External Mentorship

Photo Courtesy Of Champaign Park District

Photo Courtesy Of Champaign Park District

It’s no secret that change is a staple in the parks and recreation profession. The current economic climate, the retirement of baby boomers, and the significant changes in local, state, and federal mandates governing parks and recreation agencies are continually impacting the profession in myriad ways. With jobs being downsized, vacant positions going unfilled, and government regulations changing, training and development programs are important components of a seamless delivery of service to the community. It is no longer sufficient to send staff members to local workshops or to a state conference and then expect them to stay current on the rapidly occurring changes in the profession. New and innovative training and development opportunities need to be implemented to keep staff members up-to-date and continuing to grow professionally. One such innovation is external mentorship.

Succession-Development Program

The Champaign (Ill.) Park District (CPD) found itself in an interesting situation in which 17 percent of the staff would be retiring in the next 5 years. Concern over the loss of institutional knowledge and the resulting need for newly skilled staff members sparked implementation of a Succession-Development Program to enable members to address future needs of the agency. Succession planning is a major undertaking in identifying and preparing suitable employees to assume key positions within the organization (Rothwell, 2005). A joint program between Illinois State University and the park district has established a mentoring program to enhance competencies of select staff members, either working for the agency or any subsequent agencies. (A detailed description of the succession-planning process can be found in the February 2011 issue of PRB, “Connect The Dots,” Boudreau and Hurd, 2011).

Given CPD’s dedication to continuing education, cooperative learning, and planning for the future, mentoring became a logical and instrumental part of the Succession-Development Program. Mentoring programs include peer mentoring, supervisory mentoring, group mentoring, and distance mentoring, among others. Traditional mentoring normally involved the transfer of knowledge from a senior staff member to a junior one–“I will teach you everything I know.” This earlier approach is outdated and generally ineffective. A quality mentorship program is one in which knowledge and skills are built to help the mentee become better at a current job and enhance one’s skills for the future. This outcome-based approach helps the mentees “learn what they need to learn to be successful.” The mentor can also facilitate a means to help the mentee learn skills beyond those of the mentor.

In order to select the appropriate mentor, employees go through a thorough assessment to determine their strengths and weaknesses. This includes a self-assessment, and a 360-degree assessment by the supervisor, peers, and staff members the individual supervises. The data provides a clear profile of strength and growth areas, and leads to a development plan for each employee. The plan contains goals and specific objectives, the resources needed, and a timeline by which to accomplish the objectives.

Mentors were selected for mentees based on their goals. The uniqueness of this mentorship program was that many of the mentors were external to the agency, with several outside the parks and recreation profession. This was done for several reasons:

  • There were not enough internal mentors to meet the needs of the mentees.
  • The mentees would be given an outside, big-picture perspective.
  • The mentees could be held accountable for learning skills not already present in the agency.

External mentors came from the following agencies:

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