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​Mentorships That Work

Successful mentoring programs can improve communication and leadership skills and result in career-spanning relationships.

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​Professional mentorship programs share some DNA with the centuries-old practice of apprenticeship. In this age-old social contract, young people would work and often live with a master craftsman, absorbing his skills and knowledge to one day take his place as the local baker or blacksmith.

Like apprenticeships, modern mentorships typically involve working relationships between junior- and senior-level professionals with the goal of sharing information, insight, and advice. However, unlike apprenticeships, mentoring exchanges are focused on two-way communication and are — thankfully — less demanding than a 10-year commitment of servitude. 

That said, the best mentorships do sometimes result in career-spanning connections. For Brian Tremblay, a one-year mentorship he began as an internal audit manager for a publishing company was the start of a more than 10-year relationship that he maintains today, three jobs and several titles later. “To this day, I have my monthly one-on-one with my mentor,” says Tremblay, now a compliance practice leader at Onapsis, a cybersecurity company in Boston.

Research shows that mentoring relationships can improve communication and leadership skills and help with employee retention and engagement. However, even knowing that mentorships can be positive for all involved, it can be difficult for audit leaders or other executives to know where to begin. Several business professionals who have been involved in mentorship programs as mentors, mentees, or program organizers offer their “dos” and “don’ts” when creating a program. 

Mesh With the Organizational Culture

Mentorships come in many different flavors. Many mentoring programs are aimed at developing leadership skills in a select cohort, but they also can be used to help onboard new employees or to support company diversity and inclusion efforts. For instance, Grant Thornton created a program specifically for the women managers and directors within its advisory services practice. The women are paired with high-ranking leaders at the firm to help open doors to new relationships, skills, and opportunities, says Adam Ross, a principal at the firm’s advisory services practice. The firm also is working on a mentorship program for its younger women professionals, along with other program enhancements.

Other types of mentorship programs are designed to integrate new employees into the organization. David Dominguez, head of audit at ITAFOS, a global mining and fertilizer company, still talks with admiration about the mentoring culture he witnessed at his former employer, Occidental Petroleum. “Each new hire had two mentors. The first one is a peer or one-level up within your department, and the other is someone [outside] your department, but somebody you would likely interact with as part of your job and responsibilities,” Dominguez says. “It’s really meant to incorporate them into the company and the culture, ease the onboarding process, and break silos.” 

Still other organizations build a mentorship framework into the design of the company, itself. At Protiviti, each employee has a network of advisors — a peer advisor, a career advisor, and an executive advisor. The intention is to connect Protiviti’s workforce with a multitude of people and to provide a safety net if they change roles, says Caryn McGarrity, director of performance development. “Each plays a different role in helping to shape a person’s experience with us.”

Have a Support Structure 

According to CEO Charu Sharma in “How to Build a Mentorship Program That Actually Works” in Inc. magazine, two of the biggest mistakes made with mentorship programs are poor management and neglecting to provide participants with the resources to help them navigate their conversations. Mentors need training and support, which most likely is provided by human resources (HR), but also could come from other sources. For instance, Protiviti’s advisor-mentors get help through training, live webinars, and on-demand online courses. 

For its women’s leadership program, Grant Thornton recommends materials such as articles, books, podcasts, and TED Talks on topics like leadership and diversity that both mentor and mentee can discuss monthly — along with topics of personal interest they come up with on their own. Similarly, Tremblay’s year-long program required mentors and mentees to work monthly on scenario-based problems that were specific to the company. “I think one of the benefits of the mentor program and getting paired up with somebody who lives those situations every day, is they can provide you the context of how those things actually happen in the organization — those organizational politics — which much better prepares you than some kind of generic, out-of-the-box response to a difficult situation,” he says.

In the onboarding mentorship program described by Dominguez, mentors were expected to do more informal, culture-based activities such as go for lunch or coffee, introduce mentees to co-workers, and discuss goals and interests. Dominguez says the program worked because expectations were clearly laid out. “There is a structure. There’s accountability. It’s a well-thought-out and practical program where there is also transparency and ownership because everybody knows what to expect and what the goals are,” he says. 

