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3 Reasons Why Mentoring Programs Fail . . . and What You Can Do About It

Friday, November 15, 2019
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“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
—Henry Ford

It can be extremely frustrating and disheartening to fail at something, especially when you think you have a solid plan in place that is destined to succeed. It can be even more difficult when that failure occurs at work.

Over the course of nearly 20 years, I have seen organizations make some missteps when it came to their mentoring efforts, and I have seen mentoring programs that did not go as planned. The gaffes often occurred because of a lack of attention, focus, or support from within the organization. To help ensure you don’t make the same mistakes, here are three less-than-ideal scenarios and ways you can fix them.

Scenario #1: Started Strong But Fizzled Quickly

You have a specific plan for implementing mentoring with a targeted group of people. You have excitement around the program and support from key stakeholders. You have the energy and momentum to kick off the program to great fanfare. And then . . . nothing happens.

You begin the day-to-day work of managing your program only to find out that not as many people have signed up as you expected. Or maybe you discover that your program is competing with a similar initiative in the organization from another department or that your key stakeholder has moved on to another project (or even another company). The fantastic excitement from only a few short months ago can quickly fade and leave you feeling like you are stuck in place with no idea of how to proceed.

So, what do you do? First, identify the reasons for lower-than-expected participation. Some questions to ask yourself include:
· How did you market your program to your intended audience?
· What message did you try to convey?
· Did you hit the mark with your messaging?
· How frequently did you push a message to your audience?
· Did it gain their attention?
· Where was the drop-off point for getting people to sign up for the program?

Once you’ve reviewed these areas, you should amend your messaging and communication strategy as needed. Once that is completed, identify and ask other stakeholders to speak up about the program to help you draw attention to your refined strategy.

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Scenario #2: Great in Theory, But . . .

Your leadership team likes the concept of mentoring and has tasked you with learning more about it and figuring out a way to bring it to your organization. You do not have a specific need for mentoring identified beyond the fact that it’s a directive from your executive team. While you have stakeholder support, you don’t really have any direction on where to go next.

The theory of mentoring is wonderful and there have been amazing results and statistics that show that mentoring is a great development tool for people. But unless you have a core business need to tie it to or at least an initiative to give it a framework, the program may be doomed to being too broad and undefined.

So, what do you do? Look for areas within your organization where there is a business need that mentoring can help solve. For example:

  • Do you need to have better employee retention or engagement?
  • Are you trying to improve diversity and inclusion?
  • Do you need to get better results from your formal training programs or onboarding program?
  • Is there a leadership development program in place that could use additional support via mentoring software?
  • Do you have a specific employee group that you are trying to elevate, such as women, veterans, mid-level managers, or frontline leaders?

Identify one area to start and connect mentoring to that business need. This will give you the opportunity to target a key audience and measure success before you take the program to more people, which can help you build momentum once you decide to expand and grow your program.

Scenario #3: Not It!

Your organization is starting a mentoring program, but who is in charge with running it day-to-day? Do you have a point person for the program, or have people backed out and said “Not it!” when it came to being the mentoring administrator? Perhaps your mentoring administrator changes so frequently that it’s hard to keep track of who to contact about the program?

All these situations can spell trouble for your program. Without a key person to act as the main point of contact, your mentees and mentors won’t know who to talk to if they have questions about the mentoring program. And with no one really in charge of it, the chances of it working successfully are slim. No one will be running reports, looking for red flags, hyping the program to participants and leaders, or looking for ways to improve the mentoring experience for your employees.

So, what do you do? Assign someone who will be your mentoring program point person. This person will be the go-to administrator of the program and will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the program. If your administrator gets reassigned or leaves, be sure to assign a new point person and foster a smooth transition between the two. Training and communication are critical here.

While these scenarios can lead to problems for your mentoring program, you can use them as a learning opportunity so that you don’t repeat the mistakes of others.

About the Author

Laura Francis is chief knowledge officer for River, a mentoring software company based in Denver. Laura is responsible for consulting River’s clients around strategies for launching and expanding their mentoring programs. She also oversees the Marketing Department for River, including all content creation, external and internal communications for the company, branding, marketing strategy, and lead generation.

Laura has been with River since 2000 and was part of the team that launched the first-ever commercially available online mentoring software in 2001. She has more than 20 years of experience focused on mentoring, writing, thought leadership, and strategic innovation.

The proud mom of a child with disabilities, she enjoys writing about the connections she sees in her personal life and professional life. Her articles can be found on such sites as ATD, Training Journal, Chief Learning Officer, Training Industry, and on River’s website.

Laura has a BA in Communications from Mount St. Joseph University.

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