What would Mentoring deliver if it was done right? A guide for program managers

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By Serendis

August 8, 2022

If ‘pivot’ was the buzzword of 2020, then ‘retention’ is certainly staking its claim on 2022! Building a team and nurturing talent is only one part of the challenge facing people teams and business leaders. The looming question is ‘how do we keep them?’, and given the current challenges of recruiting good people, it’s imperative that we find ways to make them want to stay. 

Can mentoring programs be part of the solution? We know it can be but not all mentoring programs are created equal. Here, we want to outline the critical ingredients to an impactful mentoring initiative across your organisation.

Your mentees want professional growth, purpose and value 

Through our consulting practice at Serendis Leadership and from our MentorKey clients, we consistently hear that individuals feel most fulfilled in roles that provide professional growth, a sense of purpose, and a feeling of being valued for their contribution. The old adage “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers” has never been more concerning when we know that leaders still don’t prioritise career growth conversations with their team members (despite desperate pleas from their HR teams).

Will your mentors do a better job with their mentees than they do with their direct team members?

Surprisingly…they do! When the relationship is established outside a reporting line, the mentee feels free to be truly open about their aspirations and challenges and the mentor naturally focuses the conversation on career growth without the performance and team results lens. The commitment a mentor makes to participate in a program means they dedicate time to listen and be present for their mentee. Most leaders love to give back and take their commitment very seriously. In many ways, they ‘show up’ completely differently in their mentor role than in their leader role where their focus is on delivery and performance.

The openness of the relationship means the exchange is more authentic, based on trust and both parties are willing to be vulnerable. And the magic of mentoring often means that mentors grow as much as their mentees by gaining an insight into what is really happening in the minds of junior talent. They also develop coaching skills that they bring back to their day to day management practice.

How do you trigger the magic?

We know the biggest challenge to setting up a mentoring program is the administrative headache: How do I get started? How do I manage this? How do I engage, select and match people? And more importantly…how do I make sure mentees and mentors do what they are supposed to do once I have matched them?

We share the 4 golden pillars of a successful mentoring program:

  • Make it exclusive

In an environment where inclusion is on everyone’s mind, this can be counter-intuitive. But starting with a small cohort of committed participants sets your program up for success and establishes a reputation that will attract candidates in subsequent iterations. Too often, mentoring programs are open to anyone and this dilutes the level of commitment you want your participants to show. Your best mentors will only want to commit their time if they feel the mentees are engaged and come prepared to drive the relationship. 

Our recommendation is to define a target population for the initiative: this could be a level of seniority, new joiners in your firm, aspiring leaders or perhaps people who have just changed roles or completed a development program. Ask them to identify clearly what they want to achieve through the program and why it is important to them. Select the most compelling responses on an anonymous basis and aim to confirm a cohort of 15 to 20 mentees for your first program. You can tap mentors on the shoulder or make it selective for them too.

  • Matching is key

We have been facilitating mentoring programs for populations of up to 500 aspiring, emerging and senior leaders on a yearly basis since 2010. The secret to ‘matching success’ lies in balancing 3 dimensions:

  • Mentoring partners should be in separate business lines, have very limited day to day working relationships and no shared reporting lines but they should understand each other’s business model
  • Ideally, they have something in common (this could be their career path, their first job, their hobby, their values, their beliefs) but they are also different in their thinking style, their current role’s focus, their stakeholders or their personality
  • Most importantly, the mentor has gone through similar challenges or developed the skills the mentee needs to grow now to progress their career

Your focus in matching participants is not giving mentees who they want but giving them who they need. For this reason, we suggest asking mentees to fill out an extensive questionnaire to understand their aspirations, what hinders their career currently and what they are working on developing through this program.

  • Define roles and expectations

Mismatch in expectations is the most common factor of partnership breakdown. As the program manager, you should set the structure clearly and communicate these expectations as often as possible:. mentees are responsible to book meetings with their mentor, drive the agenda and come prepared to each session. 

A program should always have a beginning and an end and 6 months is enough for the relationship to develop traction and see results. Momentum is critical and the pairs should meet once every three weeks or have 8 sessions over the course of 6 months. Interestingly, if you announce that your program will go for 12 months, the pairs will meet less often and lose momentum.

  • Ensure their conversations are impactful

The popular belief about mentoring is that mentees will ask questions and mentors will sit back, reflect and provide solutions based on their own experience. The issues with this approach are multiple:

  • Mentees don’t always find the advice relevant or applicable
  • They don’t learn to find solutions on their own
  • They are unlikely to translate the learning into action if they haven’t come up with the insight themselves
  • And finally, they often run out of questions to ask after the second mentoring session.

For your program to achieve the intended benefits, we recommend flipping this dynamic on its head. Mentors should ask questions more than giving answers. Mentees should have defined a clear measure of success for their partnership and have a clear answer to this question: ‘What will you achieve with your mentor that you would not have achieved on your own?’. By setting a clear goal, they help their mentor to take a coaching approach and their sessions are focused on defining actions and learning through each step.

Does it sound overwhelming?

This is why we have created MentorKey. We have packaged all our knowledge and insights into the platform so that you can create the magic on your own within your organisation. MentorKey makes selection, matching and communication easy throughout the process and enables you to run several programs at a time for different cohorts. 

But MentorKey’s real power is its ability to impact the conversations that take place between mentees and mentors. For several years, we have worked on a solution to guide mentors to ask the right questions and for mentees to have reflected and be prepared to drive the conversation on what will shift the dial for their personal growth. We know that ‘downloadable pdf guides’ on successful mentoring do not deliver so we have created personalised and self-guided ‘keys’ for mentees and mentors to tailor to their own circumstances and make each conversation powerful. It is hard to explain because it is unique! Contact us for a demo if you think this can help you and your mentoring participants!