall 1985), 21-24.