Frontline Initiative Diversity

Employee Mentoring:
A Program that Paves Way for Success


Brenda Haskin is a therapeutic program worker and mentor

Nine years ago, Montgomery Developmental Center (MDC), a residential training center in the state of Ohio that supports 104 adults with mental retardation/developmental disabilities, recognized a growing need to provide additional job-specific training for new direct support staff. In 1991, a comprehensive peer mentoring program was developed and implemented in an effort to enhance quality service to clients while bridging the gap between initial staff orientation and the abilities and skills required by the actual job. The program has yielded invaluable benefits for both employees and the entire organization.

The Mentor Program is operated on a selective and volunteer basis. Employees who demonstrate superior job skills and leadership potential are identified and asked to participate. If an employee chooses to become a mentor, he/she is then provided training on related areas such as operating guidelines (e.g., mentor program schedule and feedback) and specific coaching methods. The organization believes that mentoring can be an essential component in helping new employees with diverse backgrounds find their niche more quickly in the organization. Mentors are typically paired with those employees they will be working with in the same work areas. This motivates them to provide the best mentorship possible. 

Once selected, the mentor plays an important role in orienting and training new employees. During an orientation period, the mentor provides one-on-one specific instruction to the new employee on such areas as documentation, scheduling, community outings, implementation of procedures, and special needs of their shift. The new employee is exposed to all shifts so that he or she has a concise picture of the roles of each shift. This allows the new employee to learn by doing while capitalizing on the mentor’s experience.

The MDC mentoring program includes a process for ongoing evaluation of its effectiveness. The mentor uses feedback forms to assess specific skills demonstrated by the new employee and the information is shared with the new employee and his or her supervisor. Meanwhile, the new employee provides an evaluation of the mentor’s instruction, and it is shared with the staff development coordinator. Further, mentors periodically meet to discuss both positive aspects and problem areas to ensure continuous program refinements. Personal experiences and thoughts are also shared at these meetings. This reflective process facilitates professional development of the new employees and their mentors, and continuing improvement of the training program itself. 

One of the most beneficial aspects of this peer-mentoring program is that it enhances the skills of all those involved and enriches overall services. New employees have stated that blended with hands-on job experience, the mentoring program provides a real sense of community and eases the transition into the job responsibilities. In addition, mentors are afforded the opportunity to attend job-related seminars in a continuing effort to polish their skills, e.g., communication, coordination, feedback, adult learning, etc.

From an organizational perspective, the mentoring program has resulted in more promotion opportunities for direct service staff, and hence, improved retention. For example, because of their excellent performance as mentors, several direct service staff have gone on to supervisory and management positions. Further, individuals receiving support ultimately benefit from better trained direct service staff and supervisors.

The Mentor Program is a great enhancement to MDC’s services, and an expression of its core values of community, dignity, and respect. It is a cornerstone of our vision, which views our employees and clients as part of an extended loving family, and does everything possible to help them succeed.