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“One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.” — John C. Maxwell
It is widely recognized that people are the most important asset in any form of organization. A lot of financial resources are spent on recruiting training and retaining of human resource because they are the fundamental factor that helps an organization successfully execute its competitive advantage, in a fast-paced globally competitive environment. However, the state of the workplace these days is very challenging and disheartening. Too many people suffer physically and psychologically because of unrelenting stress, lack of meaning, scarce recognition and most of all distressing relationships with colleagues at work. Therefore, the need for an effective workplace mentoring becomes essential for the growth and well-being of both employee and the organization.
Mentoring essentially involves a personalized one to one relationship developed between two entities (a mentor and a protégé) where career and psychosocial support is provided by an experienced entity (mentor) to a relatively less experienced entity (protégé) (Menges, 2015). In the context of an organization, several meta-analysis has proven to show many benefits to the employees that add value to both their professional objectives such as a promotion or increased salaries and personal objectives such as career and job satisfaction (Menges, 2015).
Although the terms mentoring and coaching are interchangeably used, yet they have different meanings and perspectives. Coaching has a short-term scope in comparison with mentoring which is a rather on-going process. Coaching enables an individual to achieve a specific objective whereas mentoring helps in making a person self-capable in arriving at mature intelligent decisions. Coaching is more like a one-way process where the knowledge and skill is only imparted by the coach, whereas mentoring has been proven to be a two-way relationship where both mentor and protégé stand a chance to learn something from each other (Cleary & Horsfall, 2015).
The essay seeks to understand the relevance of the mentoring process followed by a leading law firm, DLA Piper for its employees. Analysis will be done by synthesizing the relevant literature on the subject from different resources followed by recommendations on the way the firm can follow to enhance the mentoring process. The essay will be concluded with a summarization of key findings of the research.
DLA Piper is New Zealand’s first and only global business law firm. The company is responsible for providing legal advice to clients and organizations doing business in New Zealand and abroad. The company has 69 professional law practitioners serving the needs of the clients in a wide variety of roles. Understanding international regulatory and legal requirements can be at times challenging for young and inexperienced lawyers, which is why DLA Piper takes a penchant interest in coaching, mentoring and peer-to-peer learning of their employees. This means that the organization combines learning with experience and gives its employees (lawyers or law graduates) an opportunity to work with people at all levels of the organization. One of the methods for coaching and mentoring adopted by DLA Piper include organization of Talent Class which is conducted twice a year in identified global offices of the law firm. The opportunities are provided to a group of employees to be a part of real-life international client situations, convince them and win the pitch. The objective is to enhance personal development and give the employees a picture of how the law firm operates. The impact of the continuous mentoring process has proven to be beneficial for DLA Piper as they have been the recipient of a host of awards on global platforms and also are counted amongst the top law firms of the world due to their widely recognized people practices. The mentoring practices followed by law firm have been widely published as well. In 2015, a report on some well-known law firms was published. The report highlighted testimonies provided by various mentees from these law firms. The testimonial from one of the mentee from DLA Piper mentioned that the involvement of one of her mentors during the course of understanding the dynamics of DLA Piper was a huge help for her (IFLR, 2015). The mentee also spoke that she particularly wanted to have a female mentor as working in a male-dominated business environment sometimes made her miss the female perspective. The interviewee has now taken the role of mentor herself owing to the experience gained by working for DLA Piper and promotion to a senior post in the law firm (IFLR, 2015).
Starting with an overview of the literature selection, the following paragraphs will discuss key themes taken from the literature analysis that links to the recommendations to strengthen the coaching and mentoring framework.
To identify relevant studies the following electronic databases have been searched: Emerald Full Text, EBSCO, Business Sage Journals, ResearchGate, Science Direct, Taylor and Francis, Wiley Online Library and Springer Link. A systematic search was also conducted on Google Scholar with the usage of specific keywords such as ‘Workplace’, ‘Coaching’ ‘Coaching and Mentoring’ ‘Mentoring’ ‘Mentoring Effectiveness’. Searching the terms gave an automatic response on business mentoring and organization coaching leading us to conclude that the research was inclusive and headed in the right direction.
As already established, a lot of resources are invested in human capital because organizations thrive on the performance and commitment of their employees. According to Bozer & Jones (2018), a lot has been discussed about the effectiveness of coaching at the workplace, however, focus also needs to be laid on the determinants of effective coaching. The research identified seven of the most frequent factors that determine the effectiveness of workplace coaching: self-efficacy, coaching motivation, goal orientation, trust, interpersonal attraction, feedback intervention, and supervisory support (Bozer & Jones, 2018).
