Developing a mentoring program is something many organisations think about. It is something that only a few implement. It is something that very few implement seriously and well.
Mentoring programs in many organisations I have worked with are founded and executed in similar circumstances.
Generally, they are an idea that emanates from the human resources division. Mentors are chosen from the senior, or “experienced”, ranks of the organisation. Mentees may get to choose their mentor or may not. When mentees choose their mentor they do so based on reputation and personal knowledge of the mentor. There may be a cursory mentor-mentee agreement set up, but usually not. Training for the mentor is usually not very good if it exists at all, as no-one in the organisation has had experience in a mentoring program. Mentors are given the role with only the tools they individually possess.
Mentoring programs set up this way tend to fail three criteria necessary for success:
- Support through the management line down from chief executive level
- Support from mentees by active participation
- Effective support from mentors in both setting the rules of engagement for the mentoring relationship and being effective mentors
Mentoring can provide great value to organisations and their employees.
Organisations benefit through:
- Greater productivity through better-skilled employees with improved behavioural traits
- Reduced recruitment costs through higher retention rates
- Better support networks in times of organisational change
- A more homologous culture which will in itself be better or, at least, easier to change
- Greater concentration on the goals of the organisation through reductions in poor focus in stressful times
- Retention of corporate memory
- Effective knowledge management
Mentees benefit through:
- Increased skills and better behavioural traits
- Improved career prospects
- Self confidence
- Greater appreciation of the complexities of decision making
- Self awareness
- Self regulation
- Improved networking and social skills
- Greater empathy
- Better goal setting and direction
Mentors benefit by:
- Self awareness
- Self regulation
- Improved social skills
- Improved ability to challenge ideas without challenging the person
- Greater empathy
- Ability to reflect on the true value of the skills they hold giving rise to greater self confidence
To create a mentoring system that delivers on these possible benefits, minimum standards apply.
Champion the mentoring program from the Chief Executive’s office
Getting the “support of” the Chief Executive is not enough. Unless the Chief executive believes in and drives the mentoring program it will always be seen as an adjunct to the real business of developing the competency of employees and improving retention. It is likely to be seen as a cost rather than an investment.
Select mentors with great care
Mentors cannot be appointed based on position or experience. They must have a high degree of emotional intelligence. They must have some worthy experiences to draw on which means being able to communicate the reason behind their successes and failures with equal humility. They must not direct. They must be able to keep confidences. They must have a set of experiences that are relevant to their mentee’s goals.
Find an organisation or an individual who can help you build a screening and training program for mentors if you do not have the skills yourself.
Select mentees and match them with mentors with great care
Mentees must be amenable to mentoring. They must be willing to become self aware if they are not already. Test your mentees for their level of emotional intelligence. Match your mentee’s experience and goals for the mentoring experience with that of a mentor.
Create a robust mentoring agreement
Build an agreement that has, as a minimum:
- Frequency of mentoring communications
- Goals of the mentoring arrangement
- Behaviours that the mentee will abide by
- Behaviours the mentor will abide by
- Duration of the mentoring agreement
- Milestones review
Monitor and evaluate each mentoring agreement
Test the level of progress against written goals for the mentoring experience at three month intervals. Have a time limit set to achieve the goals. If the goals are not met, evaluate why. It may just be that more time is needed. Or it may be that despite your best efforts the match of mentor and mentee was not quite right. It could be other pressures outside the mentoring arrangement made it difficult for the mentoring arrangement to work out.
Do not leave a mentoring arrangement as something resembling a regular catch up over a cup of coffee with no discernable results. That would be nothing more than a cost and is why many mentoring programs die and deservedly so.
Monitor and review the entire mentoring program
The best made plans of mice and men? Review the worth of the mentoring program each six months. Anonymously survey mentors and mentees to get quantitative and qualitative data. Whilst maintaining confidentiality, interview those mentors and mentees willing to be interviewed to get qualitative data. Make recommendations for improvements based on the data and share that with previous and existing mentees and mentors and, of course, the Chief Executive.