Set mutual expectations on what mentoring is all about
Mentees need to understand why they actually need a mentor, so they go into the process with the right attitude. The mentor, meanwhile, needs to believe their experience and skills will benefit the mentee.
More important, however, is that both aren’t afraid of the process. People in these types of one-to-one environments – mentoring, tough conversations, appraisals, coaching – often don’t know what to say or where the boundaries are.
HR should help both mentor and mentee understand what their roles are, what is acceptable and what isn’t. On the flipside, HR must also help both parties understand that the relationship is personal and that there are no set rules governing how it should work.
Ultimately, your job is to make them comfortable and confident, not wedded to a specific framework or set of rules.
Know what makes good mentors – and actively look for them
While coaches can coach effectively without an understanding of what the coachee really does professionally, this isn’t true of mentoring. Mentors are ‘further along’ the path than mentees, whether that path is broad – like an entire career – or narrower, like in the skills and experience needed to use a specific software program.
But in addition to this specific knowledge, mentors should be ‘people people.’ They need to be able to inspire and motivate others. Not being too sensitive to the curse of knowledge is a good litmus test: mentors must be able to put themselves in the shoes of their mentee.
And there are other skills that make good mentors: HR needs to look for these skills when recruiting mentors and should – if a suitable mentor is found that lacks any – take steps to train them effectively.
Link mentoring schemes to business results
Mentoring schemes are about personal growth and effectiveness, but they’re also about improving business metrics. Yet there’s often a disconnect in organisations, who see individual mentoring relationships improve personal performance but fail to view the entire mentoring scheme as a wider strategic initiative.
It’s HR’s role to understand strategic priorities, cascade these down to individual goals and find areas where mentoring can make a real impact on these individual goals. Set up like this from the beginning, the mentoring scheme is more likely to stay relevant to the business, evolve as the organisation’s direction shifts and gain budget when necessary.
Help both parties understand how strengths-based approaches help
Strengths-based coaching is a popular coaching framework that encourages individuals to use what they’re already good at to solve problems and grow.
Mentoring is different to coaching, but it’s important that mentors identify and probe strengths in order to build the mentee’s confidence in what they’re doing right and help them understand how their skills have helped them succeed.
Mentoring is not just about solving problems, but about growing as individuals, and we cannot grow effectively unless we respect the areas in which we are already capable of high performance.
Promote accountability – and ensure the business is supportive
HR should hold people accountable for making sure the sessions take place, but also for ensuring that follow-up actions are taken and the results measured. On the flip side, the business must be supportive as invariably the mentee will find themselves in unchartered territory as they attempt to overcome challenges and try out new ideas.
Linking mentoring sessions to KPIs is a good way to help promote accountability. ‘Check-in’ sessions between mentor, mentee and HR/the line manager also promote accountability and give the mentee and mentor an opportunity to reflect on what the mentee needs to succeed. However, care must be taken to respect the confidentiality and trust built up in the relationship.
Help address unequal power dynamics
Mentoring, particularly when mentors are recruited internally, may be complicated by unequal power dynamics driven by social status and politics. This is particularly true with reverse mentoring, where a younger, less experienced person mentors an (often) older, more-experienced worker.
In these cases it can be hard for the mentee or mentor (whoever is ‘less powerful’) to be honest. Taking the mentoring relationship outside the environment where these dynamics are reinforced (e.g. in the more senior employee’s office) helps reduce their impact. A local coffee shop is a good place to start.
Setting the right tone early on is important and HR should reinforce the fact that issues may come out in the mentoring ‘space’ that wouldn’t be normally be tackled in the more formalised, hierarchical workplace.
Looking for more information on the types of skills people need to make effective mentors? We detail 14 key skills of mentors – let us know what you think of them.