How to avoid a sticky mentoring mess
Organisational mentoring programs, done right, are the most efficient and most highly leveraged investment an organisation can make. Really, truly, honestly!
Done well, mentoring breaks down departmental stovepipes, builds communication, supports innovation, builds succession and skill development, shifts culture and wait for it… builds engagement, not just for mentees, but also for mentors.
It’s possible you’re thinking this all sounds way too good to be true. I can understand that. Many organisations that have given mentoring a go have had, at best, mixed experiences. Mentoring programs that underperform, or even fizzle out entirely, are sadly commonplace.
Luckily the recipe for successful mentoring programs is pretty straightforward. Having been involved supporting organisational mentoring in many situations I’ve observed that the following critical ingredients make all the difference – and conversely that if you leave out any of these ingredients you will most likely end up with a sticky mess.
Here are the crucial ingredients:
- Ensure all your stakeholders are clear on their intent and goals from the start: It is common to assume that everyone knows what mentoring is, yet the reality is that mentoring can mean very different things in different contexts. Is your program going to be about skills transfer? Career planning? Succession? Providing a desirable employee perk? Putting senior management in touch with front line staff? Breaking down silos? Cultural change? Something else entirely? Just proceeding on the assumption that everyone’s aligned is not a high percentage play.
- Train your mentors and mentees upfront: It is folly to just assume that all your mentors and mentees will share a common understanding of what mentoring is, of their respective roles, of the nature of their relationship and of the behaviours they need to exhibit to achieve successful outcomes.
- Provide support throughout the program: Mentors and mentees need to have someone they can turn to for any number of reasons – for instance if their mentoring relationships hit a rough patch. Similarly, they need to be actively prompted and supported to push out of their evolving comfort zones.
- Lock in a committed and influential business sponsor: An influential and respected advocate can, with relatively little effort, send a message to all involved that, “this program matters”. Conversely the lack of such an advocate implies that the program may not really matter to the organisation at all. And why put effort into something the organisation doesn’t value?
- Ensure sufficient internal program resources: Time and again I’ve seen mentoring programs “drop off the radar” of overworked managers and administrators. By the time they get around to paying attention again the program has lost all momentum. Supporting mentoring doesn’t have to be all that time intensive (particularly if you are using a good online mentoring management platform) but that doesn’t mean it can be left as a low priority task.
- Measure and report: For a program to be considered a success the first thing you have to identify is what success will look like. Then you must track progress and report on the degree to which your well-defined measures of success have been achieved. When it comes time to allocate budget to extending or expanding the program vague statements like, “well, we got some good reports from some of the participants” just won’t cut it.
When you get this simple recipe right the payoff is almost always substantial. As one of our mentoring clients has said:
“…we knew intuitively that mentoring would lead to great outcomes, but we never thought that it would bring so many benefits. It’s gone from a nice-to-have program to our cornerstone program – we are all so proud of it!”
Mater Medical Research (University of Queensland)
We have a great track record now guiding and supporting programs for organisations such as Queensland Urban Utilities, Women In Technology (now in their fourth year), the Australia Council for the Arts and many others. We’d love to support your program as well.