Santa Clarita – Mentors City Employees

It’s no secret that government agencies will soon be facing an employment crisis as the baby boomers begin to retire. How are public sector leaders preparing the next generation to succeed them? As city department managers are nearing retirement, fewer young professionals are in line waiting to fill their positions.

The City of Santa Clarita is taking action to prepare the next generation of government employees. In 2002, the city initiated a Mentoring Program designed to:

  • Provide employees with growth and development opportunities;
  • Institutionalize mentoring and support the city’s philosophy and core values;
  • Address employees’ desire to engage in mentoring relationships;
  • Identify leaders and potential leaders;
  • Build leadership capacity;
  • Provide training and resources; and
  • Establish a support and recognition network for those seeking growth and professional development opportunities.

The program is managed by a Mentoring Committee composed of the city’s executive team. The Mentoring Committee is responsible for providing guidance and advice on the program scope and design, acknowledging and recognizing mentor-protégé relationships, and occasionally serving as instructors or trainers. The committee’s active participation and support underscores the program’s credibility and significance.

Program Structure

The program is open to all classifications of regular employees (management, non-management, union, etc.) and runs from September through August. Participation is voluntary, and all participants are required to self-select. This means the city does not match mentors and protégés. Instead, interested participants must take the initiative to seek potential mentors within the organization who best match their own leadership characteristics.

Mentor-protégé pairs mutually agree on a development plan for the one-year program. The plan outlines the purpose of the relationship and the key areas of focus. Creating this plan provides a framework for the relationship. Mentor-protégé pairs also decide how often they need to meet. Most meet at least once a month for an hour.

Mentors are responsible for:

  • Providing their protégé with professional or career guidance that focuses on long-term development;
  • Serving as a channel for communicating the organizational mission, priorities and decisions;
  • Discussing development progress and goals;
  • Serving as a confidant and advisor;
  • Being a role model; and
  • Providing opportunities to work on challenging and significant projects either within or outside the protégé’s department or division (in cooperation with and approved by their supervisor).

Once accepted into the program, parti cipants are given the opportunity to take part in a comprehensive training and networking schedule. Activities include an introductory session on the concept of mentoring and how to ensure a successful experience, a meeting of the city manager and mentors to discuss key values they should be passing on to their protégés, and two professional development sessions on topics such as business etiquette, leadership, conflict management and successful negotiation.

Providing Support

To help program participants network and provide continuous feedback to the Mentoring Committee and other participants, three focus group meetings are scheduled during the course of the year-long program. These meetings serve as periodic check-in sessions where participants can share what they are learning, give advice to other participants and provide constructive feedback to improve the program.

Participants can also log on to the Mentoring Program website, which is located on the city’s intranet. This website allows them to post information helpful to their mentoring relationship and provides additional educational resources.

At the program’s conclusion, the Mentoring Committee organizes a small reception for the mentors and protégés, where they are recognized by the city manager for their participation in the program and receive a certificate.

Participants Meet With Success

During the program’s first two years, 35 to 40 employees participated each year. Participation in 2004-05 increased significantly, with 69 employees participating. The 2005-06 session kicked off with 96 participants, representing nearly one- third of the city’s regular employees. In 2006-07, 133 employees are participating.

In addition to the consistently positive comments received through the satisfaction survey, 23 percent of participating employees have been promoted to higher-level or more complex jobs. Ten participants accepted promotions to management positions at other organizations, including three who were promoted to department head positions. Several employees who participated as protégés gained sufficient confidence through the program to later participate as a mentor, furthering the support network and strengthening Santa Clarita’s leadership capacity.

The program’s successes could not have been accomplished without the support and commitment of the city’s executive management team. In addition to their advisory and advocacy roles, the management team members encourage their staff to participate, allow participants to use work hours for mentoring activities, provide guidance and serve as role models.

Santa Clarita’s Mentoring Program is replicable in both the public and private sectors, and a free CD about the program is available upon request.

Contact: Tina Haddad, assistant to the city manager; phone: (661) 284-1412; e-mail:

This article appears in the September 2007 issue of Western City
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