Successful mentoring reaps dividends

Business Times, Tuesday, 15th May 2012

If executed well, mentoring can be harnessed as a powerful professional development tool. Here’s how to create a successful mentoring programme within your organisation

IMAGINE if you were taken under a senior manager’s wing as you started your new job. You were given an insider’s perspective on the inner workings of the company, as well as a ready support system that you could tap on without having to spend time “feeling” your way around the organisation’s culture.
Don’t you think you would have enjoyed a smoother, less stressful onboarding process if you had been assigned a mentor from Day One?

Employees are every company’s greatest asset so it’s in your best interest to develop them to their fullest potential. If executed well, a successful mentoring programme is an effective method to enhance the professional growth of your people.

In essence, mentoring is the sharing of knowledge with the aim of furthering the career development of both mentor and mentee, creating a win-win relationship between the two.

Mentoring incorporates a coaching framework that helps to identify the mentee’s skill gaps as well as address their behaviours that need to be changed, improved or removed.

Mentoring doesn’t necessarily need to occur from the first day of an employee’s job. It can be implemented at any stage of a person’s career as it helps them to have a clearer understanding of their career path and better navigate the route to their professional goals.
It also gives the mentee greater knowledge of the factors that contribute to career success within the organisation as the mentee has direct access to the senior level perspectives and experiences of the mentor.

For a mentoring programme to be successful, mentors and mentees need to participate voluntarily. Forcing individuals to be part of the programme is simply counterproductive to what you are trying to achieve. You can imagine how a reluctant mentor’s negative attitude will rub off on the mentee and the destructive effects it will have on the morale of both.

Conversely, a mentee who has been coerced to participate will grow to resent the company and may even sabotage the process.
In addition to the tips above, here’s a 10-step guide for you to get started on creating a successful mentoring programme within your organisation.

Step 1: Determine your mentoring needs
First and foremost, you should determine why you are planning a mentoring programme. What are the qualitative and quantitative outcomes you intend to achieve?

You need to also ascertain if your organisation has the capacity to carry one out successfully. Identify the number and type of employees (junior professionals, middle managers, etc) who want to build relationships with, and learn from, senior management, especially those high-potential employees the company wants to groom for leadership positions.

At the other end of the spectrum, you need to ascertain whether such senior level individuals are willing to participate in the programme and are able to commit their time for this purpose.
Also, will the mentoring be structured on a one-on-one basis, in a group format or even conducted solely via e-mail?

Step 2: Build support
Don’t assume that everyone in your organisation will be supportive of this idea – despite its many benefits. Thus, it is important for you to draw up and present a clear business case to justify the need for a mentoring initiative.

Draft an internal marketing plan to win approval from senior management as well as champion and promote the programme throughout your organisation. Your plan should include an organisational rationale, expected outcomes, required staff, budget/resources needed, action steps, timeline, and method for evaluation.

Step 3: Select the right mentors
Just because an individual has clocked a certain number of years with your company doesn’t mean he or she would automatically make a good mentor.
A mentor should be someone who is respected, successful, and understands the culture of the organisation as they will play the role of a guide or counsellor. They must also be willing to commit their time and share their knowledge freely.

Step 4: Pair them up properly
Think of yourself as a matchmaker in a dating agency, because the success of the programme hinges on a strong working relationship between mentor and mentee.

You need to ensure that there is good chemistry between the two individuals and that both parties understand each other’s communication styles, strengths, and limitations. Thus, it is helpful to conduct a behavioural assessment on both parties beforehand.

Perfect matching, however, is not about pairing similar people, which is a natural tendency. It is important to embrace diversity as it helps bridge the gap between racial, gender, cultural, and other differences.

Step 5: Set specific goals
Before they embark on the programme, both mentor and mentee should work in tandem to establish specific objectives they want to achieve through this initiative. Goals can include meeting certain sales targets or working towards getting the mentee promoted to a particular position.

Step 6: Establish the parameters
It is also important to establish the parameters around the mentor- mentee relationship at the outset. Time commitments and time limits ought to be discussed – the mentor must set aside adequate time for the mentee but the latter should not expect excessive amounts or abuse this privilege.

The pair should also decide in advance how and where communication will take place. Will there be regularly scheduled meetings? Will discussions take place face-to-face, over the phone or even via e-mail? It’s best to set a schedule at the beginning that outlines the number and frequency of meetings each month.

Both parties need to make their preferences known from the start and reach an acceptable compromise if they differ.

Step 7: Conduct an orientation programme
Orientation is critical to the success of the mentoring programme as an emotional bond should be created between the two individuals to enhance the success of the programme.

This is where the duo can come together to discuss Steps 5 and 6, as well as clarify expectations and share any concerns either party may have.
During the orientation, participants will also need to be taught how to be effective mentors and mentees, based on a common understanding such as the need for both parties to be open, honest, and respectful towards each other.

It is important for the mentor to be aware of the need for him or her to share knowledge freely and not withhold important information.

Constructive feedback should be delivered to the mentee with honesty and tact.

On the part of the mentee, he or she should have an open mind and not take the feedback personally, even if it may be negative and hurtful. This requires both parties to be vulnerable at times, sharing successes and failures in a safe environment.

To create a safe environment, the duo must ensure confidentiality – the mentee, especially, needs to feel confident that discussions are not relayed to his or her immediate supervisor or manager.

Step 8: Make them commit
Everyone who enters into a mentoring relationship must be made to sign an agreement that commits them for a certain period of time; preferably a minimum of three to six months. Having said that, however, each party ought to be given the opportunity to obtain a no-fault split should the relationship not work for valid reasons.

Step 9: Monitor the progress
Establish a system for monitoring the programme. Contact the pairs (or mentoring group) on a regular basis to find out how the relationship is progressing. Offer guidance and support as needed and should a conflict arise, address the issue immediately.

Step 10: Evaluate the programme
After the programme ends its run, ask the participants to evaluate their experience. Did they achieve their goals? What worked well? What could have been done better? What recommendations would they make for future mentoring initiatives?

The organisation should also assess the success of the programme: How have the mentees progressed in the organisation? For example, have their skills and abilities been enhanced, resulting in them being promoted faster than their colleagues who did not participate in the programme?

Do also incorporate a mechanism for participants to provide feedback on their relationship with the other party and on the programme in general.

Ultimately, your goal should be to create a framework such that the mentoring programme becomes an employee-inspired, employee-generated one, year after year.

Ronald Lee
Managing Director
PrimeStaff Management Services Pte Ltd

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