Three Years On: Mentoring at the Department of Justice and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada

4. Suggestions for the National Mentoring Program

There were many comments provided and by the number of individuals, both mentors and associates, who volunteered for an interview, it is clear that NMP participants feel strongly about mentoring at JUS and PPSC. The comments were overwhelmingly constructive. Even where study participants did not have positive experiences, their comments provide ideas as to how to improve the NMP. Many of the comments were additional reflections on questions asked earlier on the survey. These have been incorporated earlier on in the Results Section. This final section will include some overall thoughts on the National Mentoring Program and additional suggestions provided, including those for the Champions. This section will provide comments on the purpose of the National Mentoring Program, technology, Employment Equity, resources and also suggestions for improvements.

4.1 The Purpose of the NMP

Comments, particularly from survey respondents, indicated a certain sense of ambiguity about the purpose of the National Mentoring Program. In the words of this mentor:

It is unclear what the goals are from the point of view of the program; once formally enrolled, there is literally NO follow-up with the participants.

It is clear that mentoring has always existed in JUS/PPSC. Several mentors and associates who responded to the survey have been in a mentoring relationship long before the NMP existed. As these mentors noted:

I personally have not had need of the NMP – my mentor relationship predated the NMP and we registered simply for the Department's statistical purposes.

I have established mentoring relationships on my own. I do not think that the JUS NMP has played a large role in my mentoring relationships.

In response to these astute observations, the NMP needs to take a more active role once people are matched and have completed the Orientation session. Many people, both on the survey and in the interviews, commented on this at great length. This area – what is the purpose of the NMP after matching – was the most talked about within the study.

4.2 Awareness of the NMP

The program was “well-launched” but seems to have since fallen off the radar. Could we not have regular reminders (i.e., based on a deliberate communications plan) to ensure that new employees (and seasoned employees who may feel ready to serve as mentors) are kept aware of the program? Such promotion could also help participants feel good about the value of their continuing role in the program.

There were many comments and ideas to this effect. Maintaining the momentum of any program can be a challenge, especially as new priorities take over an organization. Three years on, however, it is apparent from the survey and interviews that the NMP is promoted to different degrees in different regions and offices.

Some feel that there is a need to increase participation from managers:

Testimonials from senior managers would provide powerful support to encourage participation in the program.

There is a need to demonstrate the value (of the program) to encourage managerial participation.

At least one person interviewed believes the NMP should be mandatory for managers, but overall there was no indication of widespread support for such a measure.

There were a few comments from those interviewed and in the surveys about the importance of ensuring that the NMP is not just for and about lawyers.

Help support (non-legal) staff better understand that they have the same opportunity and encouragement to participate in the NMP.

These comments were few and overall, there was a sense that the NMP is for everyone in JUS and PPSC. If the NMP were to develop marketing tools, such as videos, articles in JustInfo, it will be important to use the experiences of lawyers and those in other professional categories to demonstrate the benefits and value of mentoring. For example, one mentor interviewed suggested that the NMP,

Select, analyze and promote 2 or 3 of the best examples of mentoring relationships to departmental employees.

All the activities suggested in the previous sections would work towards promoting and raising awareness about the NMP and about the importance of mentoring in general. They do not need to require significant resources. The overwhelming interest in mentoring demonstrated by those willing to be interviewed suggests that there may be individuals willing to donate their time to some of these activities.

4.3 Technology

Interview participants were specifically asked whether they had ideas about the use of technology and the NMP and mentoring relationships. Many interview participants felt that technology can greatly assist mentoring relationships and the NMP by utilizing for example, Skype for long distance relationships. A number of participants also mentioned the potential for social media to help connect people. There was, however, also a note of caution to use technology to complement relationships, not to replace them. Many people believe that an in-person orientation session is preferred to web training, although for some it would be nice to have a choice. Many people also believe that in-person interaction is necessary to build a cohesive, trusting and open relationship.

Overall, there is definitely an interest in exploring the use of such technologies as Sharepoint to nurture different communities, for example, of mentors and of associates. These should be explored with small pilot projects (Skype for those in long distance relationships) that should be evaluated before expanding them.

