Strategic mentoring

This article is part of a series from Good Practice, offered to ICAS members as part of the ICAS mentoring programme.

In Mentoring For Exceptional Performance, Harold E Johnson argues that to keep up with the expanding demands of the marketplace, organisations must have a comprehensive strategy for developing people. He proposes a strategic framework for meeting the challenges of change and producing exceptional performance through mentoring.[1]

The Six Principles

Six principles form the foundation of Johnson's strategic mentoring model, which he believes are the key to achieving sustained exceptional performance:

  1. knowledge creates power, therefore learning and knowledge-sharing should be encouraged (learning)
  2. leaders drive performance, therefore leadership development should be a key priority (leading)
  3. a cohesive and harmonious organisational culture helps individuals to realise their full potential, therefore open communication and positive working relationships should be promoted (relating)
  4. all learning stems from personal development, therefore individual growth should be encouraged (individual)
  5. knowledge is shared in groups, therefore team working should be facilitated (group/team)
  6. organisational culture plays a key role in the success of any strategy, therefore an environment that supports the objectives of the strategy should be created (organisation)

Johnson splits these six principles into two sets of three. The first three principles focus on what the organisation and mentors need to do to facilitate exceptional performance, i.e. the content of the mentoring strategy (learning, leading and relating). The final three focus on who should be mentored (individual, group/team and organisation). These two 'performance drivers' create the framework for achieving exceptional performance.

The Performance Development Grid

Organisations should, according to Johnson, address each aspect of these two performance drivers together in order to create the basis of an effective mentoring strategy. He represents this visually on a 'Performance Development Grid':






Facilitate continuous individual learning.

Facilitate continuous leadership development.

Facilitate developing individual relationship- building skills.


Facilitate continuous learning about exceptional team performance.

Facilitate team leadership development.

Facilitate developing team relationship building skills.


Facilitate the development of a learning organisation.

Facilitate the development of leadership at all levels.

Facilitate a culture that emphasises positive working relationships.

Source: Harold E Johnson, Mentoring For Exceptional Performance (Griffin Publishing, 1997), Table 4.1, p 55.

Johnson believes that mentoring is the most effective method of addressing each of the nine key factors in the grid to achieve exceptional performance.

These nine factors form the individual strategies that make up the Strategic Mentoring Model. All nine must be implemented in order to create a fully effective and comprehensive mentoring strategy.

The nine strategies of the Strategic Mentoring Model are:


  1. Facilitate continuous individual learning: Individual learning is the basic building block of performance. It involves a commitment to continuous self improvement and knowledge seeking.
  2. Facilitate continuous leadership development: Strong leadership gives others a positive and trustworthy direction to follow. To develop strong leadership and 'followership', a strong emphasis should be placed on developing individuals as leaders.
  3. Facilitate developing individual relationship-building skills: People work more effectively together than individually. Effective interpersonal skills are therefore essential for exceptional performance.


  1. Facilitate continuous learning about exceptional team performance: Effective learning can be gained from group work, as the combined knowledge and skills of the group are much greater than those of the individual. Group work should be encouraged.
  2. Facilitate team leadership development: Creating a structure of small teams at all levels of management can help to achieve exceptional performance. To do this effectively, team leadership capabilities should be developed.
  3. Facilitate developing team relationship building skills: Groups can only achieve success by working together in a unified and cooperative manner.


  1. Facilitate the development of a learning organisation: Continuous learning should engrained into the organisational culture.
  2. Facilitate the development of leadership at all levels: Developing effective leadership and models of behaviour at all levels is crucial for organisations to achieve exceptional performance.
  3. Facilitate a culture that emphasises positive working relationships: Better results are achieved when people work well together. The organisation's culture should be based on moral and ethical guidelines that encourage positive working relationships.

Among the benefits of the strategy for the clients are, according to Johnson, that it creates a framework for personal development, it helps them to clarify their career goals, provides them with feedback on their performance and progress, allows them to analyse problems effectively, and facilitates the sharing of knowledge and information.

For the organisation, Johnson outlines several more benefits, citing improvements in communication, leadership, motivation, morale, recruitment, financial performance, employee performance, and organisational culture.

Although Johnson's model is superficially simple, it provides organisations with a comprehensive framework for using mentoring throughout the organisation to achieve exceptional performance.

[1] Harold E Johnson, Mentoring For Exceptional Performance (Griffin Publishing, 1997).


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