Virtual mentoring – Canadian Government Executive

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May 7, 2012

Virtual mentoring

The Mosaic Index, by Professor Richard Florida, which measures the percentage of population who are immigrants, indicates that Canada outperforms the United States, just as Ontario outperforms its peer jurisdictions on diversity. Canada has 20 percent immigrants compared to 12 percent in the United States. Ontario at 28 percent and British Columbia at 27 percent match the highest U.S. state, California.

We live in a time of economic transformation. We have developed economic and social systems that are tapping human creativity as never before. The ability to generate new ideas and better ways of doing things is ultimately what drives innovation to raise our prosperity and living standards. Canada should capture the diversity advantage and translate it into innovation and prosperity, especially compared with the United States. Our challenge is to raise our “yield” from our diversity advantage to drive innovation. We need to raise the employee engagement in talent attainment which will in turn improve our service delivery to the Canadian citizens and contribute to higher economic performance and prosperity.

New approach to employee engagement
Given that we function in a virtual world, physical distance should not be an inhibiting factor in providing support and guidance to employees through mentoring. Virtual mentoring is gaining popularity in major corporations because it can engage many employees located anywhere in the world.

An innovative approach called Virtual Group Mentoring was introduced by the East Asian Network Group (EANG), which is an employee resource group recognized by the Ontario Public Service (OPS) Diversity Office.

This new approach is devised to meet the three criteria for the creative age:
1.    Diversity advantage;
2.    Talent management; and
3.    Use of green technology.

EANG Virtual Group Mentoring is deployed in group seminar style with high interactivity for employees, including mentors and mentees, using green I&IT technology for interconnectivity. Meeting formats can vary from open discussion, role play, or formal presentation depending on the topic of the day.

Virtual mentoring pilot
Mentoring programs are traditionally on a one-mentor to one-mentee basis. Deputy Ministers Carol Layton (Ministry of Finance), Angela Longo (Ministry of Small Business and Customer Services), and Joan Andrew (retired, Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration) would like to increase the coverage of these mentoring programs. EANG introduced the idea of Virtual Group Mentoring to the three deputies, who found the plan attractive and approved a three-month pilot.

This initiative is unique because it is a proven way to benefit the most by establishing one-mentor to many-mentees, using green technology via virtual I&IT infrastructure, at lunch time. It also has the feature of high interactivity between mentors and mentees.

The pilot is unique with the following main features:
•    It features high interactivity with the mentees and mentors;
•    Mentees select the topics of interest, which are matched with the expertise of the mentors;
•    Mentees submit questions to the pilot coordinator, who forward the summary questions to the respective mentors. The mentors will address them in their presentation sessions;
•    Question-and-answer period encourages active interaction between mentees and mentors; and
•    Mentors can broadcast from a portable or remote location to reach multi-locations in the OPS using green technologies via the I&IT infrastructure.

Pilot implementation
The Pilot was successfully implemented by three mentors: “The Art of Networking” by Jennette Frost (Director, Ministry of Finance); “Soft Skills for Leaders” by David Nicholl (Corporate Chief Information Officer, Ministry of Government Services); and “Presenting & Interacting with Senior Management” by Brian Gaston (Assistant Deputy Ministry, Ministry of Transportation).

Each mentor hosted one mentoring session, during February to April 2009. The sessions were broadcasted from Ontario Investment & Trade Centre during lunch hour, and networked with two other locations via teleconferencing/videoconferencing/ paperless PowerPoint presentations.

Summary of achievements

  • Provided innovative alternative to mentoring to help realize the promise of engaging OPS talents.
  • Positioned OPS as an eco-conscious leader in applying interactive green technology via I&IT infrastructure for more efficient delivery of mentorship.
  • Embraced diversity, inclusion and accessibility in engaging OPS employees, including minority or under-represented groups, and remote employees located outside Greater Toronto Area through mentorship learning via virtual connectivity.
  • Reached out to and augmented OPS talents leading to better service to citizens of Ontario.
  • Achieved significant time and cost savings, and reduced carbon footprint for employees with disabilities or in remote regions to be mentored by senior leaders.
  • Provided more effective use of time for one mentor to coach many mentees, instead of traditional model of one-on-one.
  • Resolved compatibility of I&IT infrastructure to allow mentors to broadcast from a portable station in Ontario and reach their mentees.
  • Harnessed innovation through the OPS diversity advantage and open creative opportunities for modernization and transformation of the OPS organization.

All three mentors were interviewed about their experiences with the project delivery, and the feedback was very positive. Online survey was used to solicit feedback from the mentees. Over 52% participants submitted their evaluation forms with 91% “highly recommended” rating, 9% neutral, and 0% disagreed.

The pilot benefited 250 mentees. There were 145 mentees (i.e. 58%) who attended in person, and the remaining 105 mentees who attended via virtual connectivity with video/audio interaction.
Tangible savings include: eliminated travel time and costs for employees with disabilities or in remote regions of Ontario; increased productivity by one mentor to many mentees, and reduce carbon footprint with green technology.

Application of green technology
The following green technologies were deployed via the virtual I&IT infrastructure:
•    Teleconferencing;
•    Videoconferencing;
•    Paperless PowerPoint presentation; and
•    Webcasting.

The interactivity was powered with:
•    Use of telecommunication channel;
•    Broadcasting from a portable location;
•    Linking employees at multiple locations;
•    Interactivity to provide two-way communications; and
•    Dynamic to require users active participation.

Lessons learned
The pilot has been well received by the mentors and mentees with very positive results. The project team has worked in challenging frontiers, and overcome many problems during the conduct of the virtual mentoring sessions. The problems included:

  • Incompatibility of video conferencing equipment;
  • Lack of dedicated I&IT and financial resources; and
  • Inadequate skills and bridge services required for smooth integration of various green technologies.

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