Quality Mentoring Programs Don’t Just Happen

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Mentorship can mean many things to many people in our profession. Generally, mentoring programs can drive learning and development for both mentees and mentors, but they also can benefit the sponsoring organization through increased retention, promotion rates, and employee satisfaction.

However, for a mentoring program to succeed, it is critical that the organization has the solid foundation of a learning culture. The first step in establishing a quality mentoring program is developing a clear vision. Try asking the following questions:

  • Why are you starting a mentoring program?
  • What does success look like for the participants?
  • What does success look like for the company?

After these are answered, you will need to identify your target participants, both mentors and mentees. Once the target participants have been identified, revisit the original questions to make sure you understand what their key motivations to participate will be. Consider the stated success targets for the company and participants, and make sure that these are aligned. Otherwise, recruiting participants may prove difficult or, in time, participants could leave the program feeling as though they wasted their time.

After you know the why, you can focus on the how. It is always helpful to start with “SMART” goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic/relevant, and time-bound. These will provide direction to program participants and help you to establish key performance indicators for the program. Determine what type of mentoring program you would like to put in place. The one-on-one, face-to-face relationship is the most traditional, but there are other options:

  • Group mentoring (one mentor with several mentees)
  • Team mentoring (several mentors with several mentees)
  • Peer mentoring (a more mutual relationship, where each person mentors the other)
  • E-mentoring (one-on-one, but it takes place via email or remotely using technology to connect, but usually starting with an introductory face-to-face meeting)

Once you have established a framework for the program, it is time to identify the participants. When you reach out to potential participants, remember that both mentors and mentees can receive benefits from a mentoring relationship and be sure to express that.

While mentors have an opportunity to share valuable experiential advice, the act of teaching someone can be highly empowering. Through this relationship, people often see how their knowledge can help someone else develop, resulting in a renewed energy in their own work.

When looking for potential mentors, keep in mind characteristics that define a good mentor. Look for people who are authentic and humble, and those who would be willing to learn from their mentees. The best mentors are not necessarily the top performers within a business.

Similarly, the people who are selected into the program as mentees should exhibit some of the same qualities. A willingness to learn and handle constructive criticism are important.

If the goal is development, then mentees should be comfortable owning up to shortcomings and acknowledging when they need help. It’s not always easy to speak about failures, but a mentee who is willing to do this openly will receive the most benefit from a mentor.

After participants have been identified, matching provides the next challenge. Three popular types of matching choices are as follows:

1. Self matching – This type of matching enables mentees to find their own mentors. It gives mentees a say in the process by allowing them to select a mentor. This type of matching can lead to better satisfaction of participants since they have more of a say in who they get matched with, and reduces the overall administration burden.

2. Administration matching – This type of matching empowers program managers to create the matches of the participants. This is common among leadership and high-potential program formats.

3. Bulk matching – This type of matching permits program managers to match a large pool of participants at the same time. This option is often used for large career mentoring programs.

In “Designing and Implementing a Mentorship Program” on Medium.com,1 West Stringfellow shares good ideas on matching mentors with mentees and “selling” mentorship. Perhaps most importantly, he provides sources for researching mentorship and learning styles with relation to gender and race. According to Stringfellow, “These studies raise awareness around the complexity of mentorship relationship. Program managers must take special care to make sure programs don’t further entrench a company’s lack of diversity.”

Regardless of the type of matching you choose, a questionnaire for all participants will assist with the matching process. Ask the basics as well as questions about each participant’s skills, goals for the program, and a few subjective questions to help know them better. Here is a brief example:

  • Name
  • Location
  • Current job function (provide a résumé and LinkedIn profile)
  • Do you have a preference to be a mentor or mentee?
  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • What skills or areas of expertise would you like to develop?
  • Where do you see yourself in three years?
  • What are a couple of the major challenges you are experiencing and trying to overcome in your role at the moment?
  • What does mentorship mean to you?
  • What’s your philosophy on mentorship?
  • Do you believe mentorship is an active endeavor?
  • How would you prefer to communicate with your mentor/mentee?
  • Describe your ideal mentor or mentee.

What is the most important thing you would like to get out of your mentorship? Specific skills, interests or developmental goals, along with prior experiences and matching preferences, are all critical considerations. The more you know, the better chance participants will find a great fit and a happy, productive mentoring outcome.

In a conversation with Princess Capps, vice president and human resources director at Tierney, she shared some of the challenges and successes she has seen with mentorships. Tierney is a 100-person, Philadelphia-based communications agency that offers advertising, public relations, and media services. Capps validated the importance of having clearly established goals, targets, and participant base for a mentorship program to be successful.

She also shared that successful mentoring doesn’t always need to occur as part of an established program, and highlighted her own experiences promoting a self-matching type of mentorship to new hires and early-career employees. By guiding mentees to identify someone that they would like to emulate or gain valuable experiential advice from, she has seen people get the most out of a mentorship match.

Once you have the program goals identified, performance indicators in place, and mentors and mentees matched, it’s time for the fun to begin. An introductory meeting for the mentors and mentees to lay out the ground rules is usually a good first step.

Make sure these mentorships set their own goals and action plans, but provide them with a framework that aligns with the overall program goals. It will be helpful to provide this guidance to participants so that they can get things off to a good start.

Guide them toward agreeing upon future goals and establishing accountability metrics for the mentorship. Along the way, you will need to provide access to resources, relevant content, and mentoring best practices.

As the ball starts rolling, be sure to get progress reports and establish checkpoints. Plan to have a formal process for closure and for feedback on the mentorship. Traditional mentorship programs last for six months to one year, but the relationship established may last a lifetime.

The original article appeared in the Pennsylvania CPA Journal

About Greg Smith

Greg Smith

Greg is a Managing Director at Attolon Partners. He has over fifteen years of experience in recruiting, successfully placing executive and senior level candidates while in retained search, internal talent acquisition and recruitment process outsourcing roles. The functions he has supported include: Corporate (finance and accounting, technology and human resources), Sales and Business Specialists. The industries he has supported include: Professional Services, Software & Technology, Investment & Retail Banking, Pharmaceutical & Life Sciences, Healthcare and Manufacturing. He has over ten years dedicated to the successful placement of accounting & finance professionals in this region.

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