Mentor Training and Support – Keys to Program Success

By Sharon Givens, MS and Barry Sweeny, Editor



One of the biggest causes of wasted mentor program dollars are ineffective training methods. Too often, mentoring programs rely on lectures, standardized orientations, inspirational speeches or videos, and discussion groups. While these methods may get high marks from participants, research shows they rarely develop the skills needed for effective mentoring. This is so because knowing is not the same as doing. Participants’ good intentions at the end of training are too easily overcome by old habits in the people and the prevaling culture in the organization.

With years of experience as professional trainers, we have recognized that mentors enter training with various skill levels. Training must be developed according to these diverse needs of the participants. This article offers a clear definition of effective training, examines the concept that adequate training of mentors is necessary for the success of any mentoring program, and provides suggestions for development of an effective mentor training.

What is Effective Training?

Much of what people refer to as training is actually education or formal information dissemination. Education is an attempt to give the learners broad information on a subject, but no attempt is made to develop skills. On the other hand, training is the teaching of vocational or practical skills to develop or improve performance. Training forms the core of apprenticeships and provides a solid backbone of content for any particular subject matter. To be effective, training must result in more than just a transfer of knowledge. Actual behavioral changes must result.

The reason many mentoring programs across the world are not successful is because training efforts have failed to produce the desired results. If mentors lack the basic foundational skills necessary to be effective it is often because the “mentor training” is not really training at all, and mentors have not had the opportunity to build the required set of skills. Mentors cannot implement a skill that they have not yet acquired.

Training Essentials

To start with, a mentoring program needs to understand the specific skills a mentor must acquire to succeed. Therefore, mentor training should be designed based on these factors:

  • The Purpose and Goals of the mentoring program – these define the desired result of mentoring;
  • A task analysis defining what the ideal mentor would need to know and DO to deliver the desired result;
  • The assessed needs of the mentors- that is, which of the ideal mentors CAN Do and CAN NOT DO (the gap);
  • A training curriculum and activities designed to develop needed skills the mentors do not already have;
  • Strategies for how to use a developmental model to assess protege needs and design mentoring interventions to meet those needs;
  • Specific evaluative indicators and instruments to measure the extent to which mentors actually DO what they were trained to do. In this way, these data can clarify the need to further refine the training to increase mentors’ perfomance, and to improve attainment of results.

Training content and Methods

> Program Goals and participant needs relative to those Goals.

The information provided during training must have a direct correlation to the Goals of the program and the needs of the participants. The program Goals should define the results. An assessment of training participant needs should clarify mentors’ readiness and openness to learn. Identifying the gap between what mentors can do and need to be able to do will determine what the training must provide.

To design a mentoring training program based on sound learning principles and address the needs of the participants, it should include:

> A realistic scope and developmental sequence

A. The Initial Training typicall addresses assessed mentor needs, that is, the training builds on what they already know, and challenges and supports them in learning what they yet need to know and do. However, even is a training that is just a few hours long, their needs will evolve and those changes must be accounted for in the training design. (See evaluation below)

B. During the life of mentoring programs, it is critical to offer ongoing training sessions in small increments to ensure information has been absorbed and is applied in practice, and that problems that have emerged in practice are solved. Mentors must have continuous opportunities to build allegiance, engage in discussion, solicit support and build skills.

> Clear content

Information to be provided should be designed according to the assessed existing knowledge base of the participants.

Training should include an initial orientation to provide logistical and background information about the program. However, orientation is not considered training, but can serve as an introduction to the training.

The actual training content should include:

  • a precise definition of what effective mentoring is and is not
  • the roles and expectations of mentors
  • relationship building strategies
  • ways to use a developmental model to assess protege needs and design mentoring interventions to meet those
  • mentoring processes and mentoring styles
  • effective communication strategies
  • diversity issues that can occur in mentoring and appropriate strategies to build on the strengths diversity offers teams.
  • For reasons stated later, the program should provide a one page best practice summary of each of the above.

> Appropriate Training Methodology –

Training methods may include:

  • presentations on the content given above
  • provision of applicable material and printed resources
  • a panel discussion with experienced mentors who share their insights and answer new mentors’
  • small and whole group discussions to interact with and clarify the content
  • numerous opportunities, such as exercises and simulations, to practice skills.This also allows program
    leaders to observe mentor candidates for strengths – useful information in later matching
  • The participant practice should include trainer feedback, suggestions for improvements, and further practice
    to refine skills.
  • Demonstrations can also be used to model critical elements and reinforce learning.
  • Finally, it is very helpful to include participant self assessments based on the best practice summaries mentioned above. This ensures that mentors study these statements, and that they evaluate their own strengths against these statements, and reach conclusions about areas for growth. These can conclude in mentor goal setting. This is critical because mentors are practicing the exact steps of reflective practice which they should model for and teach to their proteges.

Training Evaluation

– Using Specific Measures –  Effective training will clearly results in changed behavior. Training that produces tangible, measurable results starts by changing behavior, which ultimately changes attitudes and evolves new skills. Clarity about the desired mentor behaviors should be defined using action-oriented verbs like, “teach”, “assess”, ask”,
or “show”. If this is done, the same verbs should form the basis of the assessment of extent of mentor implementation of training.

If you conduct a mentor training, you may well ask, “How can we know if skills have improved as a result of training?” To assess skill development, a program must do at least THREE things:

1. Assess learner’s skill level before the training starts. This tells you both what they can do before the training has affected their skill level, and it tells the trainers exactly where to start the training so it can build on, rather than ignore the participants’ existing skill levels.

2. Assess learner’s skill level after the training is over. The comparison of the pre and post training scores will tell you if participant skills have improved. The same comparison will also tell you if your training design was effective. If your learners’ skills did not increase, your training needs revision.

However, no one wants to provide a mentor training and, afterwards discover it was not effective. That is why an effective training assessment should include one more step.

3. Provide on-going collection of assessment data through written and observation methods during the training, and use this data to adjust the training design in-process to increase its effectiveness.

Balancing Needs, Time, and Resources

Mentor training must be conducted with an eye toward efficiency and effectiveness by providing the needed learning within the limits of resources and time constraints. Training does require that the most applicable information be transferred in a reasonable amount of time, using the most engaging activities, balanced with a reasonable expenditure of resources.

In many organizations, training budgets and the allotted time for training is slim. Volunteers and employees of organizations have an array of personal and professional responsibilities and can find it difficult to commit numerous hours to training. It is critical to make the most valuable use of their time and the organization’s money. If the principles offered in this article are applied to your training, the quality and helpfulness of the training should generate both better results and greater enthusiasm and willingness for future training opportunities, both of which will reflect well on your program.


We provide mentors to proteges, among many reasons, to ensure that proteges have the support they need to actually
implement what they KNOW into daily effective work BEHAVIORS.  THIS SAME CONCEPT APPLIES EQUALLY TO MENTORS. They need a mentor to ensure the support THEY need to actually implement what they KNOWfrom their mentor training into daily effective mentoring BEHAVIORS.

That is why the process of becoming a mentor should include BOTH participation in a training process and the support and accountability of working with a program leader who serves as a Mentor of Mentors (MoM). Ensuring that the training process is effective and valued may present challenges for a mentoring program, but if the program
shows commitment and fortitude, and trainers are well prepared and have data about participant level of development, the benefit to others is priceless and can last a lifetime. Remember a mentor cannot implement a skill that they have not yet acquired.