Lots of organisations have mentoring schemes, but are they planned and optimised to deliver the best results?
In its traditional sense, mentoring refers to a more senior person (the mentor) providing guidance and support to a less experienced person (the mentee). The origin of the word comes from Greek mythology which recounts that Odysseus entrusted the care of his son, Telemachus, to his friend Mentor while he went off to fight in the Trojan wars.
Much has been written about mentoring and its benefits since the era of the Mycenaean Greeks. Exploring the contemporary practice of mentoring in more detail reveals a proliferation of approaches. One source includes discussion of the following types of mentoring: informal, formal, reciprocal, reverse, cascading, group, circles, round-tables, mastermind mentoring and business coaching.
With research indicating young workers place a higher premium on mentorship and training than levels of pay, it’s beholden on organisations to think carefully about the role mentoring schemes might play in the contemporary workplace.
Given the array of methodologies on offer, what type of program is best suited for a more formalised and organisational wide application? Here are five considerations when planning a mentoring program.
Be clear about what you are trying to achieve
It’s important to clarify the desired outcomes you are trying to achieve through any formal program. A well-intentioned scheme can flounder if it fails to clearly articulate its purpose. It is possible to run a program where mentoring pairs each define their own learning objectives but if you haven’t set specific goals, it’s more difficult to effectively measure organisation wide outcomes. If you think the goals of a mentoring scheme would be obvious, consider the following, non-exhaustive list that might underpin the establishment of a specific program:
- to assist in the career development of a specific group,
- help new hires better understand less tacit power structures within an organisation,
- build leadership capability within a certain type or level of employee,
- expand on networks of existing contacts or open links to other resources,
- increase the retention of a particular cohort of workers,
- assist in passing-on and retaining organisational knowledge,
- enable members of a designated group to access individual role models, or
- gain support for employees during a challenging transition phase.
Decide on the model and structure
The size, length and type of program are obvious preliminary issues to be considered. For much smaller agencies it may be unfeasible to run an effective program internally. In these situations, a mentoring circle approach can be effective (depending upon your goals). Mentoring circles or groups between agencies can also be extremely effective if you are aiming to build effective workforce capacity. There is no reason that mentoring cannot be conducted remotely so this may be something you want to specifically cater for in program design.
Allow enough time for promotion and planning
Proper planning for promotion and recruitment to the program is important. Mentees will typically need to review their own developmental goals and discuss these with their manager prior to participation. Participants also need to understand and agree to the goals and parameters of the program prior to commencement. Communication is also essential in order to obtain buy-in from participants and the organisation at large.
You may want to get everyone together to review and sign off on mentoring agreements and to discuss confidentiality. If you are using a self-matching model, you might conduct some or all of this during a formal orientation process. If you are not using a group, circle or roundtable method, letting all the mentees meet each other through a formal launch and end of program celebration may actually assist in meeting some program goals (such as expanding networks of contacts).
Matching is critical
Sometimes established mentoring programs can evolve into a “tick a box” procedure. The literature on both mentoring and coaching effectiveness repeatedly shows that a crucial element to the success of any program is the need for high levels of trust and rapport between an individual mentors and mentees. In this sense effective matching is crucial for success. If running a larger program there are some software providers, such as chronus, insala and mentorloop, that provide platforms to assist with this process.
Think about providing some training to mentors as not everyone will naturally have the experience or skills to maintain and grow a mentoring relationship over a long period. Despite initial, high levels of enthusiasm in new mentors, I have heard of many relationships running out of steam after the fifth coffee because of both a lack of structure and a lack of confidence in a new mentor.
Assess mentoring outcomes
While mentees and mentors should be involved in assessing outcomes, there may be others within an organisation with both an interest in how effective a program has been as well as relevant participants in an evaluation process. From an HR perspective, understanding how elements of the program have worked (or otherwise) allows for improvements in future schemes. There are a range of both qualitative and quantitative metrics that can gainfully be employed depending on initial objectives. Although not often conducted, it can be useful to poll participants sometime after a program has finished to measure more longitudinal outcomes.
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