Mentoring For Adults:
Mentoring Program Design
After more than 25 years of workplace
mentoring programs for adults, I still get excited every time I read
a new pile of applications. Why?
one person who really cares and shares is still the best way to
help someone find a goal and reach toward it.
Because mentoring programs give access to
that person, to mentees who just won’t find someone any other
Because I know from experience with hundreds
of people across the U.S. and elsewhere, that any mentee who is
ready to work can be helped by a mentor. Not, as they may expect,
because the mentor will wave a magic wand. But because, in the course
of a year of close and revealing conversations and questions, the
mentor will help the mentee learn what really matters to them and
how to go about making it happen.
If you are giving any thought to creating
a mentoring program, think again. It’s a lot of work, and
it can’t all be contracted out. But, if you do pursue it,
you will find that it’s worth every minute. Ask even one mentee
whose life is utterly different now that she loves her job –
and sometimes it’s the same one.
FAQ's About Mentoring Programs
Here’s some of what I’ve
learned in more than twenty years of designing and implementing
mentoring programs in Federal agencies, and teaching people in India,
Belgium and England about them.
What are the purposes of a mentoring program?
There’s no prescription, but you
had better have some good ones, or you’ll be doing motherhood
and apple pie. Do you want to pass on institutional knowledge, diversify
the new crop of scientists, or help support staff move into a different
series? Be specific, and then look at the outcomes.
Can formal programs work?
Formal programs can work (where people
are matched one-to-one), but ONLY with a significant amount of support
from before the beginning until after the end. Your organization
needs to dedicate some significant staff support as well as an outside
expert. Half measures don’t work.
Whom should we let in?
Both mentors and mentees need a rigorous
application process to test motivation and commitment. Make it in
keeping with your goals. Personally, my bias is always toward programs
which are inclusive of different occupations rather than “the
best and the brightest.” You never know who that’s going
What do people expect of mentoring programs?
Most mentors and mentees enter mentoring
programs full of inappropriate fantasies, and success depends on
bursting their balloons. Many mentors think they have to be Moses,
and many mentees want them to be fairy godmothers.
Can’t we just train them and tell them
to find each other?
Training people how to be mentors, or
how to look for mentors, works if they are highly motivated. Most
people need the structure of matching and followup.
What does it take to run a mentoring program?
One nut who really believes in it and
will keep on asking for funding and resources until it happens –
and a dedicated committee of volunteers who do publicity, recruitment,
matching, and support throughout the year.
How many pairs should we start with?
Keep the numbers small. Pilot with ten
or fifteen pairs, and unless your resources are substantial for
followup, keep it down to 30 or fewer. No Committee member should
monitor more than 4 participants.
How can you match people up?
Matching is best done with a combination
of intuition and objective information, and should always be subject
to a “chemistry test.”
What if geography is a barrier?
Long distance matches work if the parties
have a good, long meeting at the beginning of the program and make
a good connection. It can be sustained through e-mail and phone
by people who really care about each other.
What guidance do the pairs need?
Expert training is essential for both
parties, to rein in expectations and develop specific goals for
the mentees, and to ensure that the role is clear to both parties.
Mentors need reinforcement in coaching and counseling skills, and
to understand appropriate boundaries.
Most pairs get down to business best with
some supportive framework – a contract of some kind, and monitoring
through the year. Keeping the business focus is especially important
in relationships where people are comfortable with each other.
What if people don’t get along?
A no-fault initial chemistry test is
a must. After that point, most troubled pairs can be saved with
some thoughtful intervention by an empowered outsider (program coordinator
or committee member). But the pair will not let you know they’re
in trouble unless you call and ask. That’s why monthly monitoring
What followup do we need?
A good relationship should be established
between a Committee Contact and every pair, in person, followed
by monthly contact to see how it’s going and provide resources
Ongoing evaluation of the goals the pair
sets is important documentation for the program as well as for the
individuals. Thinking about evaluation up-front makes it useful
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