Unfortunately for organisations and their people, most mentoring programs are run pretty poorly.
Part of this unfortunate reality stems from the fact that for a period of time, mentoring was seen as a nice-to-have an hence suffered from a lack of care and focus in design and implementation. Mentoring programs were seen as a “vitamin rather than a painkiller”.
But today, after countless studies and the shifting paradigm of work, companies are beginning to take their mentoring programs more seriously – and beginning to focus on them as a positive driver of cost reduction and profit maximisation.
So for companies that are running mentoring programs already (or getting a headstart on the common pitfalls): what does yours probably lack, where can it be improved, and where should you start?
Your mentoring program lacks company and executive buy-in:
The easiest way to resuscitate your mentoring program is to garner company and executive buy-in. Mentoring programs are often operated in a vacuum by HR or learning and development teams. While these teams do a great job of driving the implementation and oversight of the program, it is absolutely critical that employees understand that the executive team knows about and supports the program.
Executive buy-in drives accountability and excitement, and also shows employees that leaders care about and understand their people – and their people’s desire for progress and acknowledgement.
Quick fix: Starting your 2019 mentoring program soon? Have your CEO kick-start the program with a company-wide email with a link to sign-up for the program, or hold a one hour launch event which one of your leaders attends – where he or she volunteers to mentor one lucky person.
Your mentoring program lacks sufficient structure:
Mentoring in 2019 doesn’t need to be rigid and boring. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Mentoring can be dynamic and fluid, with each mentoring pair or group managing their own expectations and results.
In saying this, mentoring programs should still have a start, a middle, and an end – and shouldn’t fade off into an abyss. There should be cadence of matching and reporting which allows people to continually engage and re-engage with the program, while enabling organisations to measure success at regular intervals.
Quick fix: Create some basic mentoring program structure. Decide how long each specific program should last (from sign-up to exit survey), and create some solid markers and nudges to help people and the organisation stay engaged with the program throughout.
Your mentoring program lacks a tangible objective:
It’s incredible how many people programs are implemented without much thought as to what the organisation is looking to derive from the program i.e why are you running the program in the first place?
While mentoring can’t do any harm and will always create positive outcomes, it can be much more valuable when tied to a specific objective.
Knowing your objective will give every element of your program direction and purpose – and enable you to measure outcomes and ROI.
Quick fix: Tie your mentoring program to an overall organisational objective (diversity, retention, learning, leadership development). Then incorporate this objective into the mentoring program – through the onboarding form, supporting resources, and through the final reporting.
Your mentoring program lacks mentor-mentee guidance:
We love self-perpetuating people programs and advocate for them. However, this type of environment doesn’t just happen. It requires a lot of upfront fixed work.
That work when it comes to mentoring involves guiding first-time mentors and mentees through best-practices – and helping them help themselves.
A lot of mentors and mentees are first-timers, and/or have never been trained in how to best approach this situation. It is up to the program (and the people behind the program) to guide mentors and mentees throughout the program; ensuring they have all of the materials and understanding they need to be successful.
Quick fix: Create some great content and resources (we have some freebies here) that you can send to program participants at scheduled intervals. These resources (checklists, tip-sheets etc.) help your mentors and mentees understand what they should be doing at each stage of the mentorship. They help mentors and mentees break the ice; help them feel comfortable getting to know each other; and help them optimise their time together.
Your mentoring program lacks great matches:
This happens a lot. An organisation starts a mentoring program, creates arbitrary matches, and then sits back and waits for success.
Focusing on how and why of matching people is critical to program success.
The why should tie back to your program objective e.g if you’re focused on improving leadership development, you should match mentees with someone more senior than them who can guide them in management and leadership.
The how of matching depends on your time and fiscal restraints. Some mentoring programs still rely on manual matching (using spreadsheets etc.) while others use smart matching software to get the job done faster and more effectively.
Quick fix: Subscribe to a mentoring software platform like Mentorloop. Mentorloop can help you decide on how best to match your people (and how those matches will be achieved) as well as providing you with unlimited access to matching software which enables you to get the matching done accurately and quickly.
Your mentoring program lacks accountability:
This is another human nature problem it is up to the mentoring program to overcome. Part of the beauty of mentoring is that it provides mentees with someone who they want to hold them accountable (their mentor).
This accountability however, doesn’t naturally disseminate throughout the program nor throughout every match. Every mentor-mentee pairing is unique, and some require a little more coercing and caressing than others. All however, benefit from understanding that there is an expectation and associated accountability for engaging in the program.
Quick fix: Use mentoring software or manual methods (surveys, emails) to check-in on mentees and their matches and progress. Without forcing people to connect, ensure you are maintaining oversight of the program and holding participants (and yourself) accountable to inputs and outputs.
Your mentoring program lacks awareness (and mentors and mentees):
A mentoring program doesn’t go far without mentors and mentees. Some mentoring programs (sometimes through the fault of the organisation and sometimes through the fault of lazy people) fails to garner sufficient interest and dies a slow death. No matter who is at fault, a mentoring program without demand will not be successful.
Quick fix: Market your mentoring program like a pro. Build a portal for people to read about the program and join up on-demand; send out marketing collateral which showcases the benefits of being involved and what the program means to the organisation; ensure everyone is made aware of the program through email, intranet or your chosen company messaging platform.
Every organisational program can do with some improvement, as can every organisation and every person in it.
Alas, while there is no such thing as a perfect mentoring program (here are some examples of the best organisational mentoring programs in the world), most mentoring programs have a lot of room for improvement – and a lot of accessible ‘low-hanging fruit’.
You have to start somewhere and the only way is up.
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