The Internal Revenue Service is Reaching Beyond the "Horizons" with Mentoring Opportunities

by Judith L. Button

It is no secret: A company's greatest asset is its employees! The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Procurement organization understands this concept and has taken professional development and workforce management to a higher level through low cost, highly effective, results oriented structured mentoring opportunities. When employee skills and abilities are identified, and their talents are properly aligned in the organization, productivity peaks at an all time "high!" This is why the HORIZONS Mentoring Program has prevailed at the IRS.

What are the ingredients that make this mentoring program so successful?

      (1) Seasoned leaders that are "willing" to become effective mentors;


        (2) The willingness of the mentors and protégés to be honest and to communicate and exchange information bilaterally; and


        (3) Protégés who are able to "take the bull by its horns" and develop a career plan that will address their organizational aspirations. Even Betty Crocker would agree that this mix is easy!

In today's globally competitive society, employees are being encouraged to become the "drivers" in terms of their career management. Through mentoring opportunities, employees vibrantly demonstrate their ability to "flex" as they dive headfirst into the choppy seas of change - where the best navigators are those who are best prepared!

HORIZONS, which stands for Helping Others Refine Introspection and Zest through Organizational Opportunities, Nurturing and Support, is an elite mentoring program offered to a host of individuals located throughout the Internal Revenue Service. HORIZONS is a focused workforce development program that adds value to the organization by enhancing professional skills at all organizational levels, increasing levels of job satisfaction, migrating institutional knowledge, forestalling and mitigating loss of corporate expertise while propelling the achievement of organizational business goals, change and cost-efficient skill mastery.

HORIZONS, founded by its Program Manager - Judith L. Button, was conceptualized in the spring of 2001. After extensive research and Federal syndicated efforts, the program was launched within the Procurement organization for a mere cost of $200.00 per person - for a 9-month program. The HORIZONS program is now filtering throughout the IRS, positively changing employee mindsets and career planning strategies one program year at a time. The success of this program has been indisputable! Because of this, HORIZONS has served as a prototype for many other external federal agencies (The Office of Personnel Management, U.S. Department of State, Maritime Administration, Department of Transportation, U.S. General Accounting Office, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (just to name a few)). Department of Transportation's Secretary Norman Mineta presented the 2002 Public Recognition Award to Judith Button and Procurement's Executive Leadership for her contribution in assisting them in standing up their very own mentoring program.

Many studies have validated that successful mentoring occurs through gradual behavioral modification. However, measuring the results of behavioral modification (soft skills) can present a challenge - as it sometimes takes 18-24 months to observe tangible results. When it comes down to training of any type, executive stakeholders want to know the return on investment (ROI). This is important because the information serves as a mitigating factor for their continued support - or not. Executives enjoy championing programs that increase morale effectively and cost efficiently. Having a successful 3-year track record, the HORIZONS Mentoring Program has mastered these elements.

Through effective marketing and communication tools, IRS employees are eager to join this action packed program. The HORIZONS Mentoring Program is packaged with customized training, collaborative networking events with top-level executives, an educational field trip, and a commencement ceremony - which celebrates the matriculated success of each participant. Witnessing the waves of excitement that reverberate through the room as mentors and protégés enjoy energizing keynote speeches and lessons learned from Fortune 500 and Federal industry executives is yet another important component in this structured approach to mentoring.

HORIZONS participants are required to fulfill a 9-month time commitment. During this time, both mentors and protégés are taught how to execute their perspective roles in the relationship. Becoming a mentor or protégé is a competitive process for IRS employees. Candidates must complete an application, which is then ranked and scored. This determines their eligibility for program enrollment. After this, protégés are tasked with preparing a comprehensive Individual Development Plan (IDP), which is a career management tool that assists employees in mapping out their individual career strategies. Protégés are also required to complete shadowing assignments with senior level management. Having them perform this task allows them to examine true leadership in action! Positive feedback in this arena confirmed the effectiveness of this program requirement.

The program's Commencement Ceremony is an emotional experience for all participants. For 9 months, mentors have the opportunity to plant the seeds (of knowledge) and till the soil (through effective communication) in their relationship with their protégé. During the Commencement Ceremony we all enjoy the harvest of the crop as mentor/protégé pairs share their learning experiences with the audience! What has been a pleasurable experience for most is ending, and the seedlings (protégés) will be exposed to new opportunities that exemplify their newly refined skills. What an incredible new beginning from a cyclical viewpoint!

If you would like to learn more about how structured approaches to mentoring can enhance performance in your organization, please contact Judith Button at Judith.L.Button@irs.gov or (202) 283-7082.

Judith L. Button is the Program Manager and founder of the HORIZONS Leadership-Coaching and Mentoring Program at the IRS. She has a Bachelor's Degree in Organizational Management and a Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology. In 2003, she was nominated for the Janice K. Mendenhall Spirit Leadership Award as well as the IRS EEO & Diversity Leadership Award. In addition, she received the 2002 Public Recognition Award from the Department of Transportation for her assistance in establishing the coaching and mentoring programs at DOT Headquarters and at the Maritime Administration.
Email: Judith.L.Button@irs.gov


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