When a mentoring program succeeds it can reap enormous benefits. A mentoring program that fails, however, has negative consequences; disappointed participants, stakeholders and a loss of trust in the sponsoring department can result. Before embarking on a mentoring program it is wise to consider the kinds of problems that programs may experience and the strategies that a program manager can adopt to mitigate the risks of failure.
When we’ve been called in to rehabilitate unsuccessful mentoring programs, here are the top five causes of failure that we have observed:
1. Failure to define the program’s purpose: A mentoring program, like any business investment, is undertaken for a reason – to increase inclusion of diverse groups in a government department, to retain middle managers in an organisation, to engage members in a professional association … Take the time up-front to discuss and develop a cogent and focussed program purpose. This will create a solid foundation and a point of reference for the effective design and smooth implementation of the program.
2. Failure to define and measure success: Mentoring program managers need to monitor the participation of the mentees and mentors, and the performance of the program overall. Don’t wait until it’s too late to find out that your participants are dissatisfied and disengaged, or that your communications strategy isn’t hitting the mark. Plan to evaluate your program at a number of levels, and measure progress toward success several times throughout its course.
3. Poor planning and preparation: When key stakeholders are not involved in the design stage, the program implementation plan can be inadequate. Consult with your communications team and the managers of your intended participants, to smooth the way for the rollout of your program. Identify the risks early and iron out potential problems well before the program is launched to the target audience.
4. Poor or no training for participants: Experienced managers, and sometimes even experienced mentors, do not necessarily ‘just know’ how to do mentoring. Effective programs provide activities and resources that ensure that mentors understand the key skills of effective mentoring, and that the mentees’ and mentors’ expectations are aligned through training.
5. Inadequate program support: Sometimes a great deal of effort goes into getting the program off the ground, but mentors and mentees are then left to work it out for themselves. Busy mentors (and mentees!) may need to be reminded of why they made a commitment to the program, and will appreciate encouragement and support in their efforts. Make sure you have sufficient program management time and resources to deliver basic administrative tasks, like responding to questions and inviting participants to program meetings. Make sure they know where to turn for help if needed and provide support for relationships that need a bit of hand-holding to start.
With a little forethought and adopting good practice, a mentoring program can be set up to succeed – a modest investment in time and effort before a program begins will deliver enormous returns.
© Gina Meibusch, Art of Mentoring 2022