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Mentorship – One Shoe Does Not Fit All

Sally (Protégé): My mentoring relationship with Bill just isn’t working out.

Mentorship Coordinator: Tell me more about that Sally. What issues are you having?

Sally: Our personalities don’t mesh. He doesn’t want to help me. When I am struggling with an issue, he asks me questions but he doesn’t help me with what I really should be doing. I feel less and less confident in approaching him for help.

Mentorship Coordinator: What makes you think that?

Sally: He doesn’t give me any feedback when I do make a decision. I don’t know if he thinks that is the best approach. I need more from him. I don’t feel like he is supporting me the way I need to be supported. He doesn’t want to help me. I don’t think our personalities match.


Bill (Mentor): I don’t think I am the right fit with Sally.

Mentorship Coordinator: Tell me about that Bill. What issues are you having?

Bill: I think we have a personality conflict. Sally doesn’t want to think on her own. It’s frustrating. I don’t think I’m a good match for her.

Mentorship Coordinator: What makes you think that?

Bill: She doesn’t want to make decisions. She wants me to tell her step by step what she should do. I try to guide her along, but it she gets upset when I do that. I know she has the intelligence to make the right decisions, but she doesn’t want to do that. And she needs constant affirmation that she’s doing the right thing. By the end of our mentoring meetings, we are both frustrated.


Have you been involved in or noticed a mentoring relationship that did not work? My experience with developing and implementing a mentorship program at a professional organization made me realize that even with the best intentions a mentoring relationship sometimes does not work. The above scenarios were adapted from real life feedback. I came across a research paper recently that made me realize we need to approach the mentoring relationship in a more adaptive way.

Adaptive Mentorship© is a model that focuses on mentors adjusting their mentorship behaviour in response to the task-specific development level of protégés they are assisting in the learning/employment situation.(Ralph and Walker, 2010)

Ralph and Walker suggest that unsuccessful mentorship relationships are often the result of mentor “mismatching their adaptive responses with protégés task-specific developmental levels.”

In Stephen Covey’s Circle of Influence we learned that some things are beyond our control and other things are not. This is true in a mentor and protégé relationship where some things are beyond immediate control such as organizational structure and culture. But both the mentor and the protégé do have control over their own behaviour. When you have control over your own behaviour you can respond and adapt your responses. A mentor can change his/her mentorship response to get the best from his/her protégé and a protégé can learn to ask for the support he/her needs to succeed.

When explaining the Adaptive Mentorship© model Ralph and Walker state that both the mentor and the protégé can adapt their responses to each other.

Mentors have control over and can change their response by adapting their:

  • “task” response (the amount of direction given regarding the technical, mechanical, or procedural aspect of the protégé’s performance), and
  • “support” response (the degree of expression regarding the “human” or psycho/social/emotional aspect of the protégé’s learning).

For the protégés, the key element over which they have most control is their competency level in performing particular tasks. They have control over their:

  • developmental “competence” level (their ability to perform the task),and
  • developmental “confidence” level (the degree of self-assurance, composure, and feelings of security in performing).

Adaptive Mentorship

Visual Explained

  • If the protégé has low competence and high confidence (D1), then the mentor responds by providing high task direction and low emotional support (A1).
  • If the protégé has low competence and low confidence (D2) then the mentor adapts his/her response to provide more task direction and emotional support (A2) to the protégé.
  • If the protégé has high competence and low confidence (D3), then the mentor provides less task direction and more emotional support (A3).
  • If the protégé has high competence and high confidence (D4) then the mentor provides low task support and low emotional support (A4).

Ralph and Walker noted that the hardest part of this model for both the mentor and the protégé was determining the protégé’s development level. This seems to be the same in many coaching situations.

Can you guess which quadrant Sally was in and which quadrant Bill was in and why their mentoring relationship was not working?  When it comes to mentoring, one size does not fit all. What do you think? Will you try applying this Adaptive Mentorship© model in your next mentorship relationship?

Joanne Royce helps create happy, healthy and productive workplaces that result in engaged people and successful businesses. She provides HR and training support to organizations who believe in the power of people.

Source:  Enhancing Mentors’ Effectivene ss: The Promise of the Adaptive Mentorship© Model by Edwin G. Ralph and Keith Walker (2010). Read the full paper at:

What does luck have to do with it?

LuckThis blog post is the final of our “Day In the Life” series offered this summer.

“You are so lucky you can — take time off when you want / work from home.”

I never know what to say when someone says that to me and I have heard this often since I started my HR practice over a decade ago. Being self-employed, I get to work from home and take time off when I want, but does luck have anything to do with it?

I started my HR practice because I wanted to help create happy, healthy and productive workplaces. That is the business reason. The personal reason was to provide health care support and advocacy for my mother who had a stroke and I could not do this within the confines of a 9 to 5 job. The concept of Results-Oriented Work Environment (ROWE) not around at the time and compassionate care leave would not have helped since my mother was ill for five years before passing away. I was a typical member of the sandwich generation and I was on the scary path of building my practice around visits to the hospital to Joanne's picsupport and advocate for my mother balanced with being present with my husband and two teenagers when I was with them. To make a living, I worked on client projects sitting beside a hospital bed and in my home office after my husband and children went to sleep. The ability to work when and where I chose helped the daily juggling of priorities. It kept me functioning during a challenging time and it let me spend precious time with my mother who needed me, balanced with the needs of my own family.

