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Mentoring, the good, the bad and the ugly

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Mentoring provides a great opportunity to upskill employees in a cost effective way. Penna research found that a fifth of employees are not currently being mentored, but would like to be. So what do these schemes look like?

Good mentoring schemes

Organisations should approach individuals and find out who is interested in becoming a mentor or mentee. Both are very different roles, with different expectations about what is required of them, so it’s important that individuals buy-in to that role. 

Once you have an understanding of the talent available to be mentors, and those that want to be mentees, match them up accordingly. Mapping work has to be done here, to ensure that the skills a mentee wants to learn are truly possessed by the mentor, or indeed that the mentor has the skills to be able to share and impart their knowledge in the right way. Both parties will need support here, to ensure there is an agreement in place which highlights what they want to achieve from the relationship. 

It’s best to have mentees and mentors working in different divisions of the business too, as a mentee may not feel confident bemoaning their boss, if it’s a direct report of the mentor for example. Mentees should feel confident being open and honest about the challenges they face at work, otherwise they won’t get the most from the relationship. 

Mentees also need to be very clear about what it is they want to achieve from their mentoring sessions, such as learning how to budget effectively, setting clear agendas for each meeting in terms of regularity, length and goals. This makes sure that learning stays on track and time is spent wisely, and that outcomes can be measured properly.

There also needs to be a ‘no fault, get out option’, this means that if the mentoring relationship isn’t working for any reason, both parties can opt out without blame.

Bad mentoring schemes

Mentoring schemes that fail are usually down to: both parties not getting what they want from mentoring sessions; breakdown in trust; and no parameters being put in place. If a mentee meets up with a mentor once a month, for a chat/ gossip/ moan/ punt for new contacts for example, the mentor will feel disgruntled that their time is not being used wisely. The mentee may also realise that whilst the informal chat was pleasant enough, they haven’t got what they wanted from it either.

Challenges can also arise if a mentor goes over their mentee’s head, trying to help alleviate issues with office politics directly, without prior consent for example, this too can cause friction and a breakdown of trust. Both parties must agree on levels of confidentiality suitable for them and ensure they are clear about actionable next steps from each meeting. 

Value of mentoring schemes

When thought through and planned in advance, mentoring schemes can be really valuable for the individuals involved and the business as a whole. Rather than sending employees on external training courses, learning can be highly targeted and relevant as mentors will already know how the business operates and what changes are feasible to implement. 

Mentees can learn new skills, rely on expertise from those already operating within the business and unlock new opportunities. Mentors can also learn valuable skills in advising and supporting mentees, whilst also supporting talent to come through the ranks. If a successful relationship is struck, both parties can benefit from the relationship, helping to maximise existing skillsets within a business.

Penny De Valk

By Penny De Valk

MD of talent practice at Penna, working with an experienced team to deliver professionally accredited coaching, leadership development and talent management solutions, to help organisations be competitive in a recovering economy.

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