While mentoring programs do need structure, they shouldn’t require a huge time commitment or too much in the way of assignments or there may be challenges getting people — especially mentors — to sign on, Dominguez adds. “This is something that is valuable and that will take time, but it is not meant to be over-engineered and take too much time on either side.”

Some best practices are clear timelines, regular check-ins with HR, and a feedback survey at the end. It’s also important to provide participants with expectations or goals to complete.

Match Mentees With Mentors… 

Although there are many ways to match mentees with their mentors, mentees are almost always paired with someone who is their senior. Some organizations use questionnaires to pair people on the basis of interest or personality. 

Although it takes time to develop, trust is one of the key elements in a successful mentor-mentee relationship. A mismatch can result in a bad outcome. In an ongoing program, it can be helpful to connect people to more than one mentor or rotate them to a different mentor from time to time. Protiviti allows employees to change advisors throughout its program. “Our people tell us that’s really valuable,” McGarrity says. “And it’s not necessarily that it’s not a good match; they may just want to expand their network.”

A self-service matching program is another option, which may make the process simpler in a large company. However, organizations that have the resources to match people according to interest or personality can help people make connections they might not have made otherwise. 

In Tremblay’s situation, he was at first wary about being paired with his mentor, who is an HR professional, thinking someone in sales or operations would be a better fit. Tremblay questioned the match, but the head of HR encouraged him to trust the process and the result was a relationship that is ongoing today. 

“To be able to grow and expand your horizons, I would encourage individuals to find a mentor outside their four walls,” says Scott Madenburg, director of account management at AuditBoard. “A mentorship should provide you with an outside perspective, and you will not always get that speaking to someone who is walking the same path as you. If you don’t speak with someone on a different path, you may not know what else is out there or learn about different views or potential directions.”

Harold Silverman, managing director of CAE Solutions for The IIA, agrees, saying there are positives to developing new relationships with people outside of the audit department. He adds that “unless the organization’s audit department is sizable, setting up a program just within an audit function isn’t ideal. Most audit departments are too small.” 

…Or Find Your Own Mentor

Not every organization has a formal mentoring program, and in that case, internal auditors can benefit from seeking out mentors. In reaching out to potential mentors, Sarah Fedele, U.S. internal audit leader for Deloitte, says mentees need to initially drive the relationship and be clear on what they hope to get out of the time with their mentor. It’s also important that both commit the time and invest in each other to allow for the relationship to become mutually beneficial, she says. “Actions should be discussed through each session, and then it’s important for the mentee to follow through on those actions and provide updates on future calls. Mentors will stay engaged when they know their mentees are acting on their advice.”

Don’t Forget to Get Buy-in

Without support from HR and the C-suite, an organization’s mentorship program may end up withering from lack of attention. Just as with any cultural endeavor, the tone at the top can help promote and support mentoring or just pay lip service to it, speeding its demise. According to Dominguez, if properly developed and managed, mentorships foster organizational growth, professional development, diversity and inclusion, and networking opportunities. “Mentoring programs are part of an organization’s culture,” Dominguez says. “They crystallize an entity’s values and demonstrate that management cares about and embraces the advancement of all its team members.” 

A Mentoring Program for Audit Professionals

by Nancy Haig

Not all mentoring programs are confined within an organization. The IIA recently completed a successful pilot of its Emerging Leaders Mentor Program (ELMP), which paired 10 emerging professionals with 10 senior internal audit leaders from throughout the U.S. 

When asked to be one of the initial mentors in the pilot program, I immediately agreed. Having participated in formal programs as a mentor, I understand the significant value to mentees and the rewards for mentors. 

About the Program

The ELMP, an initiative of The Institute’s volunteer Emerging Leaders Task Force, is designed to provide guidance to young professionals in developing their career goals, to develop leadership skills and increase self-confidence, and to invest in the future of the profession. The pilot program kicked off in late 2019. Mentors included members of The IIA’s North American Board of Directors and volunteer committees, and many of the mentees were individuals who had been previously recognized as Internal Auditor magazine Emerging Leaders. 

