How To Start A Mentoring Program
Let’s talk about how to set up a mentoring program. Mentoring programs need a little bit of love through every stage to keep them going. Too many of our clients leave out one of these steps, or do not do them well, and end up coming to us for help.
The 7 stages of starting a mentoring program are:
- Pre-Evaluation & Research
- Getting Ready
- Training & Support
1. Pre-Evaluation & Research
Pre-Evaluation and research is paramount to the success of a mentoring program. It’s a good idea for a program manager to ensure that their organisation understands what mentoring is and how it might solve a particular problem, or contribute to a particular business outcome. For companies, the purpose if often to support high performers, or to improve engagement. For membership organisations, mentoring may be used as a member retention strategy, or to develop emerging leaders in the profession or industry.
Surveys or discussion groups are a great way to get the conversation started with people who will value it the most, where the program is most needed and what problem it will help solve.
Put aside some material you find along the way (books, articles, blogs and websites) about mentoring design and how to run a mentoring program. Start benchmarking against other mentoring programs and find best practices you think will apply to your mentoring program too. Sometimes your industry already has a mentoring program on offer. Check your local associations to see if there are any ideas you can get from there.
Some good places to look for material are:
- Professor David Clutterbuck
- International Standards for Mentoring Programmes in Employment
- Horizons Unlimited
Once you have a good idea of why you want to introduce mentoring (we love mentoring but it is not the answer to everything!), next check that your organisation is ready and tighten up how you will talk about your program.
Not sure if you’re ready? Take our Mentoring Program Readiness Self Assessment to find out.
2. Getting Ready
Make sure you have the support of your manager or executive team before pressing ahead with the design processes. There’s nothing worse than doing all that work to then try and convince them it’s worth something.
Define a clear purpose for the mentoring program. Is it to empower women in the workforce, hand over knowledge from an aging workforce, increase employee/member retention by offering career development or is it reverse mentoring where the younger generation?
c. Goals and Objectives
With a clear purpose should come some real criteria to measure success. What does success look like? What would the feedback of a mentee or a mentor be to deem the program successful? How can you measure the outcomes?
Make 100% sure that you have the necessary functions to run a mentoring program. A mentoring program that is unsuccessful can be more damaging to your reputation than if it wasn’t there at all. Evaluate the amount of time and budget required to run a program like this.
Design is the step that sets your foundations solidly and if the last two steps have been done sufficiently, you should know what you can and must do. You will have asked questions already such as is it important to have a formal or informal program, how much structure is required, should it be admin matched or self matching, should I run a pilot program to test the waters, where will my funding come from, and what resources do I need to throw at this?
It’s a good idea to put all those questions in a document and answer them. You can then use this as a reference document for any decisions you make about the program specifics, recruitment process, timing and the final design.
Here’s a cool infographic to help put it into perspective.
So, you’ve done your homework, you are clear on your program purpose and design. All ready to go. Now you need people to get involved!
Don’t want to start designing (resources, plans, communications, applications etc.) from scratch? Check out our Program Manager’s Pack Design Kit.
This is the fun part but also sometimes the part of the process that can allow the program to fall over so it’s important to design the marketing and recruiting process with the utmost care. If you already have an email database of employees or members then your job is significantly easier but you will want to have some type of application form (more often online these days) and a marketing message attempting to on-board both mentees and mentors to the cause.
The application form should cover essentials such as name, age and location but also selection criteria that you would have defined during the design phase. Only include in the application the information you need for matching – it can be tempting to ask lots of questions for which answers won’t necessarily help the matching process. A long application is boring and yield poor quality information. We generally suggest no more than 3 matching criteria.
Accompany your form with Terms and Conditions. This way you can make sure that the mentor or mentee agrees to the terms of the program and is aware of your expectations of them (also a good idea to relay payment details, etc. if a fee is involved).
Try to outline what you think the mentor or mentee will get from joining the program and integrate that into your marketing message. For example, “Mentees will be matched with experienced mentors who can help guide their mentee to a career they yearn for.” Or “Mentors will be matched with young eager mentees who want to learn and succeed. Giving back feels good but it can also give a fresh perspective.” Mentors get more from their participation than many realise, so don’t forget to include ‘what’s in it for the mentor’ in your marketing.
