by Margie Vela
Effective mentoring programs are well-defined and structured. They are goal oriented and clearly identify the objectives to be met through the mentoring process. Three phases encompass the implementation of the program: pre-launch, launch, and evaluation. The process is cyclical and should begin and end with every cohort that comes through the mentoring program.
The 11-Step Process
1. Prelaunch Preparation—Clarifying Institutional Needs
The distinguishing cultural characteristics of the institution and the dynamics that encompass its behavior help define the unique needs to be met by the mentoring relationship. It is essential to formulate the strategic aim of the mentorship program. Clarifying the institutional needs will reinforce the intention of the project and provide the foundation for the program. Clear objectives will help determine the structure for the program, the selection and assessment of mentor candidates, the selection of program participants, and the parameters for implementation. It is beneficial to periodically assess the needs of the organization. As organizations change, so do their unique needs.
2. Prelaunch Preparation—Identifying and Validating Protégés Needs
Assessing the needs of the protégé is imperative to the effective implementation of the mentorship program. Protégés’ needs may change with changes in organizational expectations or generational values. The mentoring program should clearly identify the organizational goals, protégé profiles, and the needs that should be met and considered for development of the protégés.
3. Prelaunch Preparation—Recruiting Mentors
After identifying the purpose of the mentorship program and the needs of the protégés, the ideal characteristics and qualities of the mentor will be evident. It is beneficial to create a strong sense of value in participation with the program during the recruitment process. The support of organizational leaders is essential for creating a mentoring culture that intensifies the potential mentors’ propensity to become committed to the mentoring relationship. Incentives for participation may also prove beneficial for the successful launch of the program. The mentors for the program should reflect the values of the program and be in alignment with the goals of the mentoring program.
4. Prelaunch Preparation—Assess the Level of Training Needs for Mentors
The ideal traits and characteristics of the program mentors should be apparent at this point. The model mentor is one who is seasoned and successful in the field. However, mentoring relationships require skill sets that may or may not be associated with expertise in the field. It may be helpful to determine the desired skill set for the position. Many potential mentors possess several of these characteristics; most will not possess the entirety of the desired skill set. Therefore, every mentor will need training to acquire the skills and traits required to successfully engage in mentorship. Assessment using a skill set inventory may be beneficial to determine what skills and traits the mentor training should focus upon.
5. Program Launch—Train Mentors and Protégés
Training mentors and protégés prior to initiating engagement in the mentoring relationship is critical to a successful mentoring relationship. Mentor training should consist of interpersonal skills, such as communication practices and facilitating goal setting, as well as familiarizing mentors with organizational policy. The mentor may be given sensitive information by the protégé and must learn ethical principles for managing it. Likewise, the protégés should also be trained for their role in the mentoring relationship. Protégés are the drivers of the mentoring relationship. Their commitment to their success determines the extent to which the mentoring relationship is beneficial to their goals. Protégés should be coached on commitment and goal setting and trained in interpersonal skills and communication. Both protégés and mentors need support and training through the duration of the mentoring relationship for maximum benefit.
6. Program Launch—Pairing Mentors and Protégés
Successfully pairing the mentor and protégé is critical for successful mentoring. The chemistry between the two will determine the effectiveness of the relationship. Mentoring requires a high degree of trust and openness from both parties. Goals, dreams, and desires should be shared freely and securely in the relationship. Experience, lessons learned, and ambitions should also be shared openly between mentor and protégé. Strategic pairing based upon program goals and mentor/protégé personalities is essential to the success of the program. Recommended methods for pairing include matching per profiles or interviews (e.g., speed dating), among others. Allowing mentors and protégés to actively engage in the selection of their match gives both parties a sense of empowerment and encourages commitment.
7. Program Support—Mentoring Agreement
Mentors and protégés should establish an agreement outlining the expectations and goals of the mentoring relationship. This agreement should include the frequency of meetings, method of meeting, expectations and goals of each party regarding the relationship, benchmarks for assessing progress, and the duration of the mentoring relationship. Formal mentoring should include an end date so that clear expectations can be set and measured.
8. Program Support—Regular Debriefing Sessions
Mentors and protégés should have the opportunity to debrief in a group setting on a regular or semi-regular basis. Since mentoring is unique for every pair, this time can serve as a time to share challenges that are faced in mentoring and best practices to enhance mentoring relationships. First-time mentors can learn from seasoned mentors in an open conversation regarding methods and strategies for mentoring. Another method for debriefing is to request periodic reports/check-in from mentors and protégés. These practices also give the mentoring program manager a clear perspective on the training needs for future mentors in the organization.
9. Program Evaluation—Mid-Term and End-of-Term
Formal mentoring requires a formal end date. This practice allows for closure to a formal relationship, giving mentors and protégés a definitive timeline in which to accomplish program goals and objectives. It is also a key time to collect feedback from both parties for evaluation of the mentoring program. Evaluation of the mentoring program at the mid-term and end-of-term provides the information necessary for assessing and improving mentoring practices. The evaluation can take the form of a questionnaire, interview, or report and should measure the objectives that the program has set out to accomplish. The best decisions for change come from data collected from program participants. This practice also provides the data needed to determine and report the effectiveness of the mentoring relationship.
10. Program Evaluation-Measuring, Adjusting, and Sustaining
Comparing mid-term and end-of-term evaluations provides a source for measuring the effectiveness of the program. This comparison then indicates the adjustments that should be considered by the program manager. Sustaining an effective mentoring program is beneficial for the creation of a pipeline of leaders in the organization.
11. Program Evaluation—Refining Goals and Strategies
At times, the goals and strategies of a mentoring program may need to be reconsidered and refined. Changes within organizations may require changes in the mentoring program’s goals and strategies. Data from evaluations may provide information indicating the benefits of refining program goals and strategies to be implemented for the subsequent round of the mentorship program.