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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.

1 comment:

  1. Mentoring can help develop talents and identify the people ho are worthy of a better position.However, it also comes with responsibilities that can never be disregarded easily.