If Mentoring Has So Many Benefits, Should I Make It Mandatory?

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Not long ago, HBR published their article, Why Your Mentoring Program Should Be Mandatory, stating:

Companies that offer mentoring should make participation mandatory if at all possible, Stanton says. “It might feel wasteful and inefficient to set up a universal program, but mentoring is a bit like advertising,” he explains. “Half the money might be wasted—but it’s impossible to know which half.”

It didn’t sit right with us. And that’s because this scattergun approach is wasteful.

I say this with years of experience in advertising and mentoring. We know both industries have progressed into a space where you can be highly targeted, asynchronous and still provide a tailored, outstanding experience – at scale. 

We no longer need to succumb to the scattergun approach, as so many mentoring platforms exist. For instance, with Mentorloop, it is entirely possible to see where that time, money and resources are likely being wasted in a mandatory program. In particular, the sentiment of your program – where a quality of mentoring is occurring in your organization and where it might need attention. And while it’s not within our recommendations to implement a mandatory program, we still see it happen from time to time.

A woman at a table of people appearing bored.

Observing mandatory mentoring programs

After observing hundreds upon hundreds of mentoring programs, this mandatory approach has unfolded for only a handful of organizations and their results have led us to the conclusion that mandatory mentoring is almost certainly more detrimental than it is positive. 

The main reason for this, is it encroaches more broadly on organizational culture as a whole – something entire People and Culture, Diversity and Inclusion and Human Resources teams work tirelessly to cultivate and protect.

So let’s explore why. These programs:

  • Reduce the overall experience and removes agency
  • Fail to recognise that mentoring is needed at different times by different people
  • Treat complex human beings – people with wants, needs and ambitions – as commodities, without pause for individual needs
  • Unnaturally force relationships on people, particularly those who don’t want to be there making it a poor experience for not one, but two individuals – having a compounding effect. 

Making mentoring mandatory across an entire workforce is dangerous – it removes agency and erodes confidence in individuals being the master of their own development and career progression. 

Simply, there are times we simply don’t require mentoring. We may be in a state of execution before returning to a state of evaluation or before arriving at a fork in the road where w could benefit from seeking the experience of others. 

Motivation and mindfulness also plays a large role here. There are times across the year where learning or self-actualisation falls lower in priority in favor of attention required in other areas of life – this could be a challenging work project, family events or simply a busy period of operation.

In fact, during these times the additional pressure of a forced mentoring relationship has the capability even to lead to burnout. 

How one company-wide mandatory mentoring program was rolled out:

In this corporate program, all employees were invited to participate in a company-wide program. 

With all good intentions of wanting to create opportunities for cross-team collaboration and bring teams together across geographies, the program was implemented in a way that tied forced participation to performance, and for the mentors, even financial gain for participating.

Not only were there many mentees who struggled with mentors who weren’t very interested, mentors were rewarded for every mentee they had. This cultivated a motivation that more resembled a culture of hustle in some than a culture of altruism. Luckily, the Mentorloop platform was able to immediately surface that mentors were ‘collecting mentees’ and not giving them much support, in favor of personal gain.

4000 participants later, and an NPS of -12, the program had far more detractors than promoters.

What this program led to, was a failure to measure buy-in – people who want to be there.

Too many individuals had no choice but to be paired with those who might not have wanted to participate or were paired up with mentors simply looking for a bonus.

To Stanton’s point earlier, while there were still positive relationships made in the program that might not have otherwise been made with this mandatory approach, the negative impact it had on their learning and development culture , was greater. 

4 common cons of making participation in a mentoring program mandatory for employees:

  1. There are several cons to forcing an employee to be in a mentoring relationship. One major con as we have explored with this example, is that this approach can be perceived as a lack of trust in the employees’ ability to manage their own professional development. This can lead to resentment and demoralization, and can hinder the effectiveness of the mentoring relationship.

  2. Forcing an employee to be in a mandatory mentoring program can be seen as a burden or an extra workload for employees who are already stretched thin. This can lead to resentment as employees may feel like they are being forced to take on additional responsibilities without any additional compensation or recognition. Furthermore, employees may not have a choice in who their mentor is, which can lead to mismatched personalities and a lack of rapport, leading to an unproductive and potentially unpleasant mentoring experience.

  3. Mandatory mentoring programs can also lead to resentment among employees because they may feel like their time and energy are being wasted on a program that does not align with their personal or professional goals. For example, an employee may be interested in pursuing a specific career path or learning certain skills, but their assigned mentor may not have the enthusiasm to support that individual and in turn their goals. This can lead to frustration and a feeling that the mentoring program is not benefiting them in any meaningful way.

  4. Interestingly, this can create an uneven power dynamic between mentors and mentees, which can lead to resentment on both sides. Mentors may feel overwhelmed or resentful of the additional workload, while mentees may feel like they are being disregarded or even micro-managed by their mentor – further contributing to communication breakdowns and a lack of trust, which can hinder the effectiveness of the mentoring program.

