The 5 most common mentoring program mistakes to avoid

By Robert Half on 7 August 2018

The benefits of a mentoring program are well-documented: When you give new employees one-on-one time with experienced employees, your junior and mid-level staff members not only gain knowledge about the company and the industry. They also advance their careers and have an easier time finding their way in the workplace.

Having a successful mentoring program in place will help build a better work culture, improve staff communication, retain top talent and create a high-performing team.

Unfortunately, not every mentoring program does what it sets out to do. When mentorships aren’t properly supported, they can fail, to the frustration of both the mentor and mentee.  

There’s no one-size-fits-all template for effective mentoring. But on your way to empowering your staff — no matter your organisation’s size, industry or workplace culture — it’s a good idea to avoid certain mistakes.

Here are the five most common mentoring program mistakes to avoid:

1. Pairing people at random

It’s never a good idea to make random mentoring matches by picking names out of a hat. Instead, you should first identify possible mentors in your company. Don’t just assume that any senior person is willing to participate in a mentoring program do. Approach candidates to gauge their interest level in serving as a mentor. You want to find people who have the leadership skills, are enthusiastic about the idea, and are willing to commit.

Then, ask potential mentees about their professional interests and long-term goals and what they hope to get out of a mentoring program, either in person or through a survey. Consider uniting the different generations in your workplace. Pair junior employees with tenured ones by considering their interests and personalities. This kind of thoughtful selection process increases the likelihood that the relationship will be beneficial and successful.

2. Failing to define the role of the mentor

Do you want the mentors in your company to be life coaches who meet with their mentees for weekly sessions, or just more-experienced employees your junior staff members can have coffee with every once in a while? It’s important to spell out your expectations at the start, no matter what they are.

Do keep in mind, though, that mentor should not directly supervise or work alongside their mentee. Mentors should offer guidance and direction (or staff training if necessary), but they should not be in a position to tell the mentee what to do or how to do it. Also, every mentorship should have an end date, after which both parties can decide to continue or part ways.

3. Not allowing enough time for mentoring

When the office gets busy, mentoring is often the first thing that gets pushed off everyone’s schedule. And if it’s left on the back burner too long, there’s a chance it’ll end up being forgotten completely.

To help ensure the success of your mentoring program, ask participants to make the relationship a priority. Encourage them to put meeting dates on their calendars and treat them like mandatory events. Consider setting aside some of your department’s budget to reimburse mentors and mentees for lunches they have together. And remind mentors and mentees that there’s value in scheduled phone conversations, just as there is with spontaneous text messages.

4. Treating mentoring as a one-way street

Mentoring is not a monologue, where leaders impart wisdom while followers sit at their feet and take notes. Effective mentoring is a dialogue; mentees often offer valuable insights and information to their mentors as well.

Your mentoring program can push this concept further by introducing reverse mentoring, where a junior member of staff acts as a mentor to someone more experienced. This is often used to help senior employees improve their IT and social media skills, as many millennials have a strong grasp of those realms.

5. Failing to monitor the mentoring program

A good mentoring program must be monitored over time; it’s not something you simply set up and release into the wild, hoping for the best. Make sure you canvas participants on a regular basis to see how the relationship is going and what management can do to make it more successful. Also bear in mind that mentees’ needs and expectations can evolve. When that happens, help them end their present relationships and find someone else who can be a career coach.

A mentoring program is a valuable asset for professionals, regardless of where they are in their career. Help your employees make the best of their mentoring relationships, and watch both new hires and senior staff become stronger, more capable and more satisfied in their jobs.

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