What makes a good mentoring program

Authors: Sonya Trau, Executive Coach, Leading Well

What is a mentoring program?

If you ask two people what mentoring is, you’re guaranteed two different answers. 

Mentoring can happen in the moment between two people at any time, but a mentoring program intentionally connects two people within the organisation and actively supports them to have high quality, regular conversations that contribute to the growth of both the mentor and mentee, expand perspectives, build mentee confidence and strengthens connections between parts of the organisation (ultimately, breaking down silos).

The good news is you can start with a mentoring program or even a series of mentoring programs that over time can converge into a mentoring culture. Your chances of success are to hold this vision from the outset and like the best of mentors; question, question, question and listen, listen, listen into the system you are disrupting.

What are the key elements of a good mentoring program?

Great matching is important always, but programs should have a strong positive reputation internally, contribute to brand value, and deliver high quality and consistent experience  both the mentors and mentees. It’s absolutely vital to have strong executive level sponsors who truly believe in the potential of the program for the organisation. This is why we recommend any program must start with an vision and ROI workshop to clarify the business drivers of the program. It’s really important to support both mentors and mentees with effective upfront skills, and to support both parties to maximise the value and impact of the experience, consistently at key intervals. It’s also key to adequately provide expertise and support program managers who are internally responsible for running the program.   

These elements are critical to overcoming the common challenges we see crop up time and time again from inadequately supported mentoring programs, where the program starts with great anticipation, high hopes, and excitement, but fizzles out during the program, usually at the 4-6 month mark. Sadly, when this happens, mentors and mentees often feel abandoned, the organisation fails to capitalise on the promise of the program and the brand is tarnished rather than enhanced.  All this is so easily avoided.

Does mentoring really make a difference?

Mentoring is one of the most effective L&D spends an organisation can possibly make. It improves lives. It expands perspectives. It bridges gaps and leads to higher engagement for both the mentor and the mentee, which is often quite a surprise to mentors and to the organisation as a whole.

We find that year-on-year, that mentors report that they are more motivated and engaged and have grown far more themselves throughout the experience than they originally expected. This welcome surprise highlights how important this intentional relationship is not just for the mentee, or the organisation but for the mentor themselves.A well designed and facilitated program will create a mentoring culture and move the entire system.

Are there any disadvantages of mentoring?

Personally, I don’t believe there are any disadvantages in mentoring. Yes, it takes a little time, regularly setting aside at least an hour each month to conduct mentoring, and the organisation needs to genuinely support the prioritisation of that, but that time spent in deeper reflection and connection leads to growth and connection for both parties (to each other, their respective areas of the business and to the business itself).

How do you evaluate mentoring effectiveness or success outcomes?

Measuring success of a mentoring program is critical, especially as it’s one of those programs that can easily be put into the ‘touchy feely’ camp, when it’s actually a proven program that really does create tangible outcomes.  

When starting a program, we always begin with an ROI workshop to identify the core business drivers for undertaking the program. In that way, the matching and delivery elements can be honed to ensure the achievement of those criteria.Additionally, measurement throughout ensures that the Program Manager has the information required to confidently monitor the progress of all pairs and intervene or assist as required. Early detection and diagnosis of any obstacles to success are key. It’s critical to measure against the baseline and assess the success of the program and its contribution to the business.

What makes a good mentor?

A good mentor is not always the most senior person in the organisation. In fact, in peer to peer or reverse mentoring programs that isn’t the case. But a great mentor is curious, is able to create an environment of safety with the mentee, is encouraging, and fundamentally believes in the potential of their mentee.

What makes a great good mentee?

A good mentee wants to grow and learn. A good mentee is willing to be vulnerable and explore themselves during mentoring and importantly, does the hard work in between mentoring sessions, doing further reflection, putting ideas into action, and reflecting on the impact those actions.

What should we pay for a corporate mentoring program?

A corporate mentoring program is not a large spend for an organsation. Its returns significantly outweigh the investment. In conjunction with external training and facilitation resources and high quality mentoring assets such as articles and guidebooks there are also internal requirements to ensure your success.  Importantly, organisations need to allocate sufficient internal resources to manage and co-ordinate the program. It can also be useful to have a senior leader providing program governance and oversight. That effort is greatest upfront in the three months before the program commences and in the three months following launch. The demand on these internal resources will taper off after three months but still be required for the duration of the program.To ensure a high-quality program with a strong reputation that delivers on the promise, working with an experienced organisation to hone your program design and support the development of mentors and mentees upfront and throughout the program is vital to ensuring the best mentoring experience that returns the desired outcomes for mentors, mentees, and the organisation.


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