Creating a Mentoring Culture: A Conversation with Author Lois Zachary

Lois Zachary is an internationally recognized expert in the field of mentoring. Having authored several books, including Creating a Mentoring Culture: An Organization’s Guide, Zachary has spent her career honing best practices for mentors and mentees and providing organizations tried and true strategies for deploying impactful mentoring programs. As part of our Author Series during the Chronus Summer Reading Book Giveaway, we asked her to provide advice to organizations who are planning a mentoring program.

Q: What is the value of mentoring to an organization?

Lois: The simple answer is immeasurable!  Mentoring drives recruitment of future talent. It contributes to increased retention rate of leadership talent. It builds and strengthens the talent pipeline. It facilitates strategic alignment of knowledge and integration of key organizational processes. It promotes diversity and inclusion, and nurtures loyalty and commitment to the organization. The list goes on and on.

Q: How do leaders or HR professionals go about embedding mentoring into their culture?

Lois: Embedding mentoring is a process and it takes time, intention and energy. There are no shortcuts. Leaders and HR professionals must:

  • Think seriously and systematically about mentoring, and create cultures to support and strengthen all the mentoring that occurs within their organization.
  • Be personally and organizationally committed to mentoring.
  • Encourage and invite participation by inspiring a shared vision of what is possible through mentoring.
  • Continuously create value for mentoring. Remember it is a work in progress!
  • Build the right infrastructure to support mentoring efforts.
  • Proactively address the succession of mentoring leaders.
  • Practice mentoring excellence themselves. Be the example.

Q: Of the eight hallmarks of mentoring, which is the most overlooked?

Lois: That is a great question! It’s a tie between safety nets and accountability. Both require proactivity. Each hallmark must be addressed from the get-go. The problem is that often organizations do not address each one in the beginning because mentoring task forces and committees wait until their program is operative. So, my advice is to think about (1) safety nets – how do you support mentoring relationships and programs so that everyone has the best chance for success? (2) accountability – specifically define your success factors and determine in advance how you are going to go about measuring them.

Q: Why is it important to set goals and clarify expectations in a mentoring program?

Lois: It is impossible to measure success unless you know how to recognize it. This is true for mentoring cultures and mentoring relationships. The key is to clarify your goals so that everyone is on the same page and there is no ambiguity. Ambiguity can lead to wandering relationships or even disengagement.

Q: How do organizations decide what to measure in a mentoring program without encountering data paralysis?

Lois: They use both quantitative and qualitative measures. They decide on the level of evaluation they seek. They look at participation and the quality of mentoring experience. Here are some things to consider:

  • What short term outcomes are you looking at?
  • Cognitive, affective, behavioral?
  • What are your long-term organizational outcomes from mentoring? For your programs? For your mentors and mentees?

Q: What are the top 3 things that can cause a mentoring program to fail?

Lois: It’s hard to pinpoint just three, but for starters?

  1. Lack of training. Good intention is not enough, your mentors have to be capable, committed and well trained.
  2. Lack of buy in and commitment from senior leaders.
  3. Fuzzy program goals.

Q: What are the benefits of a formal mentoring program vs. an informal mentoring program?

Lois: Both are beneficial and important to support. So, it is not about “vs” or either/or. It is “both/and.” Today’s organizations need to support and pay attention to informal AND formal mentoring taking place among their employees. Raising the bar on practice for informal mentoring enriches all the mentoring that goes on within the organization.

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Dr.-Lois-J.-ZacharyLois Zachary’s innovative mentoring approaches and expertise in coaching leaders and their organizations in designing, implementing, and evaluating learner-centered mentoring programs have been used globally by a wide array of clients, including Fortune 100 companies, government organizations, and educational and other institutions, both profit and nonprofit.

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