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I am a M.A. in industrial/organizational psychology. Most of my experience has been in human resources and change management. My passion lies in employee assessment, organizational development and employee opinions. Website: www.IanMondrow.com LinkedIn Profile: http://linkd.in/drBYoC

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Role of Mentor Trust and Protege Internal Locus of Control in Formal Mentoring Relationships

Summary and commentary by Ian B. Mondrow, M.A.

Mentoring is a relational process where an individual with a substantial amount of experience, and often higher seniority, assists in the professional development of a protege by providing psychosocial support, career-related support and role modeling. As a result of mentoring, proteges often experience positive work attitudes and an increased chance of career success. Research has shown that informal mentoring relationships have significantly better benefits than a formal mentoring program, which is likely the result of mutual identification and shared interests between the mentor and protege. Yet, corporations often implement a formal mentoring program to assist in assimilating new employees, identify potential management talent, and the development of new personnel. 

Wang, Tomlinson and Noe (2010) sought out to examine mentoring relationships in more detail. One aspect they examined included trust. Trust is defined as "the extent to which a person is confident in, and willing to act on the basis of the words, actions and decisions of another," (McAllister, 1995 as cited in Wang et. al., 2010). Trust is further broken down into affect-based trust and cognition-based trust. Affect based trust refers to the connection between two individuals as a result of emotional bonds and similarities, which is often a result of social interactions. Cognition-based trust is based on one's perception of "competence, reliability and dependability" (Wang et. al., 2010), which is developed from observing one's character. 

The researchers also set out to examine internal locus-of-control (LOC), or a personality trait that describes ones perceived ability to influence outcomes. Individuals with a higher LOC tend to pursue career goals with persistence and dedication, even when faced with obstacles. These individuals are more likely to seek out opportunities to help them to develop themselves. Therefore, it is assumed that these individuals are more likely to embrace their mentoring relationships and utilize them for advice and as a role model. It is this dedication that may encourage the mentor to provide his/her protege with more development opportunities.

The researchers collected data from a large utility organization with over 9,000 employees in China. The company was state-owned and controlled by a board of directors, instead of the Chinese government. Lifetime employment was not offered at this company. Participants were mentors and proteges that were participating in a two year formal mentoring program designed to assist new employees in learning the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in their career. While all new hires were required to participate in this program, mentors were volunteers with an acceptable level of technical skills (as identified in their performance evaluation). Proteges were matched to mentors based on their career goals, concerns and preferences. Each couple met at least 30 minutes each week. 

Surveys were administered to both mentors and proteges via office mail. The survey taken by mentors assess the mentors affect-based trust and cognition-based trust. Proteges took a survey that assessed LOC, mentoring received and relationship information. A total of 140 mentor-protege dyads were included in the final sample. 

The omnibus multivariate test for the full model was statistically significant, Wilks's ^ = .59, F(30,373) = 2.49, p < .001. Therefore, further regressional analysis were conducted. Mentors' affect-based trust was positively related to the proteges' report of career-related support (b = .34, p < .01), psychosocial support (b = .25, p < .05), and role modeling (b = .26, p < .05). Cognition-based trust was not significantly related to any mentoring behaviors. Protege LOC was positively related to their perception of extent modeling (b = .29, p < .05) and career-related support (b = .21, p < .05), but not significantly related to psychosocial support.

An interaction was present between mentors' cognition-based trust and protege internal LOC  was significantly related to the proteges' perceived career-related support (b = -.29, p < .01), psychosocial support (b = -.19, p < .05) and role modeling (b = -.27, p < .01). This showed that when internal LOC was lower, mentor cognition-based trust was positively related to career-related support, psychosocial support, and role modeling. While there was no relationship when internal LOC was high.

Results showed that affect-related trust is a significant contributor to a successful mentoring relationship. This suggests that when there is an comradely relationship between a mentor and protege, the protege receives a more fulfilling mentoring experience. Results also showed that when a protege had a high level of LOC, they felt they received more support and role modeling from their mentoring. The most interesting finding is that when a protege has low LOC but the mentor is confident in the protege's ability, the mentor is more likely to provide psychosocial support in addition to career coaching and role modeling. 

