Mentoring is a powerful way to boost engagement and satisfaction among employees, but only when it’s done right. Over 83% of employees say they’d benefit from a mentoring program, yet just 30% of them have participated in one. These programs can be highly effective and have a multiplicative effect across an organization, yet often they flounder after an initial period. The fact is, many programs are run by HR departments who are interested in scaling them, yet lack the resources, support, technology, or people to do so.
Everwise’s Director of Experience Management, Angela Miller, offered a webinar this summer to help address some of these scaling issues. She’s been with Everwise for over five years, but has been following her passion for talent development in the mentoring space much longer. She says there are several primary issues which HR teams can address to increase their program’s chances for success, longevity, and growth.
Insufficient or Improperly Motivated Mentors
“If you’re going to run an internal program,” said Miller, “you need a built-up mentor pool and to think about how to get them ready.” Mentors should understand how to manage the mentoring relationship in a way that’s productive for both parties. You also need more solid mentors than interested protégés to avoid making forced fits in your partnerships.
In terms of getting mentors on board, it’s important to spell out the objectives for them: what the program is trying to achieve and what organizational goals it will fulfill. “Often telling mentors the ‘why’ of a program will open their eyes to how critical it is to jump in and engage, and how they can positively impact those outcomes,” shares Miller.
HR professionals should also unpack the benefits for mentors. The mentoring partnership is often billed to mentors as an activity which will make them feel good, but Miller said it’s more than that: “I’ve found from working with mentors they always say, ‘this is a two-way learning experience.’ We need to educate mentors about that—what are they going to learn and how will they grow.”
In addition to the gratification of helping someone else, mentors will expand their network, refine their own skills, and become better leaders themselves. Teaching is a powerful way to solidify one’s skills in practice and reflect on your own development in new ways.
If mentors hold back because they don’t feel they have all the answers, they must be reminded that mentoring skills don’t hang on technical perfection. Solid mentors ask thought-provoking questions, share from their own experiences, and help guide protégés through the process of discovering their own solutions.
Poor Goal Definition by Protégés
This issue goes two ways, according to Miller. Organizations must be clear in setting their goals, allowing mentoring relationships to align with those priorities. In turn, protégés need to set measurable goals they can realistically achieve during the mentoring period.
Miller explained that by sharing organizational goals, protégés “can look at what the outcomes are and back into what they should be thinking about in working on themselves.”
Goal setting is a bigger ask than most might think. First time protégés might not have had to do this kind of goal setting before because they haven’t had a formal mentor or are not having these conversations with their managers. If they’re not getting support to understand where the gaps are and how to set goals, HR can be an excellent helping hand.
One best practice: offer a goal setting framework and examples for protégés to work off of more confidently. For mentors, sharing sample meeting agendas and techniques for soliciting feedback is another great way to keep everyone on target. Finally, if possible, having a point person to turn to for program participants is a great help.
“It’s foundational,” Miller said, regarding goal definition, “If there aren’t clear goals two people will meet and they’ll flounder because they don’t have clarity around what they’re supposed to be working on together.”
Ineffective or Inefficient Matching
Matching is a notoriously difficult process for mentoring programs. “There definitely is an art to matching,” confirmed Miller. “We say here at Everwise that it’s part science and part art.”
One of the key factors behind matching is skills alignment. Ideally, you should identify mentors who have demonstrated strong skills in the areas the protégés want to improve. This is fairly straightforward if protégés clearly identify what their goals are.
Creating a match of affinity is subtler. This might mean taking into account seniority, scope of responsibility, or personality factors to make a match where the participants have a connection and hit the ground running easily.
This doesn’t mean pairing people who are too similar, warned Miller. “You also want a certain amount of difference between the two people, because if they’re the same it leads to boring experiences. You want enough of a learning arc for both of them.” Matching across business units, project groups, offices, or even outside of the organization are all simple strategies to build differences into your mentoring pairs.
Protégés Feel Guarded with Their Mentors
“Protégés need to feel safe,” Miller specified. Mentoring relationships work best when protégés can truly let their guard down and communicate weaknesses, opportunities, and issues they are facing.
In internal programs particularly, it is important to keep matches from working too closely. Protégés will clam up to protect their career path if they’re being mentored by someone too close to it, which limits their learning. It is best to keep some space and match outside of reporting lines. In addition to keeping some distance, Miller recommends highlighting the importance of confidentiality to help protégés feel safe.
Lack of Structure
Often, there’s a lot of time and energy spent to get programs designed and launched, but once they get going the structure can drop out and leave participants listless.
This, according to Miller is another area for attention: “There needs to be ongoing structure through the entire experience, or you’ll have engagement issues. You’ll work a lot on motivation, and you’ll see that the partnerships fizzle out over time.”
To keep momentum, she recommends having a dedicated resource, either a point person or group, who can troubleshoot, monitor, provide some lightweight coaching, and be accountable for the program. Another option is to partner with an outside resource to meet those needs. Either way, this point party can step in if people start to disengage or get lost.
Little to No Outcome Tracking
Many programs go without outcome tracking entirely said Miller, “It’s one of those pieces that the organization just doesn’t know how to do well, how to collect data about the experience.” Yet tracking the results of a program can be indispensable for getting buy in and resources to scale mentoring programs.
“Be really clear on what outcome you’re trying to achieve.” Miller advises, “Retention, leadership readiness, skill building…figure out how to create check ins on an ongoing basis to see if you’re hitting your desired outcomes.”
Asking specific questions of participants which drive at organizational goals will help make sure you’re on target, and it should be done on an ongoing basis. When program organizers don’t consider these larger goals, the case for keeping or growing a program becomes unclear.
With the above in mind, it’s clear that when building a mentoring program, it’s critical to be intentional and thoughtful throughout the process. View a recording of the webinar to learn more about how to effectively scale mentoring in your organization.