Overall, forcing an employee to be in a mentoring relationship can create challenges and drawbacks that can hinder the effectiveness of the mentoring program and the satisfaction of the employees involved. It may be more effective to encourage participation in mentoring programs through supportive infrastructure and recognition, rather than making it mandatory.

Combating this permeating resistance and preventing a breakdown in team culture

In a voluntary mentoring program, mentors and mentees are likely to have chosen each other based on shared interests or goals, which can foster a positive and productive relationship. In contrast, mandatory mentoring disregards whether or not the individual wants to be there at all. 

The positives to making mentoring mandatory in an organization mean more people who may have been on the sidelines questioning whether to participate or procrastinating over whether to participate, will now be involved. However, this benefit is heavily eroded by those participating who feel required to be there, are disengaged and unmotivated to create a meaningful experience for themselves – and their mentoring partner. 

When this occurs, not only does one person not enjoy the quality of their experience – both people are let down. At a company-wide level, this can create more issues than what’s required.

Instead, draw your focus towards exploring other ways to encourage participation in mentoring programs without making it mandatory. We refer to this as building a culture of mentoring. 

Instead, build ‘a culture of mentoring’

Similar to shared values, whether that be corporate or familial, a culture is far more powerful than anything mandated. Simply put, they’re a set of guiding principles and fundamental beliefs that help a group of people function together as a team and work toward a common business goal. 

Of course, many organizations still get this wrong. They create a set of values that are arbitrary or should already be expected by employees, leaders and directors – ‘integrity’ for instance.
It’s no secret that values in which are co-created with staff and are meaningful, are far more influential on everyday behavior.

Similarly, a bottom-up approach of mentoring will work harder for you than any top-down approach.

Here are some ways you can build a culture of mentoring that will pay off handsomely long term:

What does building ‘a culture of mentoring’ mean?

Building a culture of mentoring refers to the process of creating a work environment that values and supports mentoring relationships. This involves creating a supportive infrastructure for mentoring, such as providing training and resources for mentors and mentees, and establishing policies and guidelines for mentoring relationships. It also involves promoting a positive attitude towards mentoring and recognizing the value of mentoring for both individuals and the organization as a whole. Building a culture of mentoring can help to foster a supportive and collaborative environment in which employees can learn and grow from each other’s experiences and expertise.

An organization can address the potential drawbacks of mandatory mentoring in several ways:

  • Provide clear information on the program and most importantly, the benefits of mentoring for both individuals and the organization. This can help to reduce employees’ reservations around participating and motivate those on the fence.

  • Provide support and resources for mentors and mentees, such as workshops or webinars on mentoring best practices, or mentoring guides or templates. Mentorloop provides all of these resources and this can help to build the skills and confidence of both mentors and mentees, and can make the mentoring process more productive and enjoyable.

  • Recognize and reward employees who participate in mentoring programs. This can include public recognition, such as highlighting ‘mentoring champions’ and successes in company newsletters or social media. This can help to create a positive and supportive environment for mentoring, and can motivate employees to participate in the program.

  • Ultimately, aim to turn your mentees into mentors – this adds speed and momentum to your program and ensures participants gain experience and confidence in both roles, along with support for a wide variety of challenges or experiences. Likewise, encourage the building of a Personal Advisory Board

As more people join the organization and participate in mentoring programs over time, this culture can become more ingrained and widespread and can support the organization’s goals and objectives. The sharing of positive experiences creates a positive feedback loop, in which more employees become interested in participating in mentoring programs, and the culture of mentoring continues to grow and evolve within the organization.

A mentoring platform can ensure implementation of a culture of mentoring is achievable – and enjoyable for all.

Using a mentoring platform can help to ensure that creating a culture of mentoring is achievable and is less work for a program coordinator. A mentoring platform is a software application that enables mentors and mentees to connect, communicate, and collaborate online. This can provide a centralized and organized way for mentors and mentees to interact and support each other, and can make the mentoring process more efficient and effective.

For example, a mentoring platform can provide tools and features such as mentor and mentee profiles, messaging and communication functions, and resources and support materials. This can help to facilitate the matching of mentors and mentees, and can support the development of productive and satisfying mentoring relationships.

Additionally, a mentoring platform can provide analytics and reporting features, which can help the program coordinator to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the mentoring program. This can provide valuable insights into the performance of the program, and can help the coordinator to identify areas for improvement and make data-driven decisions.

Overall, using a mentoring platform can help to ensure that creating a culture of mentoring is achievable and is less work for a program coordinator. A mentoring platform can provide a centralized and organized way for mentors and mentees to connect and support each other, and can support the development of a successful and sustainable mentoring program.

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Emily Ryan
Emily Ryan
Head of Marketing at Mentorloop. Observing tens of thousands of mentoring relationships, she is passionate about helping people get the most from their mentoring experience. When not writing, you'll find her brewing beer or globe-trotting.

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