Learn steps for establishing a formal mentoring system in your organization.
more organizations are creating formal mentoring programs--and with good
reason. From a happier staff to increased organizational productivity,
the benefits of a workplace culture that actively supports and organizes
mentoring are abundant. While organizational mentoring programs may take
on different shapes and structures, there are critical steps for a group
embarking on establishing a mentoring system. Following are steps most
often followed by organizations that have been able to initiate and sustain
a meaningful mentoring process.
- Define the business case for mentoring.
Mentoring should be seen as a critical element in helping the organization
achieve its strategic goals. A formal mentoring program can help:
- improve retention
- build morale
- accelerate leadership development
- provide ongoing career development
- build teams
- facilitate organizational learning
A strong business case must be made to demonstrate why the organization
should devote the attention and resources required to make a formal
mentoring process work. For example, a healthcare organization foreseeing
tremendous growth in a specific area may want a mentoring program to
help prepare individuals for future managerial positions. Or an organization
planning integration may be interested in a mentoring program to help
shape talent that would fit the total entity. The point is, the reasons
for establishing a mentoring program must be linked to your organization's
- Establish a mentoring strategy.
A clear mentoring vision has the capacity to act as a guiding mechanism
for the mentoring effort. Senior management and others responsible for
the mentoring system must come together to design the strategy, define
objectives, and plan the implementation. Some questions to be considered
during this process include: What is the purpose for establishing the
program? What are the short-term and long-term goals? Given our goals,
how many mentor and protege pairs should be considered? Who should we
focus on to be mentors and proteges? A steering committee should be
established and a coordinator selected to oversee implementation. It
is important that committee members and the coordinator are truly interested
in the success of the program and believe that the development of future
leadership is critical. Members of the steering committee may include
interested senior-level individuals, a human resource representative,
department heads, and others, depending on the goal of the mentoring
program. For example, if the objective of the program is to develop
leadership skills in nurses, then nurses should be represented on the
- Select proteges and mentors.
Using the organization's strategic intentions for mentoring as a primary
reference point, the steering committee must define the criteria and
characteristics for selecting and matching mentors and proteges. For
example, if the goal of your organization is to develop new leaders
as a part of succession planning, the committee will want to choose
mentors who have many years in a leadership role, who are high performers,
or who have many individuals in their department who have been promoted.
To choose the appropriate proteges, the committee may want to identify
those individuals who have demonstrated clear evidence of future leadership.
Keep in mind that for the program to be effective, proteges and mentors
must join the program on a voluntary basis; appointing them will not
work. The mentor and protege must be enthusiastic and willing.
- Provide mentor and protege skill training.
Successful mentoring programs always provide formal training to mentors
regarding the special mind-set and skill set required to establish and
sustain a learning partnership with a protege. This training should
emphasize to mentors the difference between a mentoring role and a management
role. It should also highlight the different skills and competencies
mentors should develop, such as the ability to empower other people,
to support them, and to challenge them. They must also have the ability
to listen as a mentor and not as a problem solver. Proteges must receive
training on how to be the driving force in a mentoring relationship.
The training should also help them assess their strengths and weakness,
identify developmental objectives, and decide how they will use their
mentor. Training sessions are the perfect time to spell out the roles
and responsibilities for participants. For example, mentors should not
get between proteges and their managers or get overly involved in the
detail of the protege's work. Proteges need to understand that having
a mentor doesn't guarantee that they will get promoted or have unlimited
access to their mentor.
- Link up proteges and mentors.
How proteges and mentors are matched up is based on the goals of the
mentoring program. Formally bringing mentors and proteges together to
define their expectations of each other and the process is an extremely
important step. During this meeting, a formal mentoring agreement is
created that serves as a reference point throughout the mentoring process.
The mentoring agreement should include the goals and objectives of both
the protege and the mentor, how and when they will meet, and a confidentiality
- Evaluate the program.
Those mentoring programs that do the best job of institutionalizing
their mentoring programs evaluate the impact of the mentoring from two
primary reference points. The first is the degree to which the process
has assisted the protege in achieving the developmental objectives that
were defined at the beginning of the program. The second reference point
is the degree to which the program was successful in achieving its strategic
business case goals, such as retention or the development of high potentials.
Furthermore, successful programs bring mentors and proteges together
for check-up meetings and follow-up training several times during the
typical mentoring year. The best programs usually have a way of ending
the mentoring relationship formally. During this time, the protege and
mentor can decide if they want to continue the relationship formally
or informally, or if they want to move on.
formal mentoring works best in an organization where people development
and organizational learning are supported and nurtured by leadership at
all levels. A mentoring culture is more important than just going through
the administrative motions of carrying out a formal system.
Jim Perrone is a founder and managing partner of Perrone-Ambrose Associates, Inc., an organizational development consulting firm that helps organizations create mentoring cultures.
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Executive, May/June 2003