Mentoring is an increasingly common developmental approach which can produce excellent results for the mentor, the mentee and the organisation(s) both parties are affiliated with. Its popularity can perhaps be accounted for by virtue of it being a low-cost yet highly personalised approach to development.
1. Review organisational culture
Firstly, for a mentoring scheme to be successful, a suitably supportive organisational culture needs to be in place. Check for:
• a clear and accepted vision of where the organisation is going as a result
• encouragement of learning and development activities amongst staff
• high levels of cooperation and support between functions and departments across the organisation
• a climate of trust throughout the organisation.
Above all, the key to success is trust – and building trust. You may need a programme of change before attempting an organisation-wide mentoring scheme with any hope of success.
2. Establish the goals of the scheme
Consider why you need to establish a mentoring scheme, and what you want to get out of it. Common reasons include:
• improving and maintaining the skills and also morale of staff
• providing an additional source of guidance and support beyond that offered by line managers
• enabling staff to realise ambitious career development plans
• developing and retaining talent and skills, therefore including developing management and leadership skills
• improving internal communication.
3. Obtain the commitment of senior management
A mentoring scheme which does not enjoy the visible support of senior management will almost certainly fail. Without this support, employees will feel that the scheme is under-resourced, and that there is no authority behind it to support any recommended development activities. With senior management commitment, however, confidence will cascade down to mentors and mentees, who will be more likely to put their time, commitment and energy into the scheme. In order to secure management commitment, think about the goals you have established. How do they link to the organisation’s strategy? Could mentoring help to fulfil any key strategic goals? Senior management will want to see that mentoring will produce outcomes that are beneficial to the organisation and connect with its overall strategic vision and purpose. Consider asking senior managers to participate as mentors or even mentored themselves.
4. Find a champion
Appoint a mentoring champion who is a senior member of the organisation (possibly the person selected to manage the scheme). Make sure you actively support them on a day-to-day basis. Demonstrate this through their:
• help in developing the scheme
• willingness to act as a mentor themselves
• involvement with others participating in the scheme
• commitment to training for those participating in the scheme.
5. Fully integrate the scheme
You don’t want the scheme to be someone’s pet project. Make sure that it is integrated with other processes and projects that are undertaken by the organisation. For example, is successful participation in mentoring recognised by your performance management system? Is the mentoring scheme seen as a part of succession planning and leadership development? Make sure that the scheme complements any existing developmental opportunities, rather than acting as a stand-alone project.
6. Establish terms of reference
Establish who to aim the scheme at. Is the scheme intended for a specific purpose e.g. to develop leadership skills, or to improve the retention and promotion of employees from a particular group or background? Make this clear so that both mentees and mentors understand whether it is appropriate for them to get involved. Mentors need to be clear about their role and keep in mind that ownership of the mentoring process therefore lies with the individual mentee. Mentors should take care not to offer anything like legal advice and could render them liable should agreed courses of action not turn out as anticipated. They should also beware of allowing mentoring conversations to develop into counselling sessions.
Therefore, all discussions between the mentor and mentee should certainly be strictly confidential. The only exception to this is if the mentee agrees that you can relay the information to a third party (maybe the line manager).
7. Start small
Begin with a pilot scheme. It is impossible to guarantee that everything will work perfectly first time around. Testing will enable you to identify and therefore address any problems and difficulties that may arise and to learn from mistakes. A pilot will confine blunders to a core group of volunteer mentors who have a strong personal interest in developing others. Therefore, the result will be a more reliable, consistent and robust mentoring process in the long term.
8. Identify and train the mentors
Mentoring should be a voluntary activity, so issue a general invitation to staff to attract those who wish to become mentors. It is important, however, to establish a selection process to ensure a consistent standard amongst those who carry responsibility for mentoring others. Training is important for mentors – they must be fully conversant with the mentoring scheme and what behaviours are or are not ‘acceptable’. Mentors will need to have a clear understanding of:
• the mentoring process
• the difference between mentoring and directing
• the boundaries of mentoring (for example psychological counselling goes beyond these boundaries)
• the skills necessary for effective mentoring
• the duration of the mentoring relationship (in instances where the mentoring is ongoing, it is therefore best to establish this fact clearly at the start).
9. Identify problems in advance
Work out what you are going to do if and when there is:
• conflict between the aims of the scheme and the ‘hidden agendas’ of participants
• a breakdown of the relationship between mentor and mentee
• disruption to development patterns through new tasks or responsibilities
• obstructive behaviour on the part of the line manager.
10. Work out the logistics
Make sure you have arrangements in place for:
• announcements, promotion and awareness raising – it is no good having an excellent programme in place if no-one knows about it
• questions, problems and reassurances – have answers to frequent questions ready so that you can reassure individuals or tackle any complaints
• the technology and equipment needed if mentoring is to take place virtually.
• the process of matching mentors to mentees – this will need to be fair and effective. As a result, think about what to do if there is an imbalance between the numbers of mentees and mentors
• proposing a framework for their first meeting – above all it is important for mentoring to get off to a good start. Clear messaging and a positive, encouraging initial presentation will therefore facilitate this.
11. Establish evaluation procedures
Finally, plan to review the scheme on an annual basis against:
• the goals selected at the introduction of the scheme
• the success or failure of mentoring relationships, identifying the reasons for either.
Make sure you include feedback from both mentors and mentees, as this will provide essential input for amending or improving the scheme. An effective mentoring approach should become just part of the way the organisation does business, rather than a shortterm initiative or project.