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Insight

Avoid These 5 Mentoring Program Mistakes

Tuesday, August 7, 2018
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Mentoring is a go-to solution for many companies, and for good reason. It can help people advance their careers, build critical skills, and improve interpersonal effectiveness. Mentoring can also affect core organizational measures such as employee engagement, retention, and speed to productivity. For example, the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that those intending to stay with their organization for more than five years were twice as likely to have a mentor (68 percent) than not (32 percent). On top of all that, people want mentoring.

Yet, even given the positive results that can be achieved through mentoring, not all mentoring programs are successful. So what goes wrong? Here are five mistakes you want to avoid.

Mistake 1: Not Setting Clear Expectations

To ensure success with any mentoring program, participants (both mentees and mentors) first need to understand the WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?”). You can accomplish this by designing your mentoring program so that you set clear expectations for participants and help them get the proper mindset on how they will be held accountable.

Such expectations can differ from one mentoring program to another, so be careful not to assume that participants will naturally intuit what you want them to do. For example, in one program, it may be expected that participation is more ad hoc and at-will, but in another program (such as one with more structure and control, like a high-potential program), you may want your mentoring pairs to meet at least once every other week. If that is the case, tell them so!

Finally, be careful assuming that your mentees and mentors naturally know “how to mentor.” You may need to offer training on mentoring basics to set your participants on the right path.

Mistake 2: Lack of Executive Support

Don’t underestimate the importance of securing executive support for your mentoring program. Without it, your chances of success are slim to none. Why? Three core reasons.

First, programs cost money in terms of the purchase of software and related services, as well as the dedication of internal headcount. Programs of any kind (not just mentoring) rarely last without the commitment of money and resources.

Second, programs often need advocates who can help navigate political waters. Having an executive on your side can make it substantially easier to overcome internal barriers.

Third, having one or more executives participate as mentors can go a long way toward giving your program highly visible legitimacy. People will see that these organizational leaders value mentoring and make time for it, leading others to want to do the same.

Mistake 3: Putting Mentoring on an Island

It would be nice if we worked in utopian environments where everyone simply engaged in mentoring because it was the right thing to do. The reality is that most, if not all, of us work in busy cultures where we regularly need to prioritize and reprioritize how we spend our time.

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To get good participation in your mentoring program, your need to make it part of a larger whole, meaning it should be connected to other organizational programs such as onboarding initiatives and leadership development programs. It cannot exist as an isolated program; that will just lead to a quick death. Nor should it be labeled as a “come join if you’re interested” type of initiative and invitation. Doing so will only lead to mediocre participation at best.

To move your program from no-man’s land to hot commodity, you should look at where and how to integrate mentoring with existing organizational priorities. Making mentoring a part of other learning and development initiatives (such as high-potential programs, diversity and inclusion programs, employee resource group initiatives, training programs, onboarding, or leadership development) will naturally instill a level of accountability in the mentoring process, helping to ensure people want to sign up and follow through on their mentoring commitments.

Mistake 4: Viewing Mentoring as “Once and Done”

Hooray, you’ve launched a mentoring program! Okay, time to check that off your list and move on to the next thing, right?

Umm, not so fast. Mentoring programs will not run themselves, no matter how much we would all love for them to do so. While the amount of energy that needs to be put toward a mentoring program will ebb and flow with the cycles of a particular program (with more energy put forth during the matching phase, midpoint monitoring, and program wrap-up), managing a mentoring program takes a consistent level of attention.

Don’t accidentally make mentoring a “flavor of the month” program. Look to build your program’s success over time, and then use that success as a launch pad to expand mentoring within your organization.

Mistake 5: Measuring Improperly (or Not at All)

What gets measured gets done. The general concept here is that by measuring something, accountability is brought into the mix. While the specific things that should be measured for mentoring will differ from program to program (based on the purpose of a particular program), both qualitative and quantitative measures are always important.

From a qualitative perspective, at a minimum, programs should measure overall satisfaction with the process from both the mentee and mentor perspective. Depending on the overall goals of your program, you could also assess perspectives around productivity, knowledge gains, attitudes related to engagement and retention, and so on.

From a quantitative perspective, more consideration probably needs to be given to the purpose and structure of the particular program and the subsequent desired behaviors of the participants. For example, in a formal high-potential program, there may be an organizational need to measure frequency of meetings between mentor and mentee (such as ensuring that the pair is meeting at least once per month for at least one hour), whereas that same type of measure might not apply to a more open mentoring process being leveraged within an employee resource group program.

Regardless, here’s the takeaway when it comes to measuring results for your mentoring program: Be sure to have a measurement strategy in place when you launch your program, and be sure that what you are measuring will both provide meaningful data with which to assess the program and encourage the right behaviors and activities on the part of participants.

By recognizing, and hopefully avoiding, these five mistakes, you can launch, manage, and run a mentoring program that is poised for success.

About the Author
Chris Browning is president of River, a Denver-based SaaS talent development software company focused on mentoring, coaching, and social learning. He has more than 20 years of management, business consulting, and organization development experience, and has also worked in the nonprofit sector in development, counseling, and life-coaching capacities.

Chris holds MBA and BS degrees from the University of Notre Dame. He can be reached through LinkedIn, Twitter (@cbrowningco), or www.riversoftware.com.

4 Comments
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Good advice. Mentoring is often overlooked yet it can be a valuable component to any leadership development program.
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Great article. I started a mentoring program and can attest that these are all solid recommendations.
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Greatly appreciate the article. We are launching a pilot program and this is giving us a good double check on our structure.
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