Interview With Dr. Bob Garvey

October 6, 2014

Here's our interview with 2014 Mentoring Conference Speaker Dr. Bob Garvey. (This interview originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Mentoring & Coaching Monthly)

Bob Garvey is Professor of Business Education at York St. John Business School.  He is one of Europe’s leading academic practitioners of mentoring and coaching, and an experienced mentor/coach. He works with a range of people from all business sectors including the voluntary sector, the arts, the health sector, as well as, small businesses and large corporations. Bob subscribes to the ‘repertoire’ approach of coaching and mentoring.  Bob is a lively and engaging international conference speaker. Recent examples are EMCC Research Conference in Dublin, APEGA in Canada, the ICF in Lithuania and Latvia, and the African Management Forum, in Sudan. He has published extensively.  His bestselling practitioner book, The Mentoring Pocket Book is now in its 3rd edition.  His most recent work is in the Major Work Series for Sage titled “The Fundamentals of Coaching and Mentoring.” This is a reference collection of 130 papers in 6 volumes with a substantial editor’s introduction. Currently he is working on a new text for Sage with professors David Gray and David Lane on coaching and mentoring in social contexts. 

You have assisted individuals with mentoring initiatives in a variety of fields and areas. What about workplace mentoring makes it unique when compared to mentoring in other environments? 

Workplace mentoring is an interesting area because there are many potential difficulties. Workplace mentoring is also a ‘construction’ which is designed to mimic natural mentoring so it needs to be a close to that as possible.  One of the difficulties is the power dynamics that might be played out in the relationship. The mentoring arrangements need to be carefully considered - and even that doesn’t guarantee that the organization will miss the pitfalls!  This is because mentoring is essentially a human relationship and as human beings we are both brilliant at relationships and really bad at them as well! So, firstly, it is important to recognize the potential uniqueness in the relationships at work. If the organization has a mentoring scheme it is important to consider:

What the scheme is for and who it is for?

There needs to be a high degree of voluntary participation

The mentors need training in non-directive, developmental  mentoring skills and the mentees (protégés) need orientation towards the scheme

There needs to be a transparent process for matching people and there needs to be a ‘graceful exit clause’

The scheme needs to be managed with a very light touch

Line manager mentoring is fraught with problems - not recommended

Evaluation needs to be on going and developmental


You’re a well published author with many books on mentoring and coaching best practices. Are there any well known mentoring practices or ideas that you have a different take on?

Yes! For example, a lot of research and literature is based on the idea that mentoring is a good thing.  In my view it is important to consider carefully the context in which mentoring takes place as this is a major influence on how it works (or not) in practice. Workplace mentoring is constructed within the context of a strong managerial discourse. This discourse is based on what I call ‘rational pragmatism’.  So, success in management terms is linked to setting and achievement of goals.  For example, Sosik & Godshalk, (2005) suggest that the professed purpose of a mentoring scheme determines its operation.  However, my research suggests that there are many examples of where participants within mentoring at work completely ignore and dismiss the ‘professed purpose’ of the scheme because it is not relevant to them and that their objectives and goals are often deeply personal and change as the relationship progresses(Chadwick-Coule & Garvey, 2009). This is because mentoring relationships are dynamic.  There are implications for evaluation and research activity on mentoring relationships in the work place. Much research treats mentoring relationships as if they are ‘fixed points’.  If they are dynamic new approaches to research need to emerge which acknowledges the dynamic nature of these relationships. Also, there is a challenge for the ‘rational pragmatic’ manager here who measures success by the achievement of pre-specified goals which, in dynamic relationships, might not be achieved.


Have you come across any differences between mentoring in Europe and mentoring here in America?  

Yes! Broadly speaking the US model of mentoring favours career sponsorship and the European model favours a longer term developmental approach.  It is interesting to note that there is  third stream hybrid form of mentoring developing in Europe under the guise of ‘talent management’.  Here, development is a key element but career progression is also part of the agenda. In the US, more non-directive developmental approaches to mentoring seem to be developing.  This may be the an influence from the coaching world.


Could you give us a brief taste of some of the insights you will provide during your keynote session? 

I plan to have a quick run through 20 years of research! This looks at the historical development of mentoring and coaching showing how these activities developed through social exchange.  I will also look at relationship dynamics and consider how these impact on workplace mentoring in terms of research and evaluation. I ask ‘what is truth?’ in research and evaluation in relation to the ‘rational pragmatic’ discourse.


SOSIK, J.J., GODSHALK, V.M. (2005). Examining gender similarity and mentor’s supervisory status in mentoring relationships, Mentoring and Tutoring, Vol. 13, No. 1, April 2005, pp. 39–52
CHADWICK-COULE, T., GARVEY, B., (2009). London Deanery Mentoring Service: A Formative and Developmental Evaluation of Working Practices and Outcomes, The Coaching and Mentoring Research Unit, Sheffield Business School, UK a report commissioned by London Deanery