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What’s the Role of Technology in Mentoring?

Technology and Mentoring

What’s the Role of Technology in Mentoring?

You make choices about the role of technology in your life every day. You head to the checkout line at the supermarket…do you use “self-check” or go for some human interaction? You need to touch base with a co-worker…is it time for e-mail, or a walk down the hall for some human interaction?

Recently I gave my wife two presents for her birthday—without knowing the gift or the cost, can you guess which one she liked more?

  • Present A: I found it on Amazon (while I was watching TV one evening) and had it delivered (wrapped) to my front door.
  • Present B: My daughter and I discovered it at a market while traveling last summer (we noticed it matched my wife’s eyes); we wrapped the gift in the paper from an old map we had used on a long-ago family vacation.

It’s a no-brainer, right? Technology makes it easier to do everything—to buy stuff (drop down menus! Virtual shopping carts!), to communicate (Reply All!, Emojis!), etc. But by itself, does technology always lead us to our best outcome?

You face the same challenges in your work—technology can execute the most basic transactions in your business (think on-line banking), or be the enabler of the truly game-changing parts of your enterprise (Uber).

So where does mentoring fit on the technology continuum at your organization? If you’re reading this, you very likely see yourself as being “in the people business.” So in designing your mentoring program, how do you choose among the vast array of technology platforms and solutions? Before you get too far into technical specifications and software demos, ask yourself this simple question:

We all love our technology, but does it ever trouble you that the last step in most web transactions is to “submit”?

Do you envision mentoring as a personalized “gift” for your high-performing employees, or a “tick the box” exercise to be solved as efficiently as possible?

It’s OK if you said “somewhere in between” (that’s always a safe answer!). But be prepared to get specific—at some point you’ll need to plot your program on the continuum between “high tech” and what we might call “right tech,” as illustrated below:

High Tech

Mentoring as “check the box” exercise
Emphasis on efficiency

Right Tech

Mentoring as “gift” to high potentials
Emphasis on effectiveness

Technology Drives/Dominates

Standardized program objectives
Program sponsor as manager
Standard data/analytics

Manage & Measure

Technology Anchors/Enables

Customized program objectives
Program sponsor as business leader
Custom data/analytics

Data Driven Goals

Technical knowledge transfer
Visible diversity
Tactical Networking


Information Enabled Goals

Soft skills & knowledge transfer
Real diversity
Relationship development

Objective: To Inform

Robotic training videos
Numerous generic forms
Transaction/task completion


Objective: To Inspire

Company-tailored materials
Senior leaders participate/role model
Enduring professional growth

As you identify the right mix of technology for your program, ask yourself these questions:

    • Whose objectives are at the heart of the program? Top leadership advocates know that organizations thrive when leaders focus their attention on the needs of, and development of, their best people. That kind of personalized career development takes more than a cookie-cutter approach to mentoring.
    • What types of mentor-mentee relationships are you trying to create? Your matching algorithm should reflect these goals—contrast a tactical attempt to ensure technical knowledge transfer (aka a “data dump”), with a strategic attempt to create sustained, valuable relationships, that transfer technical and soft skills, encourage reverse mentoring, and even allow for group mentoring as appropriate.
    • Are you looking to merely inform program participants, or inspire them? Getting a high-potential employee to prioritize their mentor relationship will require equal doses of attention-grabbing and attention-holding—are your materials sufficiently customized to do so? Does the program appear HR or OD-driven, or led from the top (i.e., does senior leadership participate)?

The best relationships, like the best gifts, can be enabled by technology, but are not, at their core, technological transactions. Make sure your mentoring program reflects your intent and you’ll use just the right mix of technology and the human touch.

Mark Brodbeck, MSW

Director of Marketing at eMentorConnect. Passionate about people intent on elevating others, and other examples of enlightened self-interest. Frank Sinatra said it best: 'It's one world, pal. We're all neighbors.'