5 Useful Tips before you Launch your New Mentoring Programme
…where best-practice sharing is part of everyday life.
…where senior professionals freely and openly share their knowledge with junior colleagues.
…where young talents are highly motivated because their skills develop quickly thanks to the guidance of their more experienced colleagues.
Okay, this might the idealistic picture of an organisation with a highly successful mentoring programme, but would it not be great for it to be the case in your own company?
The idea of a formal mentoring programme is pretty simple: let the organisation’s most experienced professionals become mentors to younger colleagues. At regular meetings with her the mentee the mentor shares her knowledge and experience and helps her younger protégé to tackle the challenges he faces at work. These regular mentoring meetings provide the framework of the programme; however, a good mentoring relationship offers much more than just knowledge sharing once a month. Having a mentor means long-term guidance, support and visibility for the protégé; the mentor, on the other hand, can gain a new fresh perspective and even new skills and approaches by working closely with a younger colleague.
It is easy to see how such a programme can be of great value for your organisation. But of course reality is often very different from the rosy picture I painted in the first paragraph.
Some typical concerns people have when considering the launch of a mentoring programme include:
- What if our experienced colleagues don’t want to be mentors? After all they are busy enough as it is without having to take on this additional “burden”.
- What if some of our potential mentors are not so good at teaching others? Being good at what they do doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with being good at coaching and mentoring.
- Are our young colleagues willing to learn from the more experienced ones? Or will they regard mentoring as an imposition?
- Once we choose the mentors and assign a young mentee to each of them, how can we guarantee that the whole thing won’t just peter out after a few sessions? How can we ensure the programme is sustainable?
While the advantages of a mentoring programme are undeniable, launching one and making it into a success can be rather challenging.
Here are 5 tips to consider before introducing your new mentoring programme.
- Being given a mentor should be a reward, not an imposition.
The inspiration for any mentoring relationship must stem from the eagerness of the younger colleague to learn from his or her senior colleague. Making a mentoring relationship obligatory crushes the motivation of both parties. However, marketing the programme as a special – certainly not compulsory – opportunity available to only a select group of individuals makes mentoring much more attractive for all involved.
Several companies have introduced mentoring as part of their talent programme or young managers’ development programme, in which participants are given the opportunity to have regular consultations with a senior mentor.
In other organisations mentoring is closely connected to the performance management system and getting a mentor comes as a reward for great achievement.
- Recruit the best mentors
Let’s face it, not all the top managers and senior professionals in your company would make good mentors. Some may lack the necessary skills; others may be reluctant to share their knowledge. Therefore, requiring every manager to be a mentor can lead to frustration and disappointment.
Approach those who have already proven to be adept at guiding junior colleagues and recruit these managers for the cause. Your starting team of mentors should consist of those potentially great mentors in order to give the initiative the best chance of succeeding.
With time you can of course expand the circle by involving more and more senior professionals as mentors in the programme. And as you take on more and more mentors the question of mentor training will get more and more critical.
- Mentor training is essential
Even if you have recruited the most promising potential mentors, organising a training programme for them is essential. Useful questions to cover in mentor training include:
- What is the role of the mentor and what is the role of the mentee? Who takes responsibility for the learning process?
- How do I structure a mentoring session?
- When do I ask questions and when do I give advice?
- What mentoring techniques can be used (active listening, asking questions, giving feedback, etc.)?
- What about goal setting and action planning in mentoring?
In addition to providing training, some companies also offer regular supervision for the mentors, occasions when mentors get the chance to discuss their mentoring dilemmas with each other and with a professional supervisor. This not only improve their mentoring skills, it also strengthens the sustainability of the whole programme by reminding these busy professionals of their mentoring responsibilities.
- Pairing up mentors and mentees
So you have got some excellent potential mentors and some young colleagues who are eager to start the process. But who should mentor whom?
Many companies swear by cross-functional mentorship: they encourage matches between people from different organisational units. This is an excellent way to facilitate cross-company knowledge exchange. Many mentees find that it is also easier to build trust with a mentor who they don’t have an everyday working relationship with.
In some companies it is not so easy to mix and match people from different departments. But even if this is the case, don’t forget the golden rule: managers should never become mentors of their own subordinates.
The chemistry between the mentor and the mentee is an important success factor. Therefore, it is wise to give the mentees a say in who they want their mentor to be.
A good practical solution employed by a large bank was to give all young talents a leaflet that featured a photo and short introduction of each potential mentor. They were then asked to choose not one but three potential mentors they would be happy to work with. Based on these preferences HR formed cross-functional mentoring pairs, at the same time making sure that none of the mentors got overloaded. Using this method the bank managed to marry freedom of choice with the practical aspects of forming mentoring pairs.
Even if you have manage to launch a mentoring programme successfully and all participants begin enthusiastically, it is always a challenge to maintain the momentum, especially during the busiest periods of the business year. We should bear it in mind that there is a long journey from the kick-off of the first mentoring programme to a fully-formed mentoring culture where mentoring junior colleagues is the “natural way of living” in the company.
In order to keep the ball rolling there must be an “owner” of the mentoring programme who regularly contacts mentors and mentees to check whether everything is on track, and from time to time gives participants the necessary nudge to keep going. This job is hard to start with, and it will take a lot of pushing to maintain the momentum. But as more and more mentors and mentees experience the positive aspects of the relationship, and the word spreads in the organisation about how great the mentoring programme is, it naturally becomes easier for everybody to keep on track.
As with most HR initiatives, while the programme is in its infancy it needs a lot of personal care and guidance, but as it matures it becomes more self-sustaining and an occasional little nudge is usually sufficient to keep it going.
I wish you all the best for your own upcoming mentoring programme.