How We Built Mentoring Software that Program Coordinators Love
On Building Experience into Technology
It’s a little more than 20 years ago that I first organised a formal mentoring program. I had already enjoyed a successful marketing career, and hoped to establish a mentoring program for women starting out in marketing as a way of giving back to my business community.
What I quickly learned was that running a mentoring program was not the same as running a marketing department. Those of you who have been asked by your organisation to create a brand new mentoring program, will know that out-of-control feeling of not being sure what a good mentoring program actually looks like, let alone how to get one off the ground.
I decided to employ someone with experience to lead our mentoring program. I look back now and thank goodness I did. The mentoring program we established lasted for nearly fifteen years because, with the advantage of experience, we built a program that really worked.
That long-ago mentoring program set me on a new career path. Witnessing the incredible value of a well-run mentoring program, I decided to make the delivery of quality mentoring my life’s work. So now here I am, older and wiser, and gifted with an incredible twenty years of experience in delivering formal mentoring programs.
Over those years we have embraced technology as a valuable tool to make good mentoring programs more accessible and easier to administer. But when it came time to build our own platform (which will formally launch in early February of this year) I remembered those very early days of my first ever mentoring program and knew that what needed to be built into our technology, was not the bells and whistles of the tech-world, but the wisdom of experience. We needed to find a way to build a platform that would provide program managers today, and in the future, with the benefit of our experience.
I’m going to share with you just how we did this, in part so you will better understand our platform when it launches, but also because you never know when you, too, will be required to build your experience into technology.
Building In Training
One thing I learned in those earliest days, that has been continually reinforced over the years, is the importance of training mentors and mentees. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking mentoring is something that should just come naturally. But it doesn’t – and there are still far too many organisations either not doing mentoring because they don’t know where to start, or running mentoring programs that don’t work.
Where clients benefit most from our experience is in the meetings, phone calls and strategy proposals that help program managers to construct a mentoring program that will actually be effective. And in the many, many training sessions we have run with mentors and mentees to ensure they have the understanding and skills needed for a successful pairing.
So the question was, how to build our training into the platform. And thanks to streaming video the answer proved quite simple (although anyone who’s ever had anything to do with developing a new technology knows that delivering that simple answer is always more complicated than it looks).
Ninety minutes of video-based training modules for both mentors and mentees have been built seamlessly into the platform. Only one click away once you’ve logged in, and the training is thorough and accessible.
Perhaps most exciting, we have developed an online version of our mentoring program manager training. Three 90-minute e-learning modules, work in conjunction with a workplace project to walk you through the process of designing your own mentoring program. So now when you feel like I did twenty years ago, not knowing where to start to get the program right, you have a structured e-learning program that builds your knowledge as you carefully construct a bespoke mentoring plan for your organisation.
Can you tell I’m excited?! This means that our experience can now be leveraged from anywhere, by anyone!
Building In Structure
Anyone who has ever run a mentoring program knows that program administration can feel a bit like herding cats. Unsurprisingly, the existing technology platforms have been designed primarily to make the administrator’s role easier. We too wanted to ease the administrative load, but we also wanted to help program managers to build in best-practice.
Again this was simple on the surface. Over the years we have developed processes and protocols for effectively and efficiently running a mentoring program. We just needed to build those processes into the system with sufficient flexibility to allow for the fact that every organisation is different. (OK, you’re right, maybe not that simple.)
As an example, we’ve developed a sense of when and how to communicate with mentors and mentees to ensure that a program keeps ticking along as it should. So we built into the platform a series of pre-set communications, which will go out at the times our experience says they are most needed. But, we also made everything easily editable so if a program manager wants to revise the wording, change the timing or simply delete a communication they can do so in one click.
We’ve also built in an entire library of resources for mentors, mentees and program managers, everything from PowerPoint slides to run a program launch, to tips for mentors about how not to jump too quickly to giving advice. These are available whenever they are needed through the program, giving everyone involved access to our expertise when it’s needed.
Building In Continuous Improvement
Something else we’ve learned is that even after twenty years, there is something new to be learned in every single mentoring program. Of course learning requires listening, so we’ve built in templated surveys to collect feedback at the mid-way point and conclusion of each mentoring program.
The templates make the surveys easier to implement and leverage our years of experience to ensure you are asking the right questions. The survey process itself works on a micro level to prompt individual pairs to reflect, recalibrate and work together more effectively, and on a macro level to ensure that program managers can continuously improve and evolve the program to suit their organisation.
It’s been exciting spending the last twenty years refining and improving the way we run mentoring programs. But it’s even more exciting to create technology that will help every program manager out there keep getting better. I feel like we are unleashing the real potential of mentoring.
Building Out the Unnecessary
The one thing I really wanted to avoid in building our platform was the weight of unnecessary features. In our experience, extraneous features make software complex and difficult to navigate and just plain get in the way.
For example, many platforms offer a feature that lets mentors and mentees book meetings through the software. What were they thinking? How many people do you know who would actually log in to a mentoring platform and search for the button to book a meeting, rather than simply sending a text or a calendar invitation? Not only have they missed the point about how mentors and mentees engage, they’ve cluttered up their platform with a feature that no one uses. Drives me nuts!
So, in my opinion, one of the most valuable things we have built in to our technology is our understanding of what you DON’T need to run a successful mentoring program. We’ve been fierce about ensuring that this platform only includes the features you DO need. As a result – pretty much everything is only one click away, the dashboard is clean, everything is easy to find and you can actually read the text.
I’m extremely proud of what we have created. There is a real buzz in seeing your years of experience crystallised into a tool that will genuinely help others.
I invite you to visit our platform page, look around and see it for yourself.
Melissa Richardson, Managing Director.