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Posted by on Oct 24, 2014

Effective Mentoring as Part of Phased Retirement: HR’s Role

RetirementImplementing OPM’s Phased Retirement program creates a powerful opportunity for HR to drive value and productivity through an agency mentoring program. Moreover, according to OPM, “the main purpose of Phased Retirement is to enhance the mentoring and training of the employees who will be filling the positions or taking on the duties of more experienced retiring employees.”

Federal HR professionals can rise to the challenge through a structured process for implementing the mentoring program. Although OPM has yet to write implementation guidance for the mentoring component of the Phased Retirement program beyond that it must be 20% of the retirees’ time, agency HR leaders can step up to help their agencies realize the value that Congress intended of the program. HR leaders should:

  1. Make Phased Retirement Mentoring a Part of the Overall Human Capital Strategy
    In general, mentoring program design starts with defining the objectives of the program. In the case of Phased Retirements, however, decisions must first be made about how the agency implements Phased Retirement mentoring into the existing human capital strategy and aligns to any already developed mentoring programs. HR professionals should consider:

    • How Phased Retirement will be integrated in existing plans such as succession plans;
    • Whether there are efficiencies to be gained by aligning with other programs; and
    • Whether the program be used to “pass the baton” to one person or prepare multiple people for new roles.
      Phased Retirement mentoring should not stand alone, but rather should be part of your overall strategy.
  2. Define the Objectives through the Lens of Phased Retirement
    I believe the key question is “What will the agency lose when the retirees leave”? Answer that and your primary objectives become clear. Traditional mentoring programs, such as the program at EPA, often focus on a broad range of topics such as building and retaining a well-rounded cadre of employees as well as improving communication and collaboration across organization lines. These programs are not designed to address the loss of employees. With a Phased Retirement program, the mentoring program may need to focus more on knowledge transfer more than the “softer” skills required to the job. A program focused on knowledge transfer will look very different from a traditional mentoring program such as those designed to enculturate new employees.
  3. Design the Program Using Multiple Mentoring Methods
    What is the universe of mentoring solutions available to meet the objectives? One-on-one mentoring is only one possible component of the mentoring program. Phased retirees, who work half-time, will spend 20% of their time – about a half day a week – on mentoring. This is a lot more time than participants in most mentoring programs allot for program activities. As such, HR has an opportunity to rethink mentoring based on the objectives. Some mentors may have multiple mentees. Group mentoring may also be beneficial. Consider using panel discussions, online discussion boards, and other methods to broaden the reach of the program beyond a one-on-one relationship. You may also want to consider having mentors work with mentees in entirely different departments or roles to help break down organizational silos or develop lateral career move opportunities for mentees.
  4. Design the Management for Success
    After you have a program design, you need to determine the level of effort required to support the program. How many hours of HR’s time will this take to administer? What tools do you need to run the program? How will you evaluate the program against the objectives and OPM requirements? You may also want to consider training both mentors and mentees on how to be effective. Is there budget for such training? Finally, taking all this into account, what support do you need to manage the program? Many agencies outsource their mentoring programs or components thereof due to resources constraints or cost-savings. It may be worth doing the analysis to determine whether it’s more cost-effective to outsource or keep it in-house.
  5. Build Enthusiasm for Mentoring
    A retirement wave is in its essence a change management effort and the fundamentals hold true for Phased Retirement mentoring. A key component of all change programs is to have executive buy-in. Identify senior agency and divisional leaders to tout the program. It can’t just be an HR project – it must be an agency initiative that promotes widespread support for the establishment of a mentoring culture. Moreover, don’t rely enthusiasm among potential retirees to spread to mentees. You’ll also need to over-communicate the program benefits to soon to be retiring mentors and mentees alike. Don’t forget about those not included as mentees. Does this mean they aren’t part of a succession plan? Plan to have a change management and communication plan complete before the implementation.
  6. Evaluate and Adjust in Real-Time
    Whatever you design, be sure you can evaluate it as close to real-time as possible. This will allow you to adjust the program as needed. Your evaluation plan should be completed as part of the design, but taking the time to do the evaluation and adjust course is required for a successful program. This is often where balls get dropped – the program is implemented and resources have been reassigned. An opportunity for improvement may be identified, but there’s no team remaining to make the change. Be sure to include evaluation and adjustment as part of the program, not as an afterthought or “in case of emergency.”

What is your agency doing to prepare to implement Phased Retirement’s mentoring components? What do you think will be key to a successful program?

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