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ATD Blog

Align to a Purpose: The Secret to Successful Mentoring

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

While the impact of successful mentoring has been studied in a multitude of ways, organizations still have concerns about utilizing mentoring programs to drive development results within their organization. Fear of participants being mismatched or mentors’ time being wasted can sometimes be enough to prevent a mentoring program from being developed and launched. Concerns that a program will be short-lived, or fail, can also get in the way of tremendous results. Instead, consider using intention and purpose to both develop the program and guide mentoring relationships.

Intention and Mentoring Program Design

The most successful, sustainable, and impactful mentoring programs have two things in common:

  • They align to a purpose.
  • They have an intentional approach to experience design.

Practitioners who are intentional and purposeful in connecting the mentoring program design to the most critical talent issues of the organization will find that their programs are built to last. Rather than duplicating a mentoring program structure and design from another organization, use a proven framework like AXLES (detailed in Mentoring Programs That Work) to build a design that will solve strategic problems. We call this “aligning to a purpose,” because you are creating direction for your mentoring program based on the biggest concerns for the organization. This helps to make sure the program is viable long-term, and is most likely going to attract senior leadership in your organization as champions of the program.

The other benefit of aligning to a purpose is that, most likely, the most critical talent needs are probably being measured at your organization. This means that measuring the impact of the mentoring program is considerably easier. For example, if your executive leadership team is losing sleep over high attrition, then attrition is already being measured in significant ways. The mentoring program can be built around that purpose, and with some creativity, can tie into the retention dashboard.

You should also have intention when designing the experience. Don’t default to a structure like one-on-one mentoring; instead, think about the structure that would work best for your culture and purpose. For example, in some organizations, peer groups are a much better fit for the purpose of employee engagement than one-to-one structures.


Purposeful Growth in the Mentoring Relationship

Once the mentoring program is up and running, intention is going to be what helps make each mentoring relationship successful. Help participants set goals and make progress toward those goals within their mentoring journey.

Provide mentors and mentees in your program with opportunities to prepare for their roles by offering workshops and webinars. Make goal-setting resources, like individual development plans, available on your mentoring platform to help participants set a direction. Encourage all participants to create roadmaps for their learning so that they are aware when they make progress and can celebrate wins.


Intentional and purposeful progress within the mentoring relationship is often the difference between real growth and mentoring that fails to drive results.

Get Intentional

The most important takeaway is to set deliberate processes and resources for your mentoring program that will align to a purpose and create purposeful growth within each mentoring relationship. Be cautious of the tendency to try to replicate a mentoring program design that has worked in a different company—your organization has unique needs and constraints, so your mentoring program must be crafted intentionally to achieve results and create lasting impact.

Want to learn more? Join me November 7-8 in Seattle for ATD TalentNext.

About the Author

Jenn Labin is the owner of TERP Associates, a team that seeks to grow talent and ignite potential. For 15 years, Jenn has had success working with a wide spectrum of organizations, including large private sector businesses, government and military operations, and higher education institutions.  Jenn is the author of Real World Training Design, a visual quick guide for creating exceptional results within tight budgets and timelines. Her second book on mentoring is expected in 2016. Jenn co-authored a chapter in the ASTD Handbook, 2nd edition, and has been published in the Pfeiffer Annual: Consulting journal three times. Jenn’s work can also be found in 101 Ways to Make Training Active, How to Write Terrific Training Materials, and the ASTD Trainer’s Toolkit app. Jenn has a BA from the University of Maryland Baltimore County in digital art, and an MA in instructional systems design.

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Jenn, I appreciate what you emphasize there about one size does not fit all, and that you have to adapt to the situation and not do what worked before. Learning is individual. Nice stuff!
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