Woo (2017), conforms to the theory of effectiveness of coaching and mentorship in an organization. According to Woo (2017), organizations are increasingly adopting coaching and mentoring processes to nurture the potential capabilities of an employee. The fact is based on the strong premise that organizations need more than just a competitive advantage to sustain the turbulent and changing business environments. However, the possibility of correlating the two functions, that is mentoring and coaching has been explored by Woo (2017), in his research. To understand the joint effects of coaching and mentoring on the organization well-being, employees who also worked as both coaches and proteges were examined. Woo (2017), concludes that the effectiveness of the application of both coaching and mentoring increases when the level of mentoring is higher than the level of coaching, thus concluding overall that the joint effect of both the practices can benefit the organization.
Olivier Serrat (2018), in his book, identifies that mentoring and coaching occur in a 6-stage process that initiates by establishing a relationship between the mentor and protégé and identifying what are the goals a protégé seeks to achieve. This is followed by discussing the coaching style that the mentor will adapt. Then several alternatives are sought to explore how the goals will be achieved. This leads to singling out the definitive course of action that conforms to the perceived objectives and expectations stated by the protégé. Thereafter, the protégé initiates to achieve the goals as guided by mentor actions and lastly the outcomes are evaluated and analysed. Although an employee cannot be coerced to radically make changes in their personality, yet organization should create an environment that helps an individual learn and eventually grow and succeed (Olivier Serrat, 2018, pp. 898). All development is self-development. One cannot force employees to develop: they must want that themselves. Nonetheless, what an organization can do is to help set an environment that makes it more likely its staff will want to learn, grow, and succeed.
The meaning and effectiveness of mentoring and coaching have different implications for different culture settings. This is proven by a study conducted by Arora & Rangnekar (2014), in India where the study was undertaken to derive the role of mentoring relationships in predicting career resilience. The pretext of the study is similar to the studies discussed in the paper which is that the unpredictability of the ever-changing business environment poses a challenge for employees to survive, sustain and grow in the business world. The research by Arora & Rangnekar (2014), probes further in how the mentoring process can help employees survive challenges specifically in Indian environment context as by culture Indian people are emotionally invested in their work and have different expectations from their organization. The research highlights that the role of psychosocial mentoring plays an important part in shaping an Indian employee’s resilience in a career whereas a standard career mentoring did not prove to be as effective (Arora & Rangnekar, 2014).
A study by Jones, Woods, & Guillaume (2015), that focusses exclusively on workplace coaching and its effectiveness in an organization set-up, highlights that employee learning and development sees a positive difference when under the influence of a well-informed coach. The research also stated that the role of the internal coach has an instrumental and comparatively better impact than the role of an external coach. Additionally, the research also clarified that coaching regardless of the medium (face-to-face or e-coaching) had similar produced effects on an employee (Jones, Woods, & Guillaume, 2015).
Another study by Enslin & Schulz (2015), aims at determining the impact of mentoring on a very sensitive and a challenging issue faced by most of the organizations- turnover rate. The study also highlights the origins of mentoring in the business world and its primal development arising out of informal mentoring between employees and their seniors. The study identified that mentoring has a strong co-relation with perceived career development and employees who find themselves under the influence of a positive and sincere mentor are less likely to leave the current organization and look for a job elsewhere (Enslin & Schulz, 2015).
However, some studies have shown that an organization may not benefit from a mentoring process all the time. A study by Menges (2015), specifically investigates whether formal mentoring is better than informal mentoring and that whether the relationship between mentor and protégé needs to have a prescribed compatibility. The research brings out the fact that informal mentoring arises out of the natural tendency of connecting between two or more individuals, therefore, ends up being relatively more effective than an enforced and hand-picked mentoring (formal mentoring). Menges (2015), deduced that for a formal mentoring to be effective and helpful, the mentor-protégé relationship needs to have similarity in terms of shared vision, goals and personality traits thereby, inducing the essence of natural traits within the formal relationship.
The success and sustainability of the mentoring programs at law firms often depend on how successful the law firm in overcoming the common mentoring challenges. To overcome the law firm-specific issues, mentor programs operated by law firms are recommended to comprise certain special features:
Focussed and driven by Protégé:
For the mentorship program to be effective, the personal compatibility between the mentor and mentee is essential (Menges, 2015). It is suggested that DLA Piper should make the mentoring process “mentee-driven”. Here, the mentees who are the subject matter should be given due importance and the mentor should be assigned as per the need and personality of the mentee and not the other way round. The role of mentor thus becomes that of a supporter or a channeler who is present to provide guidance and direction to the mentee. This approach will make the mentoring process much effective as employees will be clubbed with those, they are compatible in personality with, which will mitigate any additional stress on the mentor and enhance the involvement and engagement aspects of the mentee towards the organization.
