Mentoring has long been recognised as a highly effective development tool. So much so that according to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies have formal mentorship programmes in place.
The business benefits of mentoring are well documented; a greater ability to attract talent as well as retain it, more effective succession planning and knowledge transfer, higher levels of productivity through improved engagement levels and job satisfaction as well as providing employees with clarity on how they can contribute to the success of the organisation through improved confidence and self-awareness.
However, as any HR or Learning and Development professional will attest, successful mentoring programmes don’t happen by chance. They require continual investment of time and effort by all parties – the organisation, mentors and mentees – to truly realise the benefits.
The 3 C’s of Effective Mentoring Programmes
Successful and effective mentoring programmes are based around the following principles: Clarity, Communication and Commitment. And here we will explain what we mean by these:
Clarity of purpose is vital. Deciding exactly what need your mentoring programme will support ensures that the right mentors can be identified, the right measures can be put in place and the right expectations are set with mentees. Examples of mentoring programmes include; onboarding, development (skills and leadership), career progression, new job transition and diversity to name but a few. Each mentoring programme should be distinct, with clear objectives and measures in place to evaluate its impact and success.
Clarity of understanding i.e. what mentoring is and what it is not will also ensure that organisations select the right development intervention for the business and its employees. Unsurprisingly, confusion still exists between mentoring and coaching, despite the purpose, approach and outcome of each being very different. This links back to clearly defining the programme’s purpose and what needs you are seeking to address.
Clarity of skills required by potential mentors will improve the overall effectiveness of your mentoring programme. This requires a process for identifying mentors and developing their skills. For many, being asked to become a mentor is seen as recognition of an individual’s capability and reputation within the organisation; however, this does not mean that they automatically possess the skills needed to be an effective mentor. Investing time in establishing your bench of skilled mentors is therefore a must. Key skills to focus on developing include: building rapport and trust, effective listening, questioning and providing feedback.
- Building rapport and trust – most mentoring relationships will be based on similarities, whether that be specific skills that a mentee wants to develop, a chosen career path or wanting to better navigate an organisation. And whilst these shared areas of interest will assist, building rapport requires an ability to put yourself in the mentee’s shoes and to try to understand what they are thinking, how they feel and what it is they want.
- Effective listening – this is one of the most important skills a mentor must master. While the purpose of the mentoring relationship may be to advise and guide based on their expertise, it is also about listening to any challenges your mentee may be facing. This requires active listening; listening to the ENTIRE message that the other person is trying to communicate and involves different levels of ‘listening’:
- Listen with your ears – what is being said and what tone is being used?
- Listen with your eyes – what is the person doing with his/her body while speaking?
- Listen with your instincts – do you sense that the person is not communicating something important?
- Listen with your heart- what do you think the other person feels?
- Questioning – Ultimately the quality of the answers you receive reflects the quality of the questions you ask. Knowing how to phrase questions that provoke thought will help mentors to delve deeper and better support mentees.
- Feedback – mentors need to grasp the technique of providing inspirational feedback; feedback that compels the mentee into action. This requires the mentor to:
- Inform – break through limitations;
- Champion – recognise and motivate;
- Challenge – increase performance;
- Have the “difficult” conversations.
- All at once!
Once you’ve clarified the purpose of your mentoring programme and identified how you will develop mentors’ skills, the next step is to identify potential mentors to support your programme. For many organisations, ideal mentors are typically business leaders and normally some of the busiest people in the business. Therefore a strong communication plan that explains the individual benefits of becoming a mentor as well as how the programme will support the organisation is key to attracting a broad range of potential mentors that reflects the diversity of your workforce and mentees.
Equally it is important to communicate your mentoring programme to line managers and employees. Clarifying the role of the mentoring programme to line managers will help to overcome any concerns they may have over their role versus that of the mentor. For employees, marketing your mentoring programme internally will help to demonstrate how the business is committed to and is supporting continuous learning as well as explaining how they can access support.
Commitment refers to the organisation, mentors and mentees. For mentoring programmes to be truly effective there needs to be ongoing commitment. Organisations need to understand that establishing a mentoring programme is a positive but big commitment. It requires ongoing development as well as enabling those involved time to invest in the mentoring relationship as well as recognition that results may take time to manifest themselves. For mentors, it requires commitment of their time to really support mentees. Proper reflection needs to be given to just how much time can be devoted to mentoring to avoid meetings being cancelled and mentees becoming disillusioned and disengaged with the programme. And finally, mentoring programmes require commitment from the mentee to ensure they gain the most out of the relationship. This involves preparation such as clarifying what you want from the relationship as well as committing to taking action between sessions.