You’d expect most companies with established mentoring programmes to give an unequivocal yes, but the reality is that most organizations don’t know. So here are some basic indicators to consider. Highly effective mentoring programmes:
- Deliver substantial learning for at least 95% of mentees and at least 80% of mentors
- Lead to at least one third higher retention amongst people mentored than peers, who are not
- Demonstrate measurable improvements in mentee job commitment, engagement and relationships at work (particularly with their bosses!)
- Improve and reinforce mentors’ confidence and ability in coaching their own direct reports
- Provide useful insights into people management undercurrents – broader issues that can lead to improvements in HR policies and processes
- Give leaders greater confidence in succession plans
- In the context of diversity management, have a clear and substantial contribution towards the achievement of equal opportunity targets and have a measurable impact on cultural awareness
The issue becomes more complicated, when there are numerous mentoring programmes across different divisions, regions and cultures. Achieving consistency of mentoring quality, while allowing adaptation of programmes to the local context, can be a tough challenge.
The experience of a wide range of international organizations indicates that getting right this balance between quality (as measured by outcomes and by overall value for money) and local adaptation requires the following steps:
- Understand and acknowledge what is there already. Typically, there is a wide variation in:
- Programme purpose and audience
- The professionalism of approaches
- The mentoring model used (for example, from highly directive to highly person-centred and non-directive)
- Mode of delivery (face to face or virtual)
- Duration of relationships
- The amount and quality of training mentors and mentees receive
- The level of formality/informality of programme structure
- Understanding of the role of mentoring programme manager
- How people are matched
- What continuing support is available for participants
- How success is measured (if at all)
It’s important to recognise that this diversity is both a strength and a weakness – and to re-assure the HR and leadership communities in each area that the intention is to build on an update what they have started, in line with international good practice.
One simple way to understand what is there is to commission an expert survey, which will pull out all of these themes and many more. Another, which can also be used in parallel, is to ask the manager of each programme to complete the self-assessment guide for the International Standards for Mentoring Programmes in Employment.
- Re-affirm the business case and role for mentoring
Mentoring may be seen (sometimes by both HR and line managers) as a nice-to-have rather than a significant contributor to achieving business objectives. Defining clearly how mentoring should contribute to the business creates a platform for helping people understand how to get the most out of mentoring programmes and relationships. It’s also essential in creating robust measures of mentoring return on investment.
- Create a clear template for mentoring programmes.
This should cover all processes, from recruitment and selection of participants, through matching and re-matching, training, on-going support, through to winding up and evaluation.
Key questions here are:
- What is it important to be consistent on?
- What can be left to the discretion of local programme managers? (In which, case, what additional guidance do they need?)
- How can we ensure we incorporate learning from global experience and good practice?
A steering group really helps here. Ideally, it will be represent different cultures, different mentoring applications and both HR and other stakeholders.
- Create a flexible but robust training programme for mentors and mentees.
Good practice here involves having a core of generic materials and messages, plus a portfolio of optional materials, which can be used according to how well they fit the programme purpose and context. This ensures that:
- There is a common understanding of what mentoring is about, what mentor and mentee should expect of each other, and the competencies of being an effective mentor or mentee
- The level and duration of training can be adapted to the participants and the programme purpose
- The presentation of training can be adapted to the local cultural. (For example, the Mentor story is a European construct; other cultures often react better to myths more deeply rooted in their own cultures.)
Effective training materials tend to be very straightforward and designed so that they can easily be adapted to other languages and contextualised.
- Develop and support a training resource and a programme management resource with a real understanding of mentoring.
It’s easy – and wrong – to assume that mentoring is pretty simple. Yet some of the leading lights in coaching refer to mentoring as “coaching plus” – meaning that effective mentors need all the skills of a good coach, plus a number of others. A train the trainer programme for mentoring trainers is essential in achieving consistent quality. Alternatively, the global network of Coaching and Mentoring International provides an external resource of highly professional and knowledgeable mentoring trainer-consultants.
Good practice also includes educating mentoring programme managers. A basic course takes two days and equips them with an understanding of all the processes required to design and maintain a high-functioning mentoring programme.
- Provide continuing support for participants and programmes
This is where a centralised database of additional resources comes in. Typically, this will include self-diagnostics, tools and techniques, more detailed explanations of aspects of mentoring, as well as materials specific to different mentoring applications. It may also include video demonstrations of effective mentoring and application of mentoring techniques. This resource may be supplemented by local materials (including in other languages), as long as they are consistently “on-message”.
The support resource can usually be integrated with any IT platform used to manage matching and programme logistics; and with products, such as Mentormaster, designed to steer new mentors step by step through virtual mentoring conversations. Note particularly, like any other piece of IT, automating a set of poorly functioning, inadequately consistent mentoring processes is unlikely to lead to greater value for money from mentoring. Better first to get the mentoring processes right, then import a platform to support these.
Recommended good practice includes appointing an overall international manager of mentoring, tasked with guiding local programme managers and acting as a focal point for communicating with senior leaders about mentoring.
- Monitoring and evaluating programme quality.
Good practice here is to have a relatively unobtrusive generic process for measuring what is happening at both relationship and programme level. To this, each programme or region can add specific measures that relate to programme purpose or context.
The ISMPE award, as a measure of programme quality, can be applied for either company-wide or for specific programmes.
- Sharing learning and experiences.
One of the downsides of imposing a “one model fits all” approach is that it decreases innovation and runs counter to the learning environment that underpins mentoring. Creating a forum for exchanging experience in delivering mentoring programmes and training harnesses the diversity of initiatives, while maintaining the integrity of the company’s overall mentoring philosophy and practice. It can be useful to have within this community one or two people who are linked into mentoring research and evolving good practice internationally.
The bottom line
Mentoring is typically part of the answer to difficult business and people management challenges, rather than the whole answer. So it tends to be one element in a wider package of interventions. The problem is that this piecemeal, case-by-case approach isn’t very cost effective and leads to a lot of confusion about mentor and mentee roles, skills, boundaries and expectations of each other.
The following mentoring questions help to put the issue into perspective:
- What would be the financial impact, if all your mentoring programmes resulted in at least 33% higher retention of mentored employees?
- What’s the cost of duplication of effort between mentoring programmes?
- What’s the cost of people not having access to a mentor when they need one (in terms of retention, motivation, performance and so on)
- What’s the wastage cost of mentoring relationships that don’t work? (Taking into account time of all parties; and potential for disillusioned mentees to become less committed to the organization)
- What’s the value of line managers using mentoring as a safe place to practice development conversations outside their teams?
The investment in bringing coherence and cohesion into mentoring provision isn’t huge (for a global corporation, the external costs are typically about US $100,000 and internal costs about the same) but the pay-off in terms of return on investment typically exceeds this within the first year. Implementing all the eight items above will greatly increase the chances of ensuring that all your mentoring programmes, wherever they are in the world, consistently deliver a high level of outcomes, with resultant financial benefits for the organization.