The Importance of Qualifying and Properly Matching Mentors and Mentees

June 23, 2009
When an organization initiates a mentoring initiative, it is often so anxious to have individuals participate that it launches the initiative without establishing role-specific qualifications, or prudently assessing Mentor / Mentee quality. Ambiguous Mentor / Mentee criteria can pose several problems:
  1. While individuals in the role of Mentor may have targeted areas of expertise and competence, they may not have the necessary skills to “Mentor”.
  2. Individuals in the role of Mentee may have varying expectations concerning their responsibilities and potential gains in the role.
  3. Mismatches are much more likely when little or no upfront data is gathered about both potential Mentors and Mentees. It is evident that for every “official” role in an organization, one should only place individuals in roles for which they are qualified. Otherwise, one positions those individuals to fail, thus harming both the individual and the organization. Individuals either apply for a specific position in the organization or, based on observed performance by a manager or supervisor, are promoted into a specific position. In some cases, it may be necessary for an individual to take a series of assessments or meet performance requirements before s/he can move into a specific position. An additional consideration is whether the individual involved even wants to take the position offered.
How can one make an existing mentoring scheme more successful?
  1. Outline specific criteria for both the roles of Mentor and Mentee.
  2. Select and qualify Mentors and Mentees based on these criteria.
  3. Provide a way to assess the expertise of Mentors and the needs of Mentees that will lead to a good matching and pairing combination.
Without relevant criteria to select and qualify Mentors, an organization has no way of knowing if Mentors are passing on, communicating or modeling bad habits or misinformation. It is much harder to “un-learn” or “un-teach” bad habits already instilled.

Mentees should not generally choose a Mentor whom they merely like and get along with. The main focus of a mentoring relationship should be development, which may focus on a specific skill/competency, an organizational knowledge area, or networking and career path crafting.

The role of Mentor is extremely important – this is an individual who is charged with assisting another individual, the Mentee, in his/her development in a given area. Just as for any “official” role in the organization, there should be:
  1. A role profile/description for the Mentor
  2. Specific skill requirements to ensure that the Mentor will be successful
  3. A way for individuals to accept or decline the role without penalty, especially since this role often requires execution above and beyond a regular job
Analogously, one should not assume that every employee who requires or seeks career development would benefit from a mentoring program. To gain the most out of a mentoring initiative, Mentees must
  1. Desire to be a Mentee and be able to enjoy the experience
  2. Understand what is expected of him/her as a Mentee
  3. Believe that h/she is in a position to benefit and grow from the mentoring relationship
  4. Have the skills and mindset necessary to participate fully in the mentoring relationship
In conclusion, while determining each side of the mentoring relationship, one should compare an individual’s qualifications to a specific set of criteria and make a determination regarding his/her ability and interest in assuming the role. For this purpose, one needs to have role profiles that outline the unique tasks, responsibilities, and skills required of each role.

Business Issues and Mentoring

Individuals generally learn new skills and knowledge in Phases or Levels. In almost every organization, there exist 3 general levels of learning and development. At Level 1, an individual learns the “basics” of a particular skill or knowledge area. At this stage, s/he typically needs specific help, guidance and support to reinforce in practice what is learned and to ensure that s/he is learning the new skill or knowledge area correctly the first time.

By Level 2, the individual needs less guidance and support and begins to apply what s/he has learned to multifaceted situations. Finally, at achievement of Level 3 learning, the individual is considered an expert in this skill or knowledge.

Mismatches can occur when there is no specific way to determine a Mentor’s level of expertise in a given skill or knowledge area and a Mentee’s level of need.

In many mentoring initiatives, organizations display a tendency to match Mentees at Level 1 with Mentors that are experts - at Level 3. The knowledge and experience gap between such individuals is too large, often leading to a confusing and counterproductive relationship for both parties. The Mentor may use terminology with which the Mentee is unfamiliar or speak of experiences with which the Mentee cannot identify. Likewise, the Mentee may feel intimidated to ask what the expert may deem to be “stupid questions”.

The goal is to match Mentees at Level 1 with Mentors at Level 2; and Mentees at Level 2 with Mentors at Level 3. Mentors who are only 1 level of learning above their Mentees can better understand “how it feels” to be in their Mentees’ situation and therefore tend to be more empathetic within the relationship. In turn, Mentees who are only 1 level of learning below their Mentors have the capacity not only to learn from their Mentors but understand them as well. In this way, both parties can grow within the relationship and optimize on the initiative.

Today, many organizations are using integrated technology solutions to help them execute the challenging task of matching and pairing within their mentoring initiatives. As part of Insala's talent development solution suite, Hi-Impact Mentoring ® provides tools matching mentors and mentees, as well as all other elements needed for a successful mentoring process, including mentoring assessments, training on the mentoring concept, and strategic consulting to help roll out the initiative in the best way possible. T learn more about ourmatching mentors and mentees solutions visit www.mentoringtalent.com

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