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Mentoring programme standards for designing a mentoring programme that Works*

Mentoring programme standards for designing a mentoring programme that Works*

By Sally Armstrong


1. Introduction

A question on the lips of many HR Professionals of late is: What are the secrets to ensuring a great mentoring programme? Answers abound, sometimes it’s about ensuring a corporate fit, getting senior management buy-in, proper selection, matching strategies, and commonly – adequate training, development and expectations management for all involved.

Looking at mentoring programme standards and benchmarks is a good place to start. Based on our experience of delivering programmes in a wide range of organisations we have developed the following standards that we apply in designing and implementing successful mentoring programmes.

2. Mentoring programme standards

The following are key design criteria for a mentoring programme that works:

a. Begin with the end in mind

b. Design programmes with a corporate fit

c. Get senior management buy-in

d. Provide incentives

e. Prepare all participants

f. Set clear boundaries

g. Incorporate a goals focus

h. Select and match like the programme depends on it

i. Evaluate and innovate regularly

j. Engage an experienced and committed programme manager

a. Begin with the end in mind

Beginning with the end in mind gives your programme a clear focus to underpin the design process. Start with clear programme objectives and desired benefits for all involved - the mentors, the mentees, the line-managers and the organisation. Create clarity for all by stating programme expectations at the outset and including these in promotional and training materials.

Once expectations are clear, the design needs to match resources to the expectations. Cutting corners on training and support resources can spoil even the best programme design so be realistic about what you want to achieve and what resources you are able to commit to meeting this.

b. Design programmes with a corporate fit

The right corporate fit needs to permeate all aspects of the programme design. Don’t base a programme on a previously successful programme without accounting for the unique needs of the participant group. Communication and training practices within the organisation, politics, and organisational structures also need to be considered.

Get the corporate fit right by starting with a small and closely monitored pilot programme. This will allow for tailoring and refining the tools, resources, and programme design along the way.

A committed and experienced programme facilitator will spend adequate time with the organisation’s internal HR team to determine the corporate fit of a programme for your organisation.

They should be asking questions about the unique needs of your organisation, the key stakeholders, participants, previous experiences with mentoring, challenges, communication channels, training preferences, protocol, and internal politics.

c. Get senior management buy-in

Senior management needs to take an active role in promoting the mentoring programme. This includes officially launching the programme, introducing training workshops, and being pro-active in the evaluation and implementation phases.

Commitment of senior management increases the credibility and reputation of the programme within the organisation. It is also an incentive that enhances the buy-in of participants.

d. Provide incentives

Experience shows that the most effective mentoring programmes are generally those where participation is voluntary. This ensures that both mentors and mentees are internally motivated to participate. When a mentoring programme is designed to target a particular group of participants there are ways of harnessing voluntary participation. This can be done in the promotional phase of the programme by communicating incentives such as programme outcomes and benefits. Incentives can also include senior management support, social and peer support for participants, training and development opportunities, and linking involvement into performance and development plans.

e. Prepare all participants

Thorough preparation includes appropriate training for all participants - the mentors, mentees and the line managers. Tailored training at the programme’s outset is important. This needs to be supported with training and skills development at regular intervals.

Regular training provides opportunities to monitor programme effectiveness and the success of the mentoring pairings. It also provides opportunities for peer interaction, sharing of experiences, and means of managing expectations among the mentor and mentee groups. Training and group interaction activity has proven popular and valuable in mentoring programme evaluation.

f. Set clear boundaries

Programme design and materials need to set clear boundaries around the mentoring relationship. This includes practical issues such as the time participants need to allocate for the meetings, training and development, programme length, and graceful exit points throughout the programme.

Training should also cover agreements about the relationship, confidentiality, methods of communication, and feedback. Regular training intervals provide the opportunity for checking-in and reminding participants about boundaries and ensuring the right foundation for the mentoring partnerships.

g. Incorporate a focus on goals

A common complaint in many mentoring programmes is a lack of focus or structure. Without a focus, mentoring programmes that start with a bang can quickly deteriorate into chats over a cup of coffee. While the social and informal aspects of a mentoring relationship are important, an effective way of sustaining motivation is to have a clear goal achievement process underpinning the programme. This way there are clear objectives for all participants to ensure that energy and momentum are sustained. The resultant achievement of goals for participants can also then be evaluated as part of the programme return on investment (ROI).

h. Select and match like the programme depends on it

Strategies and selection and matching should be clearly defined. Whether matching is based on skills-gap analysis, succession and development planning, or type indicators, an effective process needs to be in place.

Matching is usually a combination of formal and informal strategies, taking learning styles, preferences and personalities into account. Where possible there should be an element of choice built in to the matching, this is particularly important for the mentees and a way of building programme buy-in among participants.

i. Evaluate and innovate regularly

Regular evaluation and innovation ensures a dynamic programme that is relevant to participant needs. Evaluation points need to be built into the programme design at regular intervals. Ensure that all participants -- mentors, mentees, line-managers, internal HR professionals, and senior management -- have the opportunity to provide feedback and include this in the evaluation reports.

An experienced programme facilitator will be on the lookout for innovation opportunities and won’t get stuck on a programme design because it worked previously. Participants need to see programme changes resulting from their input so when you do get a good suggestion implement the change at the first opportunity. With the current rate of organisational change, staying alert to changing needs within an organisation and a participant group is crucial to the success of a programme.

j. Engage an experienced and committed programme facilitator

Perhaps the most important step in ensuring a successful programme is engaging a programme facilitator who is a mentoring specialist. General consultants who are willing to try their hand at mentoring should experiment in their own time and not with your reputation or employees.

3. How do you choose an experienced and committed programme facilitator?

Firstly, ensure he/she has formal training in mentoring. Related training in goal achievement, adult learning and workplace training & assessment are also relevant.

Next, check the facilitator’s track record in delivering successful mentoring programmes in organisations similar to yours. Ask for referees and do your own detective work. Speak to the HR and Organisational Development professionals they have worked with and if possible some of the programme participants.

Once you have established knowledge, training and expertise, ask how the facilitator ensures successful programme design. Question their evaluation and reporting processes and how they plan to demonstrate ROI.

Ask to see some of the tools and resources they use, looking at the mentoring manuals and development handbooks can give you a good snapshot of their programme design.

Establish the level of on-going support. A committed and experienced programme facilitator will ensure on-going support for the duration of the programme and will be available to meet with you and your internal staff as the need arises. Finally ask yourself how you feel about working with this person or persons. Programme success will also depend on their relationship with you and the other HR staff in your organisation. Feel free to use these programme standards as a benchmark for assessing potential programme facilitators.

Sally Armstrong is a Principal Consultant with Oystercorp, coaching and can be contacted at sally@oystercorp.com ; +61 3 9685 7578 - Australia.

* Reprinted by permission of Link & Learn, a free e-newsletter published by Linkage, Inc;

LinkandLearn@Linkage-Inc.com ; www.LinkageInc.com

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Gary Watkins

Gary Watkins

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