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Mentoring for the Transition

Written by George Cartwright

Let’s assume a mentoring lesson plan has been created, one that has been designed to help ease the assimilation of new officers to an organization. Let’s assume concrete learning objectives were created to verify learning took place and that the training was presented. The mentoring period decided upon begins when the new employee has completed the Field Training Program and ends when the officer has successfully passed the probationary period. Now, the time has come to implement the plan. And equally important, the plan must be maintained.

However, prior to embarking on such an endeavor, it is important to recognize that those who are called to preserve order in society often have difficulty being vulnerable to each other. Consequently, beginning the mentoring relationship can be a precarious thing. As it is with any manner of interpersonal communication, the initial approach is what sets the tone for the relationship.

The Field Training Officer (FTO)/mentor group identified two essential components for creating a successful mentoring relationship. First, they recognized the importance of communication, and agreed that the purpose of the relationship is to welcome the new officer into the organization so that he will feel comfortable more rapidly.

The second purpose for the relationship is to educate new personnel about the organizational culture. There is no better support for easing assimilation than coaching new personnel on what is expected of them.

Another important outcome of identifying the significant aspects of the organizational culture is that it ensures consistency in the message communicated by each mentor. Few things will damage the credibility of a new program quicker than the confusion caused by mixed messages being sent. Once credibility is lost, it is difficult to regain.

For instance, with respect to the internal culture, the FTOs came to a consensus on these points: Officers are expected to handle problems at the lowest possible level; there is a flexible Chain of Command (everyone’s ideas are valued within the organization); and innovation is encouraged.

A few of the teaching points for the external culture were identified as follows: Every call for service is equally important; treat everyone, including suspects, with dignity; and if a citizen requests a police officer for any reason, an officer will respond.

A trained workforce with a unified message is ready to put the plan into action. So then what about the nuts and the bolts? What is the procedure for assigning mentors? What is the protocol for changing mentors should the need arise? How often should the mentor meet with the mentee? How are conflicts of interest handled?

There are no hard and fast rules involved with assigning mentors. Sometimes the best plan is the least complicated. Matching personality types is always a safe bet. Perhaps, the most important question to ask when deciding on what mentor to utilize is, “What sort of personality will best mesh with the mentee?”

Pairing a Type A personality, who is often preoccupied with schedules and speed of performance, with a Type B personality, who is generally more creative and philosophical, may be doomed from the start. Nonetheless, the plan must remain flexible so that in the event of a poor fit the mentor can be changed.

How often the mentor should meet with his or her protégé depends on the individual needs of the mentee. Every person is different. Some people require more care and attention than others. Ideally, the skilled mentor should possess the requisite qualities and attitudes that will enable him to read the need and respond accordingly.

As a result of training, the FTO Group for the Clovis Police Department identified the essential tools a mentor should possess. These include having the ability to listen without judgment, building trust through keeping promises and demonstrating the patience to allow the mentee to “process” new experiences without interruption.

Lastly, the FTOs decided on a method in which to end the mentoring relationship. The final meeting between mentor and mentee is a tremendous opportunity that should not be forgotten. It provides an occasion for the two involved parties to gain closure and redefine their relationship. Although the mentor will always be a resource for the mentee, the final coming together is a benchmark to transform their association from formal to informal.

It is also a time to let the mentee internalize what was learned through an honest evaluation of the mentoring period. The evaluation process serves many purposes in that the information garnered can be used to develop the skills of the mentor as well as improve the overall plan.

Now that the program has gained momentum, growing the program is directly dependent on proper maintenance.

Maintenance of the Plan

It is a law of nature that anything neglected in its infancy will surely die. The final stage of the mentoring plan, the Maintenance Phase, is the most crucial time of all. The program is still very new to the organization and, like all things, it needs to be nurtured. It is in this phase where the program’s survival will be determined.

Operating on the premise that knowledge is power, one of the primary factors to promote success lies in providing updated training to the mentors so they are able to become more proficient. Specifically, knowing that effective communication has the ability to bridge a mighty gap in any relationship is paramount. Equally important is the instruction related to such disciplines as active listening and understanding the different styles of how people commune with one another.

However, possessing the ability to communicate does not occur naturally to most people. It is a learned behavior, so strategies need to be taught. Moreover, the art of communication is a perishable skill. It is not unlike firearms training or defense tactics. Therefore, it is necessary to hold meetings on a consistent basis which allow the mentors to discuss their experiences, voice their concerns and solicit feedback from their colleagues. Additionally, it is the responsibility on the program coordinator to have a system in place to recognize mentors and mentees for their achievements and participation in the program.

Continually working to develop methods for building trust with mentees is another important area. According to Ron Claassen, the founder and current director of Fresno’s Victim Offender Reconcilia-tion Program, “Trust grows when agreements are made and kept. Trust goes down when people are unwilling to make agreements or when agreements are made and not kept.” As it so often is with mankind in general and law enforcement officers in particular, once trust is gone it is nearly impossible to regain it.

Additionally, the program needs to be constantly revised, adding innovative ideas and removing things that are proven not to work. An exercise to assess the need for modification is to ask questions such as: Are the right qualities and attitudes of the mentors being demonstrated? Are behaviors changing; are the new members of the organization feeling more comfortable as a result of the one-on-one attention? Is the organization benefitting from the program?

Assessing the need for revision is a group effort. James Fraser, a noted expert in the field of teaching adults, when referring to revision wrote, “Using the feedback from the various formal and informal sources, continue to hone and improve every facet of the product. It could be the need, the tasks, the methods, the audience and finally the individual mode or total course. Bottom line…it is an endless process encompassing everything.”

Up to this point, mentoring new officers and deputies to aid in their transition to the organization has been referred to as a “program.” However, once it is stable and the requisite processes are in place, the time will come to grow the plan and proceed to the next level. Ultimately, the goal is to move away from the overall perception that mentoring is a department “program” and move toward mentoring becoming a fabric of the culture of the organization. Clovis Police Chief Janet Davis stated, “The true measure that you have impacted change in an organization is that something you started remains after you are gone.”

One of the many benefits in being a mentor is that it is an effectual way to leave a legacy. Most people want to leave their mark in this world. What is more substantial than influencing the lives of others by participating in their personal development? Think back in your own life. Everyone has that special person who took the time to come alongside and provide guidance and direction. Furthermore, is there a more useful method to pass on one’s experience and knowledge than to mentor someone else? Mentoring is the very best quality a leader can possess.

With all of the problems facing law enforcement in the twenty-first century such as budgetary issues, staffing problems and rampant crime, it is imperative that we do not lose focus on the men and women who wear the uniform every day. If done effectively, mentoring has the inherent ability to benefit both the mentor and the mentee. To put it as plainly as possible, mentoring others is the right thing to do for any agency.

George Cartwright is a police officer with the Clovis Police Department, CA. He has a Bachelors Degree in Organizational Development and a Masters Degree in Administrative Leadership. He can be reached at georgec@cityofclovis.com.

Published in Law and Order, Dec 2009

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