Anyone who has attended our webinars or read our blogs would know that for the program designers at Art of Mentoring, everything starts with organisational goals. Our fundamental philosophy is around “strategic mentoring” or a “strategic approach to mentoring”. It just makes sense to us that mentoring initiatives must be closely linked to what the organisation is trying to achieve overall. Our client conversations always begin with the question “why do you want to start a mentoring program?” Which is so often met with, “I’m not sure”. If you’re not sure of the WHY, then how will you know when you achieve success, and if the investment has been worthwhile?
Strategic mentoring, for us, takes a purpose-led approach to design and implementation of organisational mentoring initiatives. Organisations that follow this approach often have several mentoring programs on offer, with a blend of formal and informal offerings. We know that where formal mentoring programs have been implemented, informal mentoring flourishes, because there is a pool of trained mentors who reach out to others for potential mentorship. Many recipients of mentoring go on to become mentors in formal programs and mentor informally as well. Formal, cohort-based programs play an important role in training and preparing people for effective mentoring relationships that can emerge organically without any administrative effort.
There are five process steps involved in strategic mentoring:
- Planning. Setting goals for the organisation’s mentoring strategy, in much the same way that planning would be done for any business strategy. For example, good marketing needs a well-planned marketing strategy before implementation of marketing plans and tactics.
- Analysis. Gathering data on what employees might expect or want from mentoring. What do other similar organisations or competitors offer? Sometimes a well-regarded mentoring program contributes strongly to the value of the employer brand. What form of mentoring would work best for this organisation?
- Development. Design of one or more mentoring programs that together will deliver on the goals.
- Implementation. Execution of pilot mentoring initiatives to test the design.
- Evaluation. Measurement of outcomes and particularly return-on-investment. We have written extensively on this topic
The process is of course circular, not linear. Evaluation data should feed back into the next round of planning.
Sadly, we do not see many organisations take a strategic approach to mentoring. The most common approach we see is one of two:
- Offer one self-serve, anyone-can-join-anytime mentoring program, hosted on some kind of technology platform. Outcomes are hard to measure, and it can be hard to get mentors to sign up in the first place without a compelling WHY.
- Offer one formal mentoring program targeted at ‘high potential talent’. Whilst there are good reasons to offer developmental programs to retain good people, this can cause resentment amongst other employees who are excluded from yet another program.
A well thought out mentoring strategy would result in the organisation having a number of small, formal, cohort-based programs aimed at particular groups in order to achieve specific people goals. For example, to increase diversity, increase engagement in middle layers, develop a stronger leadership bench. There may also be a less formal organisation-wide program that caters for people who are not covered in the cohort programs.
An attendee of our webinar earlier this month on shifting culture with mentoring, said “I’ve newly inherited the re-design of our organisation’s mentoring program and loved the ideas, approaches, strategies, design, and planned objectives of a mentoring program that is embedded and ALIGNED TO strategy. Too many models are too ‘choose your own adventure’ and too ‘self serve’ and consequently lack buy in from leadership, motivation from mentees, and MEASURABILITY for all parties! #Mindblown!”
Given how cost-effective mentoring programs are, and the results they deliver, large organisations really have no reason not to consider the role mentoring could play in their overall people strategy. The good news is, we are starting to see a more strategic mentoring approach being taken by government agencies who clearly value mentoring as an important contributor to developing and supporting their people. Professional and trade associations, too, are beginning to offer multiple mentoring programs to members at different career lifecycle stages. NSW Law Society has well-established mentoring programs for graduates, early career lawyers and for women. Each one tackles a particular developmental goal for their members and is part of a bigger membership strategy.
If you’re not taking a strategic approach to mentoring, we can assure you, the organisations that are, are already attracting, developing and retaining the talent you want for your future success. Time to catch up?
Helpful resources: Mentoring Program Business Plan Template; The Ripple Effect
Melissa Richardson 2021
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