5 Questions Every Mentor Should Ask


Zachary H. Morford, PhD, BCBA-D & Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21 Media, LLC

Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA

Brett DiNovi & Associates

Whether in graduate school or in a company, almost every behavior analyst will develop their professional skills in concert with a mentor. Some of us may have fantastic mentors, others may not. In time many of us become mentors ourselves. When we find ourselves mentoring others, how do we know what constitutes good mentoring? For sure, our behavior analytic training can provide some guide. For example, how to deliver reinforcement, setting up effective antecedent events, that good feedback should be timely and specific, and that praise and corrective feedback should be delivered separately. Assuming we had good mentors, we may even imitate certain patterns that we experience.

However, other more nuanced aspects of mentoring may elude us. In November 2016, Pierre Louis from Brett DiNovi & Associates (BDA) provided a high level overview of the strategy, called “Compassionate Leadership,” that BDA takes to mentor and coach its employees. Crucially, Pierre distinguishes between a supervisor and mentor, stating that the former has firing power over his/her supervisee, while a mentor is disconnected from that aversive contingency. In a recent video, Brett DiNovi builds on this by discussing five very specific questions that every mentor should ask their mentees.

Why does your mentee work for your company? This question nails down your mentee’s values and reinforcers. It makes them tact the contingencies that brought them there, and the contingencies that keep them there. And importantly, everyone’s reasons will probably be different. Some people may simply love behavior science. Others may have had highly personal experiences, such as having a family member or friend with autism.

In the video, Brett talks very openly about the reasons why he started BDA, or the reasons why he works for his own company. Before starting BDA, Brett was working at a facility in Delaware where he saw an unnecessarily high use of restraints. He tells the story of getting written up at the facility for providing water to an overweight client in restraints who was sweating profusely. Brett wanted to get away from working in this environment. He also claims that he doesn’t like answering to others, and that he’s never been great at following directions. Lastly, he didn’t agree with the ways that many people were running programs, and he wanted the freedom to be able to do it correctly.

Who else mentor’s your mentee? Brett recommends that everyone has more than one mentor. Each mentor comes with their own strengths and weaknesses; thus it would benefit your mentees to work with people who are skilled in the areas they want to develop. As a mentor, it’s important for you to know who else is mentoring your mentees. That way, you can connect with the other mentor, so you can identify what your respective strengths and weaknesses are, so you can better develop your mentee’s skills.

Is your mentee getting enough support? Brett talks about how important it is to keep a dialog open with your mentee about ensuring that they’re getting what they want and need from your mentorship. If they are, fantastic! If not, then you can work with your mentee as best you can to accommodate their needs and interests. This question goes hand-in-hand with the last—if you know your strengths and weaknesses, and those of other mentors, you’re well positioned to provide a proper mentor recommendation in the event your mentee needs additional support you can’t provide.

Do you have enough hours? It’s critical, as a mentor, that you understand the specific hours needs of your mentees pursuing formal BCaBA and BCBA certification. Brett mentions that this can be a huge pain point for employees, and something that they may be uncomfortable to bring up, especially if they moved to your company and are getting reduced hours. Thus, you want to make sure that your mentee is comfortable with their schedule. Often a huge pain point for people.

Overall job satisfaction. BDA implements a job satisfaction survey for its employees. As a mentor, you want to be sensitive to this and notice any drops or rises. Should you noticed any changes, have an open dialog with your mentee so you can pinpoint the reasons for the change. Employee satisfaction scales such as this one are related to the Net Promoter Score®, a metric that assesses customer loyalty, or employee loyalty in this case. The NPS has been shown to be highly predictive of customer/employee retention.

Be sure to check out the full video, and to subscribe to Brett DiNovi’s YouTube channel and let him know what you would like to see in future videos. Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Zach Morford, PhD, BCBA-D, has been in the field of behavior analysis for 10 years. In that time, he has worked in varied areas of behavior analysis, including autism, animal training, OBM, education, and instructional design. Dr. Morford has also taught undergraduate and graduate behavior analysis courses at three different universities, presented internationally, trained behavior analysts in Italy and Saudi Arabia, and published peer-reviewed papers in multiple behavior analytic outlets regarding applied, experimental, and theoretical issues. His primary interest in the field is the large-scale application of behavioral principles to issues of social importance. Currently, Dr. Morford serves as the Executive Director of the Texas Association for Behavior Analysis (TxABA), and is the co-owner and founder of Zuce Technologies, LLC, a small-business consulting and instructional design company. You can contact him at [email protected]

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world, bSci21.org.  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog and its subsidiaries, bSciEntrepreneurial, bSciWebDesign, bSciWriting, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  Dr. Ward has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward is passionate about disseminating behavior analysis to the world and growing the field through entrepreneurship. Todd can be reached at [email protected]

Brett DinoviBrett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA has the unique and distinguished experience of studying the principles of applied behavior analysis under the rigorous scrutiny of both Dr. Julie S. Vargas (formerly Skinner) and Dr. E.A. Vargas at West Virginia University’s internationally recognized program. For the past 26 years, Brett has used behavior analytic principles to create large scale change across school districts, Fortune 500 companies using principles of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), and across individual learners. Brett has been a OBM consultant in Morgantown WV, an instructor at West Virginia University, a guest lecturer at numerous universities, a speaker on multiple Comcast Newsmakers TV programs, an expert witness in due process hearings, has publications in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and has been in in executive leadership positions across schools and residential programs nationwide. In addition to an award from South Jersey Biz Magazine for “Best Places to Work,” an award for “Best of Families” in Suburban Magazine, and the distinguished “Top Ranked U.S. Executives” award, Brett’s proudest accomplishment is being a role model and father for his daughter and two stepchildren (one of which has autism). Brett can be reached at [email protected]

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