This study has a variety of limitations. First off, the study was conducted on a Chinese audience and therefore cannot be applicable to all cultures, specifically westernized cultures. Furthermore, the population was predominately men and therefore it is difficult to determine how gender would influence mentoring relations. Finally, the study only examined one organization and therefore only examined one organizational culture. For the findings to be applicable, the sample would need to be more diverse.


First off, the studies findings should be taken with a grain of salt because it can't be generalized to the population. It does, however, provide some interesting input for human resources professionals.

First and foremost, it shows that for a mentoring program to be truly successful, mentors and protege's much have a relationship based on affect-based trust. This can be difficult to achieve as it can't be forced upon individuals and many factors can influence the trust. One possible (but controversial) solution would be to allow the mentors to pick their proteges. The organization can host a networking event in which mentors and proteges interact in a casual setting. This allows them to explore each others' interests and personalities. Mentors can later choose which proteges they would like to assist. The downside to this method is that there is a good chance not all proteges will be selected by a mentor or multiple mentors may want to work with the same protege. Therefore, it would result in some mentors being forced to take on additional mentors that do not have as high of appeal to them. 

Another option is to allow proteges to start their job without mentors. As they do their work, they will interact with senior employees who they enjoy working with and vice-versa. Proteges/mentors can then be surveyed a week or two later asking them to identify an individual they would like to be paired with. This will created a mentoring relationship that is based on affect-based trust because relationships have already started to form. It also puts less stress on the organization because less effort is spent on trying to match proteges with mentors. 

For proteges that have demonstrate a low internal LOC (this can be observed through their behaviors), it would be helpful to place them with mentors that identify the potential with these individuals. As shown by the results, the mentors would be highly dedicated to assisting these individuals because they are confident in the proteges abilities. This can assist in raising the protege's internal LOC and assisting him/her with professional development. 

While a structured mentoring program isn't bad, having too much structure in the early stages can negatively affect the relationships between the mentors and proteges. Organizations can still implement a formal program but should not force relationships upon individuals. Instead, encourage the individuals to identify their own relationships. Doing so will ensure a more successful program. 

Source: Wang S., Tomlinson E.C., Noe R.A. (2010). The role of mentor trust and protégé internal locus of control in formal mentoring relationships. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95 (2), 358-67.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Lesson for HR from Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera

Maroon 5's third album "Hands All Over" was released in September 2010 with disappointing sales. It was one of the band's worst selling albums. Compared to their two prior albums, "Songs About Jane" and "It Won't Be Soon Before Long", "Hands All Over" was just missing their previous spark. Their debut single "Mercy" had plenty of airplay but their following singles had minimal airplay.

America did not hear anything about Maroon 5 until The Voice, a televised singing competition, premiered on TV; which featured Adam Levine as one of the judges. Levine was joined by Blake Shelton, Cee-Lo Green and Christina Aguilera, who also released a failed album earlier that year. Towards the end of the first season, Maroon 5 took to the stage to perform one of their singles,"Moves like Jagger". Audiences were surprised when Aguilera joined the band on stage to add a new twist to the song. The song was later recorded with Aguilera and released with soaring sales. The song has been one of the best selling songs on iTunes and today it continues as the #2 selling song on iTunes.

What can HR professionals learn from this story? It teaches us that while we perceive ourselves as experts, new ideas are crucial to success of an organization. If organizations (and HR departments) fail to bring in new talent, their actions become routine and innovation begins to flat-line. However, when new talent or consultants are brought into an organization, they challenge the organization's current processes with new ideas or constructive feedback. In regards to Maroon 5, adding a "voice" to their group brought variety and revived the band's popularity. Bringing new talent to an organization can produce the same effect for internal credibility and innovation.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Harming High Performers: a Social Comparison Perspective on Interpersonal Harming in Work Teams

Summary and Commentary by Ian B. Mondrow, M.A.

Interpersonal harming within the work environment is behavior that contradicts the interests of another person within the organization. These type of behaviors can include disturbing others while they are working, starting arguments, and gossiping about coworkers. Social comparisons (comparing one's performance to another individuals as either better or worse) may be cause of interpersonal harming. A upward comparison is when an individual views him/herself as better than others and is self-affirming. A downward comparison (viewing oneself as inferior to another) may be perceived as threatening and therefore the individual may compensate by doing emotional harm to others. When a downward comparison is negative, conducting interpersonal harm may negatively affect the target's job performance and therefore reduce any threats perceived by the harmer.