As a self-employed HR professional, I can choose to work in my backyard, in my home office or at a client’s office. I can take time off when I want. But the reality, now as it was then, is that whenever I am not working, I am not getting paid. When I come back, I have to work harder at business development and other non-HR related tasks, like writing proposals and marketing, when I would really rather be doing HR, recruiting and training.

Whether changing a job, a career, or venturing out on your own, knowing “why” you are doing something will get you through the not-so-great times and will make the best times more awesome.

The most important things in life take conscious choice and effort. Luck has nothing to do with it.

Tips for Creating a Successful Mentoring Relationship

Mentoring RelationshipWhat does it take to create a successful mentoring relationship? A mentor and a mentee enter into a mentoring relationship hoping for success, but that doesn’t always happen. Why do some mentoring relationships thrive and others wither? Running the HRPA – Halton Chapter Mentoring Program for the past four years, and asking for feedback after each program session, revealed that successful mentoring relationships share several common characteristics.

Understand “Mentoring”.

Mentoring is a relationship where, typically, a more experienced HR professional (the mentor) supports a less experienced HR professional (the mentee) in developing or enhancing specific skills, knowledge and attributes that will help the mentee’s career and personal growth. Mentoring is not a job search program, although discussion about career path may come up. Based on feedback received from mentors, the best relationships involve mentees who are positive about gaining knowledge with a focus on career advancement versus mentees who are desperate to get out of their current positions and are expecting their mentors to act as job-search coaches.

Eyes wide open.

Both mentor and mentee should realize that it takes work and commitment to create a successful relationship. Those who enter into a mentoring relationship with an eyes wide open approach realize that it will take work to create a successful mentoring relationship.

Set goals.

Setting goals is important. What do you want to accomplish in the relationship? How will you know if you get there? Can you identify what you learned in the relationship? If goals are not established, time and resources are wasted. Setting specific goals results in mentoring success.

Spend quality time together.

Set regular meetings times, but be flexible. Face-to-face meetings tend to solidify the relationship. Pick a time that is convenient to both of you. Round out communication and follow-up with phone calls, emails, or Skype. The mentors and mentees in the most successful relationships communicated frequently and met in-person regularly.

Be prepared for each meeting.

Similar to setting goals for the relationship, the mentee should come prepared with what they need so the meeting is targeted and productive. Being focused and prepared results in meaningful mentoring meetings. Lack of preparation resulted in meetings that were not productive and could actually become cause for friction and frustration.

Take the initiative.

It is up to the mentee to reach out to the mentor. Yet often it is the mentor who reaches out to set up the first meeting and to run future meetings. Mentees sign up for the program for professional growth and to have access to support from a professional outside their existing company. Mentees who take the initiative had the best results from the mentoring partnership.

Don’t expect to be told what to do.

The best mentor does not tell the mentee what to do. A mentor helps develop the decision-making skills of the mentee using a coaching and helping focus. A mentor asks questions to guide the mentee to make a decision. Why? Because the mentee then owns the decision and there will be no finger-pointing and blaming – “But you told me to do / say / write and it is your fault it didn’t work out.” Mentors who guide decision-making and mentees who don’t expect to be told what to do, have the best relationships.

Share information, networks, and experience.

Share articles, links, and information that will help achieve desired results. Give access to professional networks to help resolve situations. Help by sharing what has worked in the past. Mentoring pairs who realize that sharing goes both ways have successful mentoring results.

Learning goes both ways.

Mentees learn from their mentors. But by mentoring, mentors also learn to think outside what they might be doing every day. Teaching and coaching a mentee reinforces best practices, and enhances coaching skills and knowledge about different industries and work environments. Mentors often report that coaching mentees, who are passionately starting out in HR careers, brings energy and passion back to their own work. Pairs that acknowledge and learn from each are most successful.

Be respectful.

This is a volunteer relationship. Be professional and respectful to each other. Return phone calls and emails, and arrive on time for meetings. When accessing shared professional networks be courteous and don’t abuse the privilege. Respectful relationships lead to successful mentoring relationships.

Understand fit.

Realize that not all mentoring partnerships will work out. If the fit isn’t there after the first couple of meetings, take the high road and tell the person respectfully that the relationship isn’t working as expected. Sometimes the situation can be turned around after a frank discussion about expectations, but sometimes the fit just isn’t right. If that is the case, don’t be tempted to solve the issue by avoidance behaviours such as not returning phone calls or emails. Professionally ending a mentoring relationship that isn’t a good fit, allows both to move on to relationships that will thrive.

“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.”   Kenneth Blanchard

Mentoring relationships benefit both the mentor and the mentee. It takes commitment and energy to be successful but it is worthwhile and fulfilling for both parties. If you are interested, check out the mentoring program at HRPA. Most chapters have a program. Get involved and give back to your profession by mentoring an HR professional in your local chapter.

Joanne Royce helps create happy, healthy and productive workplaces that result in engaged people and successful businesses. She provides HR and training support to organizations who believe in the power of people. She is completing her four-year term as a volunteer board member with the HRPA Halton Chapter, and recently accepted a board position with STRIDE, a Halton-based organization whose primary purpose is to serve the employment needs of individuals facing mental health and addiction issues.