In the first part of this series, I explained why having a companion on your life journey is necessary. In the second part, we demystified the mentor, saw what they are and what they do. In the third part, we discussed the mentors' motivations for giving their time to others. In the fourth part, we explored the most central role, the mentee. In the fifth part, we oversaw the birth of a mentoring relationship. In this sixth part of the series, we want to speak about a formalism called "mentoring program."
When you start in a company, it is usual to be taken by the hand by someone. "Mentor" is often the chosen name. This onboarding aims to bring the new hire up to speed with mundane problems, office regulations & politics. The "onboarder" doesn't have a say in this. It is part of their job. To me, this has little to do with mentoring.
In our company, we introduced the concept of godparent. You don't get to chose them more than they get to pick you.
The godparent will ramp you up. They get a checklist of things to go through with you. Their success is you being able to fly on your own in the company. They are not doing it for the fun of it. It is work for them. They are not doing it because they see potential in you, the mentee.
This distinction between having to do it, and wanting to do it, is crucial to me. It is a cornerstone of effective mentorship. It clashes with many interpretations of mentorship programs.
On mentoring programs
A mentoring program is a company supported initiative to promote mentoring. There is nothing wrong with that. Giving mentors and mentees free space and resources to grow is a fantastic idea. It is especially crucial in enabling mentees coming from underrepresented backgrounds and minorities. But beware not to overdo it!
I make a distinction between organic-mentoring and organized-mentoring.
Organic-mentoring is what I have been rooting for in the previous five articles. It is mentoring born from the will of the participants. Mentoring established over time between people who deeply care about each other. As such, mentoring focuses on the mentee as a whole person. As a mentor, I can talk with my mentee about tech, daily work, learnings, politics, and quitting and changing careers. Yes, even if we are from the same company and that it would hurt "us" to see them go.
Organized mentoring is company-organized dating. It focuses on one area, like coaching in disguise. Organized mentoring programs often rely on match-making between the participants. Organized mentoring programs are great if you want to mix people and create atypical relations. But this removes part of the responsibility from the participants themselves. And who would like to open up to a random colleague? What kind of trust relationship does it take to talk about personal problems?
My organic mentoring program
Here is the mentoring program I am rooting for: an informal program promoting mentoring by providing tools for the participants to strive and time for participants to spend. But a program that leaves all the doing to them. This program educates the participants and provides boundaries for the mentor and mentee to meet. The programs give visibility to the mentors. The program rewards mentoring efforts over time.
For instance, you can build many things around it, some community of practice between the mentors themselves or meetings to share success stories. But this is where the program ends.
When you create a formal mentoring program, the first step is to identify metrics relating to business objectives: learning targets, career progression, employee engagement, and retention. Those are company-centric.
What if, through a mentorship relation, a mentee discovers that they don't want a promotion? What if a mentee leaves the company? What if a mentee doesn't engage themselves more? Is that a failure of the program?
In my world, if the mentee is happier this way, the mentoring was a success! If you focus on the people as a whole, your employees will grow to become your most fervent supporters or leave the company when they realize they are not in the right place. Either way, you win.
But still, there must be some metrics? Yes, metrics about the program itself. What I want to know is if it is useful in creating more long-lasting mentoring relationships.
So what do we do now?
First of all, every one of us is in a position to start a mentoring relationship. The single excuse for not doing it is the time investment.
If you can be part of or create an organized-mentoring program, do it. And if you can make this program more of an organic-mentoring program, do whatever is in your power!