Five Mentoring Program Mistakes to Avoid

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Avoid Mentoring Program Mistakes

Every organization wants a more engaged, more productive, and overall happier workforce. And research in the talent development industry increasingly demonstrates the organizational benefits of mentoring – especially because mentoring supports multiple goals such as:

  • Providing career development opportunities
  • Sharing tacit company knowledge
  • Supporting diversity & inclusion efforts
  • Improving the onboarding experience

Running a mentoring program isn’t as complicated as it may initially seem. But whether you’re planning a new program or you have an existing program, you can still learn from our experience to learn five mentoring program mistakes to avoid to ensure a smoother path to mentoring program success.

Skipping the Business Alignment Step 

Beyond making employees happier, your program should drive business objectives – it’s what your leadership will want to see. When you’re competing for resources with departments like marketing or sales, it’s important to demonstrate that your program helps achieve a clearly defined objective. Approach your program from this direction and map your design and program goals to this target. Clearly stating this alignment will encourage executive sponsorship too!

Here’s a quick example: Your enterprise has lower-than-desired levels of employee engagement as measured by the annual Gallup survey. Dig deep into your survey data to identify the root causes of low engagement and position your mentoring program to address these.

Is engagement low because people don’t feel well-connected with others in the organization? Make the goal of your mentoring program decreasing silos and encouraging communication and connection across teams and departments.

Is engagement low because people don’t feel they have advancement opportunities? Then focus your program on career and competency development. Now that you know exactly what you’re aiming to achieve, you have some guide rails for designing the program.

Not Defining Your Program Goals 

Once you have a clear organizational objective, it’s tempting to start designing or restructuring the program. Not yet! Define how you’ll measure program success so you can show that the program did, in fact, help achieve organizational objectives. Talk to your program sponsor about what data will help him/her defend the program and renew it when the time comes. Then, design towards these success metrics.

Let’s build on the example above: Your goal is increasing employee engagement by focusing on career development and competency building for participants. How will you know that participation in the mentoring program helped users develop their careers and feel more engaged? The answer will depend on your organization, but can include some of the following:

  • Comparing Gallup results for program participants and a control group to see if they score higher in the career opportunities question.
  • Follow the participant group to see if they have higher promotion rates compared to the control group.
  • Follow the group to see if retention is higher compared to controls, since retention is a strong proxy for engagement

Not Providing Enough Support 

Mentoring isn’t necessarily an intuitive exercise for mentors, mentees, and even program admins. The challenge can stem from several areas, including communication skill gaps, understanding program expectations, familiarity with software if you’re using it, and competing priorities. It’s important to understand what challenges your users may experience and build support into your program. Hold focus groups, run a pilot, and do your research to anticipate participant needs.

Not Listening to Participant Feedback 

How will you know how your program is doing? Program participants have a lot to share about their experience in your mentoring program. Use this golden feedback to demonstrate the benefits of the program, understand any changes that might make it more effective, and share success stories to build excitement for future participants. We suggest you incorporate surveys, lunchtime round tables, and end-of-program reviews.  Be sure to collect feedback along the way, too. Don’t wait till the end of the program to discover participant needs.

Not Measuring Results 

In today’s world of business analytics, “everyone likes it” is no longer a viable metric. To demonstrate program success or opportunities for running it better next time, make sure you actually collect the data identified in #2 above. If your program meets the target numbers, you have plenty of leverage to keep going. If your program falls short, your active tracking of opportunities will show that you’re working towards improvement. Either way, it’s beneficial to measure the data so don’t skip this last step!

Conclusion

A mentoring program is an exciting, measurable way to provide your employees with great opportunities and strengthen your organization. Be thoughtful about why you’ve decided to start it and know what you’re aiming to accomplish before you begin designing or redesigning. Chances are, you’ll learn a lot in your first run of the program. Learning about these five mentoring program mistakes to avoid will ensure that you can learn from the experience and build a strong mentoring program. Happy mentoring!

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