Jami Shine, corporate and IT audit manager at the convenience store chain, QuikTrip, was one of the mentors. “I was thrilled to be paired with a mentee who had a similar career path to me, including moving from external to internal audit and specializing in IT audit.” 

Kimberly Smith, internal control analyst at trading firm Mitsui & Co., and a program mentee, agrees, saying she was paired with a mentor who was well-suited for where she is in her career. “Although I am not new to the profession, I was still seeking insight and guidance from someone who was experienced as an auditor, still at the top of their game, and was open to sharing lessons learned along the way with me,” she explains.

Mentors and mentees were provided tools, including formal handbooks and virtual kick-off sessions, to prepare them for their mentorships. Among the guidance they received, mentors were encouraged to allow their mentees to openly discuss issues they may be facing, share issues the mentors routinely face, encourage mentees to pursue professional certifications and designations, provide networking opportunities, assist the mentees with their personal development, provide constructive feedback and follow-up, review and provide feedback on professional social media accounts (e.g., LinkedIn), and engage in “out-of-the-box” ideas such as co-authoring an article or participating together in online training. Mentees were encouraged to be proactive and prepared, plan productive meetings, take advantage of their mentors’ experience, use the mentorship relationship as a networking opportunity, and maintain the relationship in the long term. Mentor pairs established their own meeting schedules and goals. 

Gauging Success 

A survey was conducted midway through the program to determine how things were going, from both the mentors’ and mentees’ perspectives, and close-out sessions were held in July. Overall feedback from both mentees and mentors was very positive. “We worked with our mentors on strategies to achieve goals and frequently touched base on our progress,” says mentee Alex Rusate, a senior internal auditor at New York Independent System Operator. “My mentor took a genuine interest in my progress.” 

Sarah Wilder Murray, a senior internal auditor at Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, says she appreciated learning through her mentor’s personal experiences, “particularly navigating a career during a global pandemic.” And Smith adds, “As a result of meeting my mentor, I feel more confident in myself and more certain of my capabilities as an auditor. She taught me the importance of creating a professional brand and provided me with so many nuggets of wisdom that I plan to use throughout my career.” 

Mentors appreciated the opportunity to participate in the program, as well. “As a mentor, I benefitted just as much from the program as the mentees,” Shine says. “I enjoyed getting to know a talented newer auditor, and her diverse experiences brought a lot to the table. I loved seeing her passion and excitement, and it reminded me of my own passion for this incredible profession.” 

Mentor Jude Viator, consulting audit director at accounting firm Postlethwaite & Netterville, says he has always had a passion for mentoring, including formal and informal mentoring at his organization and through community outreach programs. “This experience was similar but more dynamic due to my mentee’s passion and professional drive,” he says. “Each interaction offered an enjoyable blend of personal connectivity mixed with professional growth. The real takeaway was learning from my mentee through self-evaluation and admiration of his enjoyment in taking on new challenges.”

I, too, had a very positive experience. My mentee and I chose to meet weekly, and she was always prepared and followed up each session with action. Although I can’t take any of the credit, I may have been even more proud and excited than she was when she passed both the Certification in Risk Management Assurance (CRMA) exam and the second part of the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) exam during the program. My mentee also worked on her LinkedIn profile to accentuate her strengths and experience and expanded her professional network. For me, seeing others succeed is the best personal reward, and participating in the mentoring program provided that opportunity. 

Not surprisingly, many of the participants plan to continue their professional relationships, even though the formal program has ended. “I look forward to maintaining a relationship with my mentor for the foreseeable future and am so grateful that this mentoring program paved the way for our paths to cross,” Smith says.

Nancy Haig, CIA, CCSA, CRMA, CFSA, is chair of The IIA’s North American Board of Directors. Read more about The IIA’s mentoring program

Christine Janesko
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About the Author



Christine JaneskoChristine JaneskoChristine Janesko is a content developer and writer, Standards and Professional Knowledge, at The IIA.<br>


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