How to Create Mentorship Programs that Don’t Fail

               Mentorships are a powerful tool to help one’s personal and professional life while serving as a great opportunity to build relations. It is driven by a bond where the mentor and mentee engage in one-on-one conversations to provide direction, advice, training, support, motivation and clarity. 

               To an organization, mentorship programs can be a powerful tool to build relations, enhance retention rates, improve job satisfaction, upskill employees and drive better career development. Yet, many fail to accomplish that. Many factors can impact this outcome, whether be it inadequate processes and logistics, incentive misalignments or differing expectations. This article will focus on some of the key areas that lead to suboptimal mentorship and some steps that can be done to ease the process.

Failure to provide baseline support to facilitate relationship building

               Organizations will oftentimes fail to provide a basic set of services that allows for meaningful connection and relationship building. For example, their ability to match mentors and mentees can oftentimes be suboptimal, in part because it can be difficult to determine interested parties and the variables that can enhance the mentorship value. 

               In some places, there are also challenges providing the environment and “coffee/ time budget” to diminish some of the attrition factors that can hinder mentorship growth. At times, organizations will even become imposing on their expectations towards the mentor-mentee relationship, breaking the natural path that mentorship programs can have.

Challenges defining expectations from the start

               Relations are heavily built upon implied expectations and some explicit ones. For a mentorship, unless it has begun from a naturally built relationship, it can be essential to emphasize explicit expectations from its inception. This allows both mentor and mentee to reach a healthy consensus of how to move forward. Failure to do so can lead to misalignments with further rifts and rapid dissolution of the mentorship.

               For the organization, it can be helpful to provide a list of mentorship relationship types, the expectations that are often associated with it and potential questions to get the conversation started. Some organizations can benefit from providing an ‘Action Items’ tracker to help mentors and mentees keep track of key progressions. This can serve as a baseline for the conversations that mentors and mentees may have.

Expectation refinement as the mentorship evolves

               Life can take individuals in a variety of directions. This means that the mentorship relation should be expected to change too. Whether the career takes a mentor to another country, the mutual benefit has seized to exist or sometimes the relationship has evolved from mentorship to a friendship. Changes are bound to happen, failure to reassess and refine expectations can often lead to a misalignment that causes unnecessary discomfort for one or both parties. Organizations can often address this situation by providing direct support or referring articles to participants that can help them through their path.

A lack of fit between mentor and mentee

               Different mentees and mentors will look for different types of mentorship relations. It is important to build a mentorship program and mentorship partnership that ensures there is a fit between both parties. This means understanding some of the current challenges that the mentee faces, the type of support or knowledge that a mentor can provide and many more. 

               In some cases, a profile or a short meet-up can help both sides gain a solid understanding of what they are getting into. A pre-screening can also be conducted by organizations in the form of surveys to better understand the expectations of both parties and mediate the process to some extent. It is ok to not move forward with a mentor/ mentee if it is not a fit, both sides should be ready for that.

Non-linear distribution in expectation throughout the mentorship growth

               As a mentor, it is to be expected that the mentee will have spikes in their need for guidance. Yet, many expect to tap into the mentor’s knowledge as soon as possible, or without solidifying a rapport in the relationship, sometimes creating an undue amount of pressure for the mentor to perform and to give clarity and succinct solutions to an individual’s challenge. 

               Both parties must be cognizant of each other’s abilities, expectations, and hurdles. Organizations facilitating the interaction may ease the burden by providing articles, videos, and blog posts on the topic that can guide the relationship process and discuss hurdles faced by both parties.

A lack of interest in relationship building from either party

               Relationships are a two-way street, it requires constant flow, care, and maintenance. When one of the parties is disengaged, mentorship quality and its outcomes are impacted. At times, part of the issue is derived by the environment created by mentorship programs where enterprises build an incentive mechanism that partially distorts the value proposition that mentorship has. 

               Both the mentor and the mentee need to be willing and able to raise concerns and part ways if necessary. Mentees need to understand that it is a two-way street – they can also provide value to mentors by being active, helpful listeners, and showing eagerness. Mentors, need to understand that background and environment play a key factor in their mentees’ path and, as such, they must readjust their expectations. 

               Be mindful not jump into conclusions when someone seems absent at some point. It may be that they have other major events in their lives impacting them. Building a good relationship can help to ameliorate challenges of this nature.

Limited to no clarity in the methods of communication

               Baring extraneous circumstances, nobody likes getting a call at 3 a.m. on Tuesday to ask a question that could have been answered via text or e-mail by 11 a.m. Ensuring that the methods of communication and expectations associated with it are clear can help ensure that the mentorship relationship lasts longer. Clarity can go a long way even when the rules of engagement were not initially set. For instance, giving pardon to one sidestep is ok but one should also make it clear why that behaviour is not acceptable/ fitting. The organization should strive to provide examples of what is advisable to do/not do when it comes to mentorship communication.

Failure to listen and contextualize feedback (from both parties)

               Most people are naturally judgmental of their surroundings, whether positively or negatively. Be mindful of that as the conversation moves on and aim to contextualize certain opinions, actions, lack of action to the best of one’s abilities. Context matters and unless voluntarily provided without bias, it is quite unlikely and unreasonable to expect that someone guesses correctly what reasoning was behind X action. In relationships of this nature, listening and being there for the person can be 80% of the work.

    Aim to create an enjoyable environment for both parties

                   Relationships can grow when both parties perceive their time together in a positive way. To do so, it can be beneficial to crack jokes (if the conditions allow it), talk about other matters such as hobbies and engage the individual on some of the things that they are excited about. When both parties take this step, the mentorship quality and experience can grow exponentially. It is important to see the other individual as not a “means” to achieve something and to be sure to treat them well.

    Give back both within the mentorship relation and the mentorship program.

                   There comes a time when a mentee has gained a certain amount of experience in which s/he should ask “Am I ready to give back?” If the answer is yes, be sure to engage with the same mentorship program that has helped you flourish or find another program that you feel you can have an impact on. Most importantly, be sure to let your mentor know at least a little bit of what they have done to help you achieve personal or professional growth. Checking in once or twice every year with an article that made you think of that person or simply to ask how they are doing can be quite powerful and can help maintain the relationship strong.

                   Organizations should strive to build a mentorship program that keeps on giving, helping to solidify their retention rates, facilitating relationship building and helping to grow the leaders of tomorrow.


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