When mentoring goes awry

It seems that every company is embarking on a formal mentoring program. Many have met with mixed success. There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal not too long ago, which I thought had a few salient points to consider on this topic. Below are key points which may lead to the program and associated relationships to fail in meeting their objectives:

  1. There is poor chemistry between mentor and protege. The more the two parties have in common –  especially in values and personality – the better.
  2. The mentors neglect their responsibilities to the mentee. This is very easy to do with the demands of their day job. Thus, it is imperative that both parties understand that in order for the relationship to be successful, both parties must put their all into the engagement.
  3. Mentors and mentees manipulate the other party to their advantage. Need I say more? If so, refer to the article for more gruesome details on how this can evolve.

These derailers are common, and much money and time has been wasted on implementing formal mentoring programs in many Fortune 500 companies. The remedy is fairly simply in concept:

  • Define the ‘bottom line’ for the program before it gets started, and get everyones buy-in on their role in making it successful.
  • Be selective and thoughtful about who to pair up for the engagement.
  • There can be no hidden agendas, or the credibility of the program is in jeapardy.
  • Educate on process, set benchmarks, sign contracts, use active projects as the petri dish for learning, and monitor progress.
  • Measure and give feedback throughout the program. The devil is in the details. Course correct during the program as needed – with people, process, and projects.
  • Use coaching actively to ensure both parties are supported appropriately.
  • Prepare for the ‘end’ and set a timeline for the formal mentoring relationship to end.

These steps may appear quite obvious. The key, as with all things, is in the execution.

One response to “When mentoring goes awry

  1. Always a good read Kristin. I like your ideas about what to do before you start a mentoring program. I find that when you pair up a mentor the relationship has difficulty meeting the program objectives. Perhaps companies should call these programs something different.

    My best mentors were never assigned to me. The relationships evolved and they took special interest in me as a leader and helped me elevate to senior levels in my former company. I picked them as a mentor because I knew they could help me with my leadership skills.

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