Vol. 76, No. 3Panel discussion

Do formal or informal mentoring programs better support recruitment?

The Panellists

  • Commander Jarod Kasner, City of Kent Police Department, Washington
  • D/Commr. Marianne Ryan, commanding officer of K Division, RCMP, Alberta
  • Cst. Lisa Wolfe, Recruit Selection Unit, Edmonton Police Service

Commander Jarod Kasner

The Kent Police Department recognizes the inordinate amount of resources that are expended towards new hires in our agency. It's in the best interest of our organization for our new and existing employees to continue to develop and become integral members, and contribute to the continued growth and wellbeing of the organization.

Kent had an informal mentoring process, but it was made apparent that this wasn't adequate to support the rising influx of newly hired employees. Kent then began looking at a more formal process.

The department looked at the existing and useful informal process and strategized to develop a structured, formal process in which newly hired employees were offered a smooth transition into the department and provided a greater understanding of the organizational culture and history.

Although we developed a structured formal program, we didn't abandon the informal process entirely. We find that the informal process still occurs and at times augments our formal program. Allowing both processes to occur covers all aspects and encompasses everyone, instilling acceptance into our organization.

The advantages of the structured system are that it sets up guidelines and a framework that we could later evaluate and modify, as we had set out to offer our employees a sense of inclusion and a solid foundation from which to evolve.

The Kent Police Department Mentor Program identified that retention was just as important as recruitment. We empowered our recruiting officer to also take on the role of our mentor co-ordinator. Not only was he already invested in the program, he had first-hand knowledge of the new hires and their background.

In the beginning, we solicited for interested individuals to build the mentoring team, but we have since modified our approach.

Our co-ordinator now evaluates the pairing information and personally seeks out those in the department and invites them to take on the protégé, based on similar backgrounds and interests.

This new approach has proven very successful and our co-ordinator has yet to be turned down.

It also appears to encourage active support and the sought-out mentor takes this opportunity more personally. This type of successful pairing instills a sense of ownership in the hiring process and mentoring program, and strengthens the integration and desired family atmosphere of the Kent Police Department.

Kent maintains a two-year log of the mentor/protégé pairings. However, we haven't yet accumulated any statistics that would quantify our success.

Anecdotally, it appears that the demonstrated participation and commitment to the overall inclusion of the newly hired employees and the feedback provided perpetuates success. The formalization of our program and the willingness to evaluate and make adjustments to it, works well for our organization.

D/Commr. Marianne Ryan

"Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order that they may maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be." — Eric Parsloe, The Oxford School of Coaching & Mentoring

I have long held the view that the best learning experiences take place when peers are teaching peers. It's my view that the benefits of having a mentoring program in place is what really matters to the success of the organization, not whether it's an informal or formal program.

With a formal mentorship program, roles and expectations can be clearly defined. Established timelines may prompt greater buy-in as participants know the process and that their involvement will have a fixed end date. Conversely, the downside to a formal mentorship agreement is that an established end date may impose an arbitrary end to an existing healthy learning process.

Informal mentoring can result in sporadic contact and lead to an inability to achieve goals and objectives in a timely way as a result of the less structured process. However, an informal mentorship also suggests a greater willingness to be involved as each individual participant's commitment to the process may provide a better foundation for long-term mutually beneficial relationships to develop.

Based on my own experiences as both a "mentee" and a "mentor," I have found the informal mentoring process to have provided the greater benefit. To this day, I maintain strong ties to those individuals who have informally mentored me earlier in my career. I still consult with these mentors for advice and guidance on matters of importance.

Similarly, I find I am much more receptive and willing to serve as a mentor to others in an informal capacity because of the sincerity and qualities of the individuals I meet in this capacity. Candidly, at this point in my service and in my current role, I seek processes that are as uncomplicated and the least time consuming as possible while still providing real value.

Mentoring programs can provide trusted "life lines" when challenges present themselves in the work environment. If a mentoring relationship of trust already exists, employees will be more likely to consult with their mentors for advice and guidance to address work-related challenges.

This consultation can assist in the continued engagement and retention of employees. Further, armed with this information, mentors can also serve as barometers for senior managers to know what areas need improvement within their organization.

Mentorships can also benefit recruitment, although in a less formal way. This is done through the personal contact, which establishes a relationship of trust.

I can relate an example where I met an applicant for the RCMP at a public event in a small town in Alberta. The contact evolved into email exchanges when the applicant became a cadet at Depot. During the email exchanges, I was able to offer encouragement for the cadet's training and advice about possible postings.

Likewise, I received valuable information from the cadet about our recruitment and training processes for reference with future applicants.

In the end, while I may prefer an informal mentoring process, the RCMP benefits from mentoring regardless of how we structure or name it.

Cst. Lisa Wolfe

I've had the opportunity to work with the Edmonton Police Service's Recruiting and Selection Unit for the last few years. Prior to that assignment, I was involved in and supported mentoring and development programs that focused on our police applicants in several areas of Aboriginal and Diversity recruiting and mentorship through the Aboriginal and Diversity Job Development Program.

It's been my experience that people can be willing to develop their portfolio to become more competitive in the application process. Some areas of weakness — including fitness, leadership, volunteering and teamwork — are mentorable and can be developed by any individual.

Not everyone has a high IQ or is physically elite in regards to fitness. Nor is everyone a born leader. But we can help the applicant achieve his or her best by placing them in environments with other competent police applicants who exhibit these competencies well.

All applicants have the opportunity to see and interact with others so that they can help each other and mentor each other through guidance from a trained police member who is adaptable, encouraging and seeking the best out of applicant.

For instance, most applicants can achieve better results in the area of fitness. As a police service, we have worked with our city departments to develop community fitness training programs to help develop better-qualified, physically ready applicants who can pass our fitness standards.

Currently and in the past, the EPS has specifically created mentorship programs for aboriginal and diverse applicants who are interested and require more exposure to the policing profession.

Applicants can attend several training sessions that run all year long. These include running, cross-circuit training, verbal judo, yoga and kickboxing. Sometimes these classes are used to help candidates develop self-discipline or their own training program.

A team leader is identified and used to help applicants develop and demonstrate their leadership capabilities and teamwork.

If an applicant is lacking in the area of leadership, which includes being assertive or able to delegate tasks, the trainers have the opportunity to encourage that person to take on a leadership role as a team leader to co-ordinate an event or fitness run.

Volunteering in the community and community engagement exposes applicants to situations that allow them to demonstrate empathy and compassion, and to value service and commitment to the diverse people of Edmonton. This includes food bank drives, snow angel programs and selected diversity community events.

Since the policing sector works daily with clients who are less fortunate and have many needs, we provide various opportunities for applicants to develop their own portfolio to showcase their commitment and their abilities. Team leaders report back to the training program co-ordinators. Additionally, the training program member will follow up with the organizer of the event to inquire how the applicant performed.

The overall idea of mentoring applicants is to develop a large pool of qualified applicants who meet a core standard competency and who can be selected throughout the application process quickly and effortlessly to attain our goals of highly qualified recruits.

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