Nothing beats previous participant testimonials to convince people to join a mentoring program, so make sure you collect feedback and use these stories in your marketing materials. Written testimonials are great, but video clips are even better. Or invite past participants to share their stories at an information session for new program participants.
So, now you have excited mentoring program participants, how will they be paired? It can be tempting to go the ‘self-serve’ route (i.e. mentees choose their own mentors from a directory) because this is easiest and least work intensive for the organisers. However, mentees may not know how to choose and may prefer someone to guide their selection. If your program design calls for administrator matching, then here’s some tips…
Depending on the number of mentees you have, how well defined your selection criteria are or what technology you have at your fingertips matching can be either headbangingly laborious or a fairly simple process.
We have seen many ways to do matching from printed sheets of paper on pin up boards to Excel Spreadsheets automatically populated from online application forms to mentoring program software that use matching algorithms to produce instant matching. The latter being the quickest form of matching.
For groups of over 20 pairs, we would never recommend the first method of pin up boards and manual matching. It’s boring and very hard to get right. If you are going to go down this route, make sure you keep it lean. Keep it short and sweet with participant’s profile details (age, location, etc.), selection criteria details (years of experience, specialisation, position, etc.) and eligibility criteria (membership, employee number, etc.).
Excel spreadsheets work and have been used for many programs effectively but they still take time. To put it into perspective, a group of 20 pairs can take up to half a day to match. This may sound like a lot for 40 participants but it really is a push and pull process until you have the right balance.
Mentoring software solutions have built-in matching functionality as one of the program administration tools. These solutions can be somewhat of a drain on budget but they do more than matching and may eventually save you time, therefore money.
So, everyone is now matched – they can just get on with mentoring now, right? Well, actually, it is not quite so simple.
6. Training & Support
Your mentoring program represents your brand or your organisation’s support structure. Failure to deliver a successful relationship most of the time will have a very real impact on your member’s/employee’s impression of your brand. If there is an admin or a participation fee, being out of pocket could exacerbate disappointment due to relationship failure (offer money back guarantees for failed mentoring relationships).
In terms of training a common trap in mentoring program design is to overlook mentor and mentee training. Professor David Clutterbuck’s research has found that only about 1 in 3 mentoring relationships actually work if there is no training, whereas 2 in 3 will work if the mentor is trained. When you train both the mentor and mentee you get a 90%+ success rate.
Make sure your mentors understand what their role actually is as a mentor and what expectations there are of them from the mentee and your organisation. They may be great managers, but not have the listening and communication skills that will make them masterful mentors. A balance of instruction and role playing of mentoring scenarios is usually appreciated by first-time mentors.
Mentees need guidance in how to prepare for their mentoring experience and how to get the most out of the time they have with a mentor. We find that mentees are often unclear about their own goals for the program and need some guidance to help them focus.
In terms of support getting the balance is difficult and depends on the industry or workplace. Some groups may want less support in the form of materials and process; others may need to be guided through the whole process. A pilot program can help you determine your group’s preferences. It is advisable however to have key milestones and touch points that make sure that the relationship has started, hasn’t fallen over and wraps up neatly. These can take place as an email, telephone call or an event.
Check out our ready made Online Mentoring Training Course for Mentors and Mentees and our Training Kit too.
We’re in the home straight now. The program has been running for a few months so you can just sit back and wait for the accolades at the end, right? Hmm… maybe not….
We have been a part of many mentoring programs’ design evaluation where the coordinator thought the program was running very smoothly until we ran a program evaluation only to find from our surveys that 1 in 3 were dissatisfied. If you are running a mentoring program, your duty of care is to evaluate and re-evaluate. If you don’t run surveys, introduction & closure events or courtesy phone calls you are flying blind and you run the risk of program failure and reputation maiming.
Aside from risk assessment and avoidance, a mentoring program is so much more satisfying when it’s running effectively and your mentees are telling you it is life changing. And you need to try to hear from everyone – just a few anecdotes from a couple of happy participants that contact you can be very misleading.
Check on participant progress at least once or twice during the program, then do a complete and thorough evaluation at the end. This means a full participant survey and an internal re-think of your program design. Small changes can help you get that recipe right to really change people’s lives! Get the final mix right and reap the rewards of reaching your objectives or goals and boosting your reputation as value adding.
At Art of Mentoring we provide tools and resources for all aspects of the mentoring program design, implementation and evaluation. Please contact us for more information or take a look at our blog for more articles on mentoring.