Influential business leaders often thank mentors for support in reaching their goals. Sheryl Sandburg credits Ariana Huffington. Mark Zuckerberg was mentored by Apple’s Steve Jobs. In a 2019 study conducted by Olivet Nazarene University, 76% of participants agreed that professional mentorship relationships were important. Mentoring has the added perks of bolstering employee engagement and increasing employee retention rates. All of this adds up to a rather good reason to build a mentorship program this year to support your employee population. Don’t be hasty! A poorly constructed program could cause more harm than good. Review these common mentoring program pitfalls to start your program research.
1. Applying a “plug and play” approach. While studying best practices in the market is a wise first step, program developers should refrain from using a “plug and play” approach. This tactic includes purchasing or copying a boxed program without consideration of your unique culture. Mentoring is nuanced and should be custom-tailored to your company and employees. Consider the industry, company size, mentee interests, mentor availability, etc. What are the goals of your program? How will you evaluate if the program is successful? Mentoring programs do not fall in the one-size-fits-all bucket.
2. Forgetting to train mentors. Some people start with the assumption that all experienced staff members will be capable mentors. Yikes! That would be like saying all good salespeople would be great managers. The skill sets are different, so this equation is not always true. Yes, some individuals will be natural mentors, but the majority could use some training (or at least a refresher) on how to be an active listener, clarify objectives, and provide constructive feedback. Mentors should also be briefed on the expectations of their roles before launching.
3. Overlooking mentee reflective pre-work. Mentor relationships are most successful when mentees identify the skills they need help with from a mentor ahead of time. Mentees can do this by creating a solid development plan in consultation with their manager or an HR team member that includes clear direction on what skills the mentee needs to develop. This level of clarity will offer direction to potential mentors who display expertise in the requisite area, resulting in stronger mentor relationships.
4. Requiring participation in a mentor program. The benefits of a mentoring program are largely unmet if either party does not want to be there. Instead of requiring participation, Human Resources can advertise the benefits of a mentor partnership and encourage active participation. To take this a step further, consider whether you want to match mentors or get participants involved in the selection process. The Harvard Business Review article, “Why Your Mentorship Program Isn’t Working,” posits that assigned mentors report little benefit. In fact, the best mentor relationships develop organically while on assignments, projects, or at networking events. How can you provide opportunities for mentorship to develop naturally?
Employees could use some additional support considering the work climate changes resulting from the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. A strong mentor relationship at work can lead to increased job satisfaction, psychological safety, and self-esteem. A program with such positive benefits deserves to be crafted with care. Create a bespoke mentoring program that benefits your mentee and mentor population by avoiding the program pitfalls noted above.
Comaford, C. (July 3, 2019). 76% Of People Think Mentors Are Important, But Only 37% Have One. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecomaford/2019/07/03/new-study-76-of-people-think-mentors-are-important-but-only-37-have-one/?sh=4fcf136e4329
Johnson, W., Smith, D., and Haythornwaite, J. (July 17, 2020). Why Your Mentorship Program Isn’t Working. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/07/why-your-mentorship-program-isnt-working