How to Prevent 7 Common Problems in Mentoring Programs

April 26, 2013

Our mentoring program was successful, but we can’t prove it, and we’re about to lose funding for it.

There’s too much pressure to implement a mentoring program, and no time to actually plan one.

Our program’s mentees just aren’t learning the things that are necessary to their development.

Everyone is frustrated with our program, and mentors and mentees are starting to give up.

If you’ve said any of the above, read on. In Insala’s recent webinar, "7 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting a Mentoring Program", SME Judy Corner presented seven common problems with mentoring programs in case study format, as well as solutions to prevent their occurrence.

Mentoring Problem #1: No Plan = No Program

Under pressure to implement a mentoring program, one organization had no time to put together a plan beforehand. As a result, their program was doomed from the beginning, and had to be scrapped entirely.

Solution? Plan first. While it may seem a no-brainer, planning is always the first step. Those responsible for implementing mentoring programs are sometimes pressured to just get it done and done quickly. But creating a well-defined plan in advance will allow you to envision the program in its various stages and hopefully see where challenges can arise that you can respond to prior to implementation.

Define and identify the hows and whys of your program, as well as any challenges that may obstruct you from reaching your goals beforehand – it’s integral to any mentoring program’s success. “It’s a little bit of that 80/20 rule,” says Ms. Corner. “It’s 80% planning, and 20% implementation.” Ask the following questions:

  • How will you determine if mentoring is viable for your organization?
  • What are the organizational goals/objectives that will support the implementation of a mentoring program?
  • How will you tie mentoring to these goals/objectives?
  • How will you measure results?
  • Do you have support and commitment from all appropriate levels?
  • Can you link mentoring to your overall talent development strategy and process?

Mentoring Problem #2: Loss of Funding Due to Nonexistent Measurements

HR felt that their organization’s mentoring program was successful, but couldn’t prove it because of a lack of defined measurements. They ended up losing funding in the next round of organizational budget cuts.

Solution? Define specific and relevant measurements of program success in the planning stage. These measurements should always be a) tied back to your business goals, and b) reportable. Determine how you will retrieve specific data to determine how the program is doing, where improvements can be made, and identify what is not working. Presenting hard data on success factors to decision makers with ties to funding can ensure program success and longevity.

Mentoring Problem #3: Mentors Who Can't Mentor (or Just Don't Want To)

Senior management pressured all VPs to become mentors with the assumption that they had both the skills and experiences necessary to be good mentors. The VP mentors didn’t, and the mentees suffered.

Solution? Don’t let just anyone participate in the program: qualify both mentor and mentee candidates before starting the mentoring program. Assuming all executives want to or have the skills to be good mentors can be detrimental to your mentoring program and the mentee assigned to the unprepared, and possibly uninterested, mentor. It’s not only essential that mentors are willing to commit to the mentoring partnership, but also that they are able and have the skills to offer and communicate to their mentees. Ensure your mentoring program has an application process where skills and competency assessment along with commitment level can be determined. This will go a long way in ensuring good mentoring participants and satisfaction of both mentors and mentees.

Mentoring Problem #4: Participants Give Up Because They Don't Know What's Expected

Administrators of another mentoring program assumed that all mentoring program participants knew what their roles would be. In the end, no one knew what was expected with them, and many participants dropped out in frustration.

Solution? Don’t skip mentoring training and role definition for mentors, mentees, and managers. “Don’t forget the managers!” cautions Ms. Corner. “You want to make sure that the managers also understand what their role is in the mentoring partnership.” Eliminate program dropouts by creating proper mentoring training methods and dissemination of mentoring content and resources to ensure effective and positive mentoring experiences for all involved.

Mentoring Problem #5: Mandatory Mentoring Perceived as Punishment

Management made participation in the mentoring program mandatory for certain individuals. Seeing it as a punishment rather than an opportunity, participants often failed to show up for meetings or complete assignments.

Solution? Ensure the program is voluntary. “If you force individuals to do what they don’t want to do, they’ll figure out how to get out of it,” says Ms. Corner. Participants will be more likely to show up for meetings, complete assignments, be more engaged, and have a more meaningful mentoring experience if participation is voluntary.

Mentoring Problem #6: Mentees Don't Learn What They Need to Learn

In a survey taken midway through another organization’s mentoring program, administrators discovered that mentees were learning what mentors thought they should learn – not what the mentees themselves felt they needed to learn.

Solution? Ensure that all mentoring partnerships are mentee-driven. Mentors should guide, certainly, but ultimately mentees must drive the partnership if it is to be effective. Without proper mentoring training, however, mentors may assume they know what mentees need to learn rather than be guided by the mentee’s goals. Use mentoring training time to communicate to participants that partnerships are mentee-driven. During the application process mentees should be able to specifically identify areas of interest and develop a learning plan for both mentee and mentor use.

Mentoring Problem #7: Administration Time Limiting Program Growth

With over 100 mentor-mentee partnerships, and a growing demand from employees to participate in the program, administrators found it difficult to manage an already large program that was still growing.

Solution? Implement mentoring software to save administrative time and money, and increase your program ROI.

Learn more about how mentoring software can help your mentoring program.

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