Two independent studies were conducted, one with student teams from a university and another with work teams within a corporation. Study 1 collected data from students at a university in Macau, China with a final data set of 141 students and 30 teams. Students were working in teams of three to seven to complete a group project. Data was collected at two different time periods. Time 1 occured 1.5 month after the team has been working together and Time 2 was conducted one month later.Study 2 collected data from sales associates in a state-owned telecommunications company in China. Teams consisted of four to five members. All members in the team were of the similar seniority. The final data set included 128 individuals from 31 teams.

Two items from Lockwood et. al. (2002) were used to measure  interpersonal social comparisons. Respondents were also asked to compare their performance to their team members on a 9 point scale. Respondents were then asked "how likely is it that you will perform like this member?" This question was also measured on a 9 point scale.  Three items from Tjosvold et. al. (2004) were used to assessed cooperative goals within the team based on a 5 point scale. Interpersonal harming  was measured using peer ratings developed by Cohen-Charash & Muelle (2007), which distinguishes between six types of harmful behaviors. In study 2, supervisors were asked to evaluate each team's performance.

Researchers found a three-way interaction between social comparison, anticipated future performance, an cooperative team goals with statistical significance in Study 1 (B = .07, p<.01) and Study 2 (B = .06, p<.001). This suggests that teams with less cooperative goals and an individual exhibiting a upward comparison was positively related to the possibility harming a target when the expected future performance was considered low to the target.  However, when expected future performance was high, there was no relationship to social comparison. Furthermore, when highly cooperative team goals were established,  then there was no relationship with interpersonal harming and/or social comparison.

Results revealed that harmful behavior was positively correlated with upward comparison and negatively related to expected future performance. However, these results were only applicable to Study 1 and not Study 2. In both studies, it was found that interpersonal harming and cooperative team goals were negatively correlated. Results continued to show that team members were more likely to to harm others when there was an upward performance comparison accompanied with low expectations of future performance.

Results of this study suggest that establishing team goals is crucial to reduce the likelihood of toxic behaviors occurring. When goals are not established or agreed, individuals are more likely to compare themselves to others and possibly cause interpersonal harm. Therefore, to increase the chance of team success, teams should establish goals from the start and ensure that everyone agrees with them. This will reduce the possibility of team members comparing themselves to one another and instead create a sense of community, in which the perceived success of the individual depends on the success of the team.

The study has several apparent limitations. First, it was studied in China and therefore may not be applicable to all cultures. Future studies should examine multiple cultures to determine if it can be considered a variable. Second, the sample n Study 2 was only from one organization within a specific industry. This makes it difficult to generalize to the population. In future research, the researchers should be sure to include several companies of different industries to ensure it can be generalized to the public.

For organizations that require employees to work in teams (i.e. consulting, marketing, etc.), this study brings some valuable perspective. It suggests that by establishing cooperative team goals, it can create a positive dynamic between team members and encourage them to work as one.

Therefore,  there are several things that can be done to encourage success among teams. When teams are about to start projects, the project lead should hold a "kick off session". Within this session, the lead explains the project and what the work will entail. Then the team can work together to establish goals that can be applied to the project. Most often, the project lead will establish the goals without consulting with the the team members. In this case, team members feel as if they have no voice and are more likely to create a competitive environment. When goals are established and agreed by everyone on the team, it creates a sense of unity that can be reinforced throughout the project.

How can human resources professionals encourage this practice? Its rather simple. HR professionals can hold a one hour training session for project leads on how to establish team goals and how to facilitate the brainstorming process. Project leaders should be educated on the benefits of this practice and provided tools that can help them facilitate a goal-setting session with their team. If these individuals are not provided with training, there is a greater chance that they will create the goals independently or not even bother to establish goals.

Overall, success within teams thrives on establishing the message that the teams success means success for all team members. An individual can not be successful independently unless the team succeeds as well.

Work Cited
Lam, C.K., Van der Vegt, G.S., Walter, F., and Huang, X. (2010). Harming high performers: a social comparison perspective on interpersonal harming in work teams. Journal of applied psychology, 96 (3), 588-601.