Discovering the Science of a Mentoring Program

By Toni Brearley, Chief Executive Officer of The Australasian Society of  Association Executives (AuSAE)


For the uninitiated, mentoring looks like an opportunity for a junior employee to have coffee and a chat with someone more senior.  One hopes that some of the senior person’s wisdom and experience will rub off.  Perhaps she will be able to point her mentee in the right direction or help him to avoid pitfalls.  Plenty of “feel good” and “hope for the best”.

After 18 months of working closely with the Art of Mentoring to develop the AuSAE mentoring program, the key lesson I have learned is that there is actually a science to running an effective mentoring program.


The Beginning

We initially partnered with Art of Mentoring in 2016, with a view to launching a mentoring program in 2017.  Our aim was to develop the capacity of the sector, nurturing the talent of the CEOs and senior executives new to industry association roles.  Recognising that we had neither the expertise nor the resources to develop, implement or manage a mentoring program, we outsourced the lot.

An extensive piece of research was undertaken prior to even setting up the program.  This ensured that the program that ultimately launched was specific to the needs of our industry.

There was no assumption that mentors somehow knew how to be mentors simply by virtue of their years on the job.  Art of Mentoring provided extensive training to mentors to ensure they had the skills needed to guide their mentee and hold them accountable.

How We Did It

Mentees undertook a skills audit and structured goal setting exercises to ensure they were clear about why they were going into the mentoring program and what they hoped to get out of it.  This upfront work helped mentees to understand the difference between “this would be a really great thing to do” and “this is something I’m prepared to commit to doing”.  This process makes it much easier for mentors to hold mentees to account.

Mentoring pairs were also trained to understand that goals can change.  Mentees may go into the mentoring process heading in one direction, but after unpacking things, discover that direction changes.  Participants learned not to let rigidity get in the way of development.

As a “program manager” with a lot more on my plate than this mentoring program, I appreciated Art of Mentoring’s platform and systems.  With multiple mentoring pairs in the program, it was easy for me to quickly check in on the program and know how things were progressing.  Melissa Richardson from Art of Mentoring is a stickler for deadlines, so she was invaluable at keeping things on track.

Of course, good science demands continuous improvement.  At the conclusion of our first mentoring cohort, a review was undertaken and the program was tweaked and adjusted to be even stronger for our second round.

Participants were very positive following the first mentoring program, and we have seen increased interest in participating in the second program.  We believe the program is genuinely adding value and demand is building.



We outsourced the AuSAE mentoring program in part due to lack of resources.  However, even if we woke up one morning with the resources to manage everything in-house, I would still outsource to experts.  I am now so aware that this is a specialist area, requiring a high level of expertise to get good outcomes.

Mentoring programs are not for every organisation.  However, if you have identified the development of talent or nurturing of emerging leaders as a goal in your association, then I would absolutely recommend implementing a mentoring program.  When you decide to head down this path, look to mentoring experts to help you build science into your program.  The outcomes will be stronger, more measurable and easier to build upon.