Answering two questions I am often asked about best practices for mentoring programs:
What are key motivations for mentoring?
Mentoring is a professional methodology with remarkably good payback. Between 1996-2010, over 7,300 technical employees participated in very successful formal mentoring programs at Sun Microsystems. Sun mentoring was reported to yield over 1,000% return on investment (ROI), with more than twice the normal promotions, 93% satisfaction, 88% mentors working remotely (with mentees in 30 global sites), and 70% executive mentors. These excellent payback metrics provide clear motivation for a company or organization to implement a mentoring program. However, it is the motivation of the mentors that is key to program success. A mentoring program cannot succeed without mentors, preferably mentors who come back year after year. Mentors want to give back, to help others as they themselves were helped during their professional development.
At Sun Microsystems, mentors were helping co-workers who may have been in another discipline or division but all were working for the same technical company. For the successful TechWomen mentoring program of the US Department of State, I helped to create a program for STEM professional women from 16 countries in Africa and the Middle East. 250 mentors from 89 Silicon Valley companies have served in the TechWomen program since the first term in 2011. About half of the 160 mentors in 2014 had been TechWomen mentors before. These mentors are not working in the same company as their mentees but they still want to give back – to share their knowledge and their valuable time.
What are best practices for mentoring programs? What are some common mistakes?
A successful mentoring program uses the 12 Best Mentoring Practices (see chart above, from “Lifetime Value of Mentoring”), and includes the 5 Key Elements:
12 Best Practices of Successful Formal Mentoring Programs:
- Program Benefits and Goals Clear
- Strong Management Support
- Mentors, Mentees Selected
- Detailed Data Reporting
- Meeting 3 or More Times / Month
- Match for 6 or More Months
- One-on-One Mentor-Mentee
- Mentor Training / Orientation Given
- Program Continues and Improves for Years
- Some Remote Meetings
- Paid Program Staff
- Ongoing Support Provided by Staff
5 Key Elements for Successful Mentoring Programs:
- Strong and visible long-term executive sponsorship and funding.
- “Real work – real time” Mentoring and being mentored is professional work done as a part of a day job, during business hours.
- Well-managed program (including Process, Training and Educational Materials, Management and Web Tools, and Staff) attracts and supports a wide diversity of participants from many cultures.
- The program is run for the convenience of the mentors – to respect their time and experience, to keep everyone safe and productive.
- Automated web tools and individualization are balanced to accommodate the size and seniority of the group served.
Common mistakes of professional mentoring programs include:
- No program staff, or expecting staff to create and manage the program in their spare time.
- Taking all applicants – not having clear and implemented selection criteria for both mentors and mentees.
- Not allowing enough time for the relationship to develop between the mentee and mentor – not setting clear time and delivery expectations.
- Not collecting early feedback from both mentee and mentor, so startup problems can be addressed effectively.
- “Case Study: Workforce Analytics at Sun” by James Holincheck, Gartner Research ID #G00142776 (27 October 2006).
- “Sun Mentoring: 1996-2009″ by Katy Dickinson, Tanya Jankot and Helen Gracon, Sun Labs Report TR-2009-185 (August 2009).
- “Lifetime Value of Mentoring” poster by Katy Dickinson, presented at the Grace Hopper Conference (2013).
- “Mentoring in a Box” 14 document set presenting best practices and structure for small mentoring programs, by Katy Dickinson and the Everwise team (2014).
Image Copyright 2013 by Katy Dickinson, All Rights Reserved