Organizations today struggle with the need to develop people while facing the challenges associated with increasing market-place demands. Streamlined workforce (fewer people doing the same or more work), continuously changing technology and processes, and ever-increasing demands for higher quality at faster speeds and with lower costs make it difficult to find time for learning. Mentoring programs are one highly-effective response to the need to develop people in this environment.
Mentoring is not new. What is new is the accelerated need to transfer knowledge in the workplace.
Many organizations that have developed mentoring programs are finding that these may not reap all the benefits the programs were designed for. Here are some lessons learned from successful programs.
First look at how to design the program’s structure.
1. Formalize your mentoring program – but not too much. Lack of structure is one of the most frequent causes behind mentoring programs that seem to simply “drift away.” The key is to provide sufficient structure in identifying mentors and mentees, preparing them for their roles, and following up to know what is working and what is not. It is important to provide structure, but not too much.
2. Help people who want to mentor and people who would benefit from being mentored find each other. This begins with identifying potential candidates, determining what they bring to and want from the role, and helping them connect with each other. Connecting can be done through a data base, an orchestrated application process, or informal gatherings of possible matches.
3. Provide a clear beginning and end to the formal mentoring relationship. Good mentoring relationships evolve from the “getting to know you” phase into more substantive work. Avoid the awkwardness that may come from not knowing when or how to end the formal mentoring relationship by having an “official” ending. This does not mean that the mentor and mentee may not continue seeing each other if they choose. It simply means that their relationship will have evolved again into a less formal one.
Next are some tips for working with the people selected as mentors and mentees.
4. Prepare mentors for their role. Mentors frequently want to help, but do not know what to do. On-line or print resources can answer many of the questions mentors may have about what it means to be a mentor and what is expected from people acting as a mentor. More formal training helps prepare them with skills to work most effectively with their mentee.
5. Prepare mentees for their role. Most successful mentoring programs prepare those being mentored in working with a mentor. Mentees have questions and need guidance on expectations: what can a mentee expect of their mentor; what can a mentee expect from the organization in terms of support for the mentoring process; what are outcomes that a mentee can expect as a result of participating in a mentoring relationship. They also need information on how to identify their development goals and work with their mentor to meet these.
6. Expect some matches to work better than others. In some cases the mentoring relationship seems to be “made in heaven.” In other cases, however, one or both parties need coaching and guidance on how best to make it work. In a few cases, another match needs to be made. The relationship is simply not working.
7. Keep open the possibility of multiple mentors for a single mentee. Sometimes an individual may be able to offer “across the board” mentoring help to someone. Frequently, however, the person who would be excellent as a “technical” mentor may not the best person as a career mentor. Or the person who is good as a political mentor is less comfortable giving advice in other areas.
Finally, here are some tips on program management:
8. Monitor the mentoring program – but not too much. Knowing what is working and what is not is important information. However, you do not want reporting or debriefing with a program sponsor to become burdensome. A check-in 30 days after launch, at the 6-month point, and annually is probably enough.
9. Look for continuous improvements. Find successful mentoring relationships and use information from these as input for improvement. Did a mentor find a unique way to help the mentee gain visibility? Has someone found how to work together “virtually” and still nurture the relationship? Find out what is working well – and what is not. Keep every aspect of your program open to revision.
10. Report on successes. When mentoring results in someone developing a skill that help him or her be more successful on the job, make contacts that lead to another assignment, or resolve an on-going issue, it is useful for these to be turned into mini-cases (sometimes in ways that present the players from being identified). The mini-cases can become part of your reporting / measurement process, used in recruiting new mentors or mentees, or offered as input for new mentoring pairs to help them set the learning goals for their time together.
11. Celebrate accomplishments. Too often, organizations shy away from celebrations. A morning coffee with mentoring participants and organizational leaders, a more formal dinner with speaker(s), or story in the company newsletter are all ways to help celebrate the process of mentoring. How you do it is far less important than that you find a way to celebrate the time, energy, and expertise that go into mentoring.
12. Keep it up. Building a cadre of mentors and people who have been mentored helps create a development culture in the organization. The ultimate goal of mentoring is increasing organizational capacity. Launching new “classes” of mentoring pairs builds this.
Mentoring is a powerful way to build positive relationships across business lines throughout the organization. It can be a key ingredient for developing and retaining talent. Paying attention to these straightforward steps will help you to leverage your program to its fullest.