Mentoring beyond standard knowledge sharing:
Organizations spend a lot of financial capital on human resources but often complain to not get the expected outcome in terms of employee commitment and lower turnover (Enslin & Schulz, 2015). A probable cause identified is that most of the mentoring revolves around the exchange of formal known knowledge. It is recommended that DLA Piper in its mentoring program should focus on knowledge imparting which is otherwise, not easily available. This unspoken knowledge relates to the personal experience of the mentor during the course of his/her tenure and the learning outcomes that were personally achieved by the mentor. The mentees can greatly benefit from such experience as they are personal and more reality integrated in nature and are organically absorbed and applied in real-time situations.
Monitoring Mentorship Program:
The recommendations are based on a survey that was conducted by DLA Piper which had 160 students from various law schools as respondents (Gabor, 2016). The survey stated that for a considerable number of students the existence of a mentoring system within the law firm was an important factor that was considered while choosing a law firm to associate with. This highlights the fact that mentorship is not merely considered as just another activity by the new employees. They want to gain real value additions through these programs. It is recommended that DLA Piper should incorporate formal bodies to exclusively supervise the effectiveness of the mentorship program. This can be done by either the Human Resource or Training and Development department of the law firm. A focussed supervision is assumed to be a very important factor in keeping the mentorship program effective and will keep both the mentor and mentee committed and aligned with the program.
Mentorship Program to be run exclusively:
An effective mentoring program helps in bringing the employee turnover rate down. The employees who find themselves under the influence of a positive and sincere mentor are less likely to leave the current organization and look for a job elsewhere (Enslin & Schulz, 2015). This, all the more emphasises the need to have a mentorship program that is perceived as extremely beneficial. At the same time, it is also crucial that the mentorship program should not come in the way of achieving daily organization objectives. In light of this, it is recommended that DLA Piper should keep its mentorship program exclusive of the ongoing organization routine. Special days in the week or month should be assigned when the program can be exclusively implemented. DLA Piper can also consider the concept of mentoring by integrating formal imparting of knowledge in informal surroundings. For instance, the firm can arrange a group holiday or a group weekend getaway (by collaborating with the HR department to work on holiday schedule). In those getaways, the employees will get an undistracted and non-stressed time to interact and engage with their mentors. The mentors can also help in understanding and addressing the mentee concerns without having an impact on their work. This will keep the mentorship program from mixing with the daily work schedule of the law firm and will help in increasing the effectiveness of the mentoring program.
Coaching and Mentoring have gained a lot of importance and many organizations are realising this fast and implementing the same for a better outcome in productivity and mitigating the issues arising out of employee attrition. DLA Piper, which is a well-known law firm in New Zealand understands the importance of mentoring and has taken several measures to incorporate the same for its new employees and aspiring law graduates. The law firm employs standard coaching practices, mentoring and peer-to-peer learning of their employees by combining learning with experience and gives its employees (lawyers or law graduates) an opportunity to work with people at all levels of the organization. These practices adopted by the firm have been widely appreciated in the global environment as well. To increase the effectiveness of the existing coaching and mentoring practices adopted by DLA Piper, several recommendations have been made. The firm can make its program more mentee driven and exclusively work on matching the personalities of the mentor and mentee. The firm can extend beyond formal knowledge and focus on imparting tacit-knowledge based on personal real-life experience. The mentorship program can be supervised by a committed body to keep it aligned, focused and impactful and the law firm can evaluate various alternatives for running the mentorship program that does not conflict their daily work schedule. Ultimately, a motivated and inspired employee is a committed and loyal employee for any organization. The above ways of adapting and improving the mentorship program can not only help keep the employees committed to the law firm but can also help in making them feel inspired and content for being of use to a colleague.
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Gabor, P. (2016). Mentoring in Law Firms? Retrieved 2020, from Advocatus website: https://blogs.dlapiper.com/advocatus/2016/07/mentoring-in-law-firms/
IFLR. (2015). BEST PRACTICE SERIES MENTORING IFLR | WOMEN IN BUSINESS LAW GROUP 1. Retrieved from https://www.iflr.com/pdfsiflr/Wibl-Mentoring.pdf
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Menges, C. (2015). Toward Improving the Effectiveness of Formal Mentoring Programs. Group & Organization Management, 41(1), 98–129. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1059601115579567
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Woo, H. (2017). Exploratory Study Examining the Joint Impacts of Mentoring and Managerial Coaching on Organizational Commitment. Sustainability, 9(2), 181. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/9/2/181
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