4.4 Employment Equity

The origins of the current National Mentoring Program stem from the efforts of members of the Advisory Committees on Employment Equity, particularly the Advisory Committee for Visible Minorities. This is reflected in the NMP's objectives which include, “To create a more diverse and inclusive workplace.” The study did not attempt to measure the success of this specific objective, but did ask questions about inclusion. As noted earlier, associates were asked whether “a sense of belonging to the organization” was important to them when beginning their career with JUS or PPSC and whether they felt mentoring helped with this. The responses to this particular question provide some understanding of how mentoring can assist associates, including those belonging to an EE group, in this regard. Of those associates who self-identified as a member of an EE group (36% of associates and 15% of mentors), 87% said that “a sense of belonging to the organization” is important and of those, 63% said that mentoring had helped with this. This is similar to the findings for all associates.

In terms of other feedback, one individual noted in the survey comments that she or he “refused to answer any of the EE questions.” This comment may be related to the distaste on the part of some Employment Equity members to self-identify. Without more context, however, this is only conjecture.

Another respondent noted that although one of the goals of the NMP is to “create a more diverse and inclusive workplace,” mentoring alone could not achieve this.

In terms of achieving EE related goals, however, perhaps more focus must be given to those groups that have traditionally faced barriers in the workplace.

This may be an area where some follow-up work is required, for example, through consultations with the Employment Equity Advisory Committees. Strong partnerships with the different Advisory Committees and the NMP could be developed to foster networking, informal and formal training opportunities.

4.5 Long Distance

It just doesn't work.

While this comment does not apply to all those in long distance relationships, it certainly does apply to some. Most of those in such relationships suggested resources to facilitate a face-to-face meeting at the outset. If at least one, in-person meeting could occur, most thought that telephone calls could suffice and keep the relationship meaningful over the longer term.

One suggestion to assist with these inherent challenges – and also noted in the Technology section above - is to have those in long distance mentoring relationships take part in the pilot project to use Skype, or another “voice over Internet” software.

4.6 Resources

Numerous comments were provided about resourcing. People noted that it does need to be resourced, and resourced properly. In the current times of cutbacks, there was definitely a concern that this might be an easy target. Those who remember the previous mentoring program know that it disappeared.

I hope with all the reductions that the NMP is not one of the programs that is heavily hit.

The NMP is a great program – I hope that it continues to be resourced properly.

One mentor cautioned against unrealistic expectations from a mentoring relationship noting that,

Mentoring relationships take time to develop and maintain.

With clear and realistic expectations, as well as careful nurturing, the majority of associates and mentors will be able to realize the potential from a mentoring relationship. It can provide valuable learning that occurs from mentor to associate, as well as from associate to mentor; it can provide support and honesty as well as coaching and humour. Importantly, those who participated in this study have indicated that they want the NMP to support these relationships more actively – with training and other events. In order to do so, the NMP will require adequate resources.

4.7 Succession planning

Several mentors, and senior managers or practitioners noted the importance of mentoring and the NMP in the future of JUS/PPSC.

The program should figure prominently in the department's succession planning. It is a crucial link to knowledge transfer initiatives in the Department and offers the special opportunity to effectively share valuable information to multiple beneficiaries.

It is important to recognize succession planning as a key benefit to the department; that is, as a mentor prepares for retirement, their associates benefit from a significant transfer of knowledge (e.g., legal knowledge; how the “system” works) to assist them in their careers.

Just as human resources planning has gradually become more and more integrated into business planning, the role of mentoring in terms of succession planning and knowledge management should be seriously considered. In order to do this, it may be necessary to move beyond a facilitated program into a somewhat more formal program; given the many changes that the Law Practice Model is bringing, this would not be a great leap and there are many options that do not necessarily require significant resources.

4.8 Summary of Suggestions for the NMP

In summary, with only a few exceptions, those who participated in this study provided interesting and thoughtful ideas and examples of how to improve the National Mentoring Program. These suggestions focused on the clearly defining the purpose of the NMP, raising awareness of the NMP, and using technology most effectively. Importantly, participants noted that more needs to be done to understand how members of Employment Equity groups are benefitting from the NMP and also how to improve the viability of long distance relationships. There was a genuine concern that as budgets are cut across the government, the NMP may be an easy target.

All the suggestions were provided through the in-depth interviews or in the comments sections of the electronic survey. By the quantity and the quality of the suggestions provided, it is evident that those participating in the National Mentoring Program are committed to the idea and the practice of mentoring and genuinely hope to further improve the experience of mentoring in the Department of Justice and the Public Prosecution Services of Canada.