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Credit: Photos: Stephanie Diani/Getty Images

Jill Thomas, senior management analyst, and Lindsey Mannan, administrative coordinator, cultivated the first official mentor-mentee relationship in San Juan Capistrano's Engineering & Building Department.
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The department's second official mentor-mentee team consists of Alan Oswald, senior traffic engineer, and Kathy Mahboubian, building permit technician.

Starting a new job is exciting. But it can also be a crazy, confusing time, says Jill Thomas, senior management analyst with the San Juan Capistrano Building & Engineering Department in California. “There are lots of new people, names, locations, and duties to take in,” she says.

When new employees enter most work environments, a certain level of mentoring takes place as more established employees provide helpful hints, guidance, and support. But with such an informal process, information can be missed that's not covered in employee handbooks.

“It's easy to see how busy coworkers can overlook the new employee who's desperately looking for information—not only about their particular jobs, but also the work-place information that sometimes takes years to gather,” says Thomas. “Seemingly unimportant details often get delayed or forgotten altogether.”

This is why the department established an official mentorship program: to help new hires navigate the ins and outs of protocols and culture.

When Administrative Coordinator Lindsey Mannan joined Building & Engineering nearly two years ago, she became the department's first “mentee.” And Thomas became its first mentor.

The mentorship program ensures that each new employee is assigned a long-term mentor (minimum duration of six months to 1 year). This is a managerial-level employee who does not directly supervise the new hire, but who exemplifies core department and city values. Chosen based upon such knowledge, the mentor provides guidance and general direction in keeping with the city culture, department framework, and teamwork principles.

The mentor and mentee meet regularly—at least once every two weeks in the beginning—to discuss the new employee's expectations, address any questions or issues, and walk through the department's “service credo.” The credo focuses on customer service and includes five components: productivity, personal responsibility, integrity, dedication/loyalty, and cultivating a “can-do” attitude.

Whereas supervisors typically train, manage, and evaluate employees, mentors support new employees by acting as a resource. Employees should feel comfortable discussing issues with their mentors without fear of judgement.

“It would've been so great to have someone to bounce questions off of regarding anything—personal or work-related—when I started,” reflects Thomas. “In developing this program, I was reminded that I never received ‘the city tour'.”

And that's where the mentor comes in. Under Thomas's guidance Mannan did receive the city tour. She learned about other city departments, met employees from those departments, and toured the city to personally see projects and historical sites.

Most importantly, the process quickly familiarized Mannan with her own department.

Plus, says Mannan, “I can approach my mentor with any situation that may arise and feel confident that we'll work together for a resolution.” She considers the program “a great opportunity,” and, with Thomas as a mentor, her knowledge base of the city continues to grow.

There are also benefits to being a mentor.

“I'm constantly reminded of not only how far I've come, but where I might want to go,” says Thomas. “It makes me want to seek out and follow through with a plan of my own—with my own unofficial mentor.”

— Nasser Abbbaszadeh, PE, is engineering and building director at San Juan Capistrano, Calif.