What Technology Do I Need to Run an Effective Mentoring Program?

The Oxford Dictionary defines technology as “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.”  The key word in that sentence is “practical”.  With mentoring programs, as with everything in business, technology can add tremendous value, but there is no value in technology for technology’s sake.

So let’s identify how technology can add value to a mentoring program and where this technology is most practically employed.

 

How Technology Enhances Mentoring

There are three primary ways that technology can enhance your mentoring program.

  1. Accessibility: a host of different technologies are available to make mentoring programs more accessible to a wider range of people, both geographically and demographically.
  2. Administration: as with most other business arenas, technology can be invaluable in reducing the administrative burden of running a mentoring program.
  3. Education: technologies can be employed to improve the educational outcomes for all participants.

 

The Mentoring Technology Continuum

All mentoring programs sit somewhere on a technology continuum that stretches from completely manual management to a fully integrated mentoring platform with all the bells and whistles.

The question for anyone launching a mentoring program, is, where on that continuum does it make sense to sit?  The answer depends on the purpose, size and scope of your program.

 

Planning Comes First

It is critical that you do the upfront planning and preparation before you commit to technology.  Unfortunately, at least for now, technology is not a substitute for thinking.  Ensure that you are clear about the purpose of your program and the likely size.  Have key stakeholders on board and some idea of the resources that will be available for the program.

Now you are ready to consider where technology can add value.

 

Technology for Small Programs

A small mentoring program with up to 15 pairs in a central location does not warrant investment in a full-scale mentoring platform.  It is certainly possible to manage a program of this size completely manually, particularly if you have in-house or outsourced mentoring expertise.

However, there are technologies available that can make even a small program run more smoothly and provide greater value to participants.  The following are the technologies we would most recommend for smaller programs:

 

Virtual Meeting Software

If program participants are not centrally located or have significant time restrictions, then virtual meeting software such as GoTo Meeting will enable you to include everyone in training sessions or group meetings.

 

eLearning for Mentors & Mentees

Research by David Clutterbuck suggests that 2 out of 3 mentoring pairs will fail when mentors and mentees do not receive training.  If you don’t have access to mentoring expertise internally, consider using eLearning packages such as our Mentor and Mentee Online Training to add expert education to your program.

 

Program Design

Very often, a well-meaning staff member with absolutely no mentoring experience ends up managing smaller mentoring programs.  Instead of hiring an outside consultant, you can use technology to assist internal staff to manage the program using best practice.  Our self-paced online Mentoring Program Manager’s Training prepares your program manager to deliver a high quality program, without even having to leave their desk.

 

Technology for Large, Complex Programs

Once a program grows beyond 15 – 20 pairs or has added complexity, such as geographic spread of participants or time-sharing program managers, it really makes sense to explore the available mentoring platforms. Employing a good platform will save administration time, enhance the experience for participants and enable you to integrate mentoring with other business systems.

There is a wide range of mentoring platforms available.  When comparing these it’s important to be clear about the purpose and scope of your program, and what features you are likely to need.  Avoid bells and whistles you don’t need.  Not only will these add to the cost, they can also clutter up your dashboard, making the platform unnecessarily difficult to use.

As an example, some platforms include in-app messaging and a workspace for the mentoring pairs.  This sounds good in principle.  But in our experience most people end up reverting to the communication methods they are comfortable with – text, Messenger, email – and this feature generally goes unused.

To help you choose the right platform, here are some questions we would recommend you ask of the various providers:

  1. How does the matching algorithm work? The automation of the matching process is one of the key benefits of a mentoring platform so you want to be clear about how it works.  Make sure you can manually override the algorithm when needed, and that it can be changed easily.
  2. How scalable is the platform? Will your mentoring program be able to grow without having to change platform?
  3. What is the level of support and service? Particularly for first time Program Managers it’s important that help is available when you need it.
  4. What resources are built into the system? Some platforms are simply glorified matching software, others come with tools and eLearning modules to help manage the entire program more effectively.
  5. How is the platform secured? It’s important to know that mentors’ and mentees’ personal data is safe.
  6. Who was involved in the design of the software? Ensure that someone with genuine mentoring experience and expertise has been involved in the development.
  7. Can the platform integrate with other internal software? If you want information about your mentoring programs to be available in more widely-used software such as an HRIS or AMS then it’s important to understand if and how the mentoring platform will integrate.

We like to think that our newly developed mentoring platform has everything you need and nothing you don’t.  But do not take our word for this.  We encourage you to review the many platforms available, compare the features and choose the one that most practically fits your needs.