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Over her years of working on mentoring programs, San Francisco-based management consultant Ann Tardy has seen some that are effective and others that are disastrous.

That led her to compile this list for Peer Bulletin of the five ways that organizations mess up while mentoring:

Mistake 1

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Driving without a good navigation system

Too often the mentoring program is aimless, started because it sounds like a good idea. "Without a goal - a reason for the mentoring program - there can be no strategy and without strategy, you won't create a mentoring impact, let alone a mentoring culture. Before you do anything else, determine why you want a mentoring program, what goals you have for the program, and what success will look like," Ms. Tardy advises. Then strategically design your program to hit those goals.

Mistake 2

Forcing one size to fit all

Too often it is assumed that the company can take a hands-on mentoring program that is working for a small group of employees and scale it up to meet the needs of a large unit or the entire enterprise. But one size does not fit all. You need to test your program with small pilot groups but design it for the larger intended audience. If you initially use the program for managers and then decide to roll it out to all employees, it's unlikely to work without remodelling.

Mistake 3

Becoming a babysitter

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Too often the programs require mentors to act as a kindergarten teacher, holding participants' hands so that the relationships will be built and the program succeed. But such programs won't grow to handle a large number of mentees and won't sustain themselves. "Be sure your mentoring program forces your participants to take responsibility for the creation and development of their own relationships," Ms. Tardy writes. For example, allow the participants to choose who they work with and how long or short the relationship will be. Create a structure, and allow participants to make it effective, recommending mentoring to their colleagues, without building a large program bureaucracy.

Mistake 4

Assuming people know what to do

Just because you build it and they come, doesn't mean the people involved know how to mentor or be mentored. It is vital that your program include training of mentors and mentees, as well as ongoing guidance on how to maintain effective mentoring relationships. Ms. Tardy warns that too many programs train only the mentor, and then those individuals have to deal with mentees who abuse the relationships. So don't assume people innately know how to mentor or receive mentoring.

Mistake 5

Thinking you're done once it launches

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Once it's up and running, you will likely move on to the next project. But you're not done. You need to keep monitoring and tweaking the program, or even overhauling, if necessary. She suggests establishing a focus group during the planning stages, with employees from all departments and locations, who can then serve as a reality check on your ideas and how you are faring over the long haul.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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