Personal development: who’s mentoring your mentors?

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For mentoring to have successful results, the message your company’s mentors are passing on needs to be aligned with your business goals. Here’s some advice on how to achieve that.

Over the last decade, employee mentoring programmes have demonstrated their strategic worth to organisations, which is why so many businesses, large and small, are establishing mentoring programmes at all levels throughout their organisations.

In fact, three quarters of Fortune 500 companies already invest heavily in employee mentoring programmes – but many of them have overlooked the critical step of making sure that executives and leaders chosen to act as mentors are suitably trained for the role.

Why is that such an important step? Because when a mentor is not aligned with the goals of the programme and the goals of their mentee, the mentoring experience can quickly become a negative one.

The challenge of training an employee mentor

In many cases human resources staff don’t feel comfortable advising senior managers about their roles in the mentoring programme. After all, common sense suggests these veterans of industry know what they’re doing or they wouldn’t have reached their positions.  

It’s worth remembering, however, that professional achievement and the act of disseminating pearls of corporate wisdom are two different animals.

Without guidelines, a mentoring relationship might dissolve into a passionate mentor regaling their mentee about their past accomplishments and ‘war stories’ – none of which is likely to benefit the business, result in increased value, or engage the mentee.

In order to ensure that a mentoring programme is valuable and effective, clear guidelines need to be communicated from the beginning.  

It’s important that the mentor is reminded of the business goals of the programme and that they take special care not to do or say anything that might risk a successful business goal outcome.

As knowledgeable as your mentors might be, they may waste time and resources imparting information that doesn’t ultimately serve the company or the mentee effectively.

If HR staff are uncomfortable laying out these guidelines to senior management, employing a third party to do so instead is often useful.

Begin with an alignment phase

Once a prospective mentor/mentee pairing has been identified, it’s time to familiarise both parties with the company’s aims and the mentee’s individual professional development goals.

These should be developed mutually between mentor and mentee and agreed to in writing on a document that gets referred to throughout the mentoring period.

Make sure any potential conflicts of interest are discussed. Encourage participants to discuss terms of boundaries and expectations.  

A mentee needs to feel comfortable explaining what they need to their mentor, and a mentor must be clear about any topics of conversation that are ‘out-of-bounds’.

Go over the scope and limits of the programme, making sure it’s clear that it is just a part of a larger development programme, and not an all-encompassing 24/7 relationship.

Overall, it’s important that the mentor is reminded of the business goals of the programme and that they take special care not to do or say anything that might risk a successful business goal outcome.

Don’t forget to promote company values and culture

As well as business-focused advice, mentors should ensure that they also impart the importance of company values, as well as being sensitive to issues of workplace diversity and inclusivity.

Mentoring programmes are a good way of maintaining the company’s positive cultural attributes, as well as initiating a culture change for attributes the company wasn’t to shift away from or modify.

Make sure your mentors are aware of these larger business goals so that they become an integral part of the mentoring discourse.

Resist the urge to be too helpful

Mentors often feel obligated to give advice and counsel their mentees even when that advice has not been solicited.  

Rather than coming off as a ‘know-it-all’ who can do no wrong, mentors should be careful about only providing feedback and personal opinions.  

Part of the mentee's process is learning how to sort through business challenges of their own accord.

From CEO to middle manager, all mentors need guidance and oversight when they embark on your employee mentoring programme.

Remind mentors to act more like a sounding board for the mentee, rather than as a sage or oracle who will provide ready solutions.

Using a Socratic approach, asking the mentee questions about possible next-steps or actions is much more helpful to them in the long run.

Mentors need to be good listeners first, not simply solution providers.

Formalise programme feedback

As your mentoring programme gets underway, it’s important to have formal feedback sessions about how the programme is working, addressing what aspects appear to be functioning well and which areas need modification or elimination.

Ask the mentor and mentee to rate themselves in their roles and describe where they feel they could do better. This feedback will be invaluable as your programme grows and evolves.

Provide a reporting mechanism

Be sure your mentors understand that if they learn about any impropriety or sense the mentoring relationship is becoming too personal or counterproductive to the company, that they have a clear channel for reporting their concerns.

Do your research

Finally, from CEO to middle manager, all mentors need guidance and oversight when they embark on your employee mentoring programme.

Be sure to do some research on the topic before deploying your programme.

There are plenty of resources, from online templates to professional third party vendors who have vast experience setting up effective corporate mentorship campaigns.  

This way, your programme will enjoy a strong launch and executive buy-in while keeping the company’s goal in the forefront.

Interested in this topic? Read Five pitfalls to avoid before setting up a mentoring scheme.

About Jenn Labin

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