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.
Image Copyright 2013 by Katy Dickinson, All Rights Reserved
I think this has been the single most popular 1-page mentoring summary I ever published:
“Best Practices / Worst Practices” may have been published in other places as well – please tell me if you see it!
12/27/2014: another reference published by talentmanagement360.com.
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9/16/2015 update: Several of the documents in “Mentoring in a Box” have been updated and are available by Mentoring Standard.
“Expert Mentoring Advice: Best Practices / Worst Practices” is adapted from “Sun Mentoring: 1996-2009” SMLI TR-2009-18, by Katy Dickinson, Tanya Jankot, and Helen Gracon. Copyright 2009, Sun Microsystems, Inc.. All rights reserved. Unlimited copying without fee is permitted provided that the copies are not made nor distributed for direct commercial advantage, and credit to the source is given.
Links updated 13 June 2020
I was honored to speak last week at the first Everwise webinar, titled “Why Your Emerging Leaders Need Mentors”. I think it went very well and was well-attended despite being at the same time as the big Apple product announcement! Ian Gover (Everwise Co-Founder) and I spoke on
- Why developing top talent is more critical than ever
- How mentoring can help solve this challenge
- What measurable results leaders can expect from well-run mentoring programs
The webinar recording is available at Webinar On-Demand. I told stories about TechWomen (working with women and girls in the Middle East and Africa), and about the SEED Engineering mentoring program I ran at Sun Microsystems for ten years. The 2009 technical report about Sun’s program was also mentioned.
The next Everwise webinar will feature CEO/Founder Mike Bergelson interviewing Lauren Leader-Chivee on “Women in Leadership” on 14 October 2014.
In preparing to go to the American Association of University Women (AAUW) national convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, next week, I have made three mentoring resources available for easy and free download:
Images Copyright 2013 by Katy Dickinson
19 October 2019: Links updated. The conference book version of Triangular Partnership: the Power of the Diaspora is available for free download. For more about MentorCloud business practices, see Collecting a Labor Judgement (15 January 2016).
In my Katysblog entry yesterday “Sheryl Sandberg, Leaning In on Mentoring“, I included a quote from Ms. Sandberg’s March 2013 book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead:
Many companies are starting to move from informal mentoring that relies on individual initiative to more formal programs. When taken seriously, these formal mentorship/sponsorship programs can be remarkably successful.
One of the sometimes-unexpected successes of formal mentoring programs is the development of a strong long-term community of mentors and mentees who have come to know and respect each other through the program. These communities can continue far beyond the boundaries of the company or program that created them.
- I have written frequently about the Sun Microsystems mentoring programs participated in by over 7,000 employees from 1996-2009. Over 630 of those who joined my Sun Engineering mentoring program (SEED) chose to join a private LinkedIn group to stay in communication after Sun was purchased by Oracle in 2009. I am sure more continue to work and learn with each other through through professional and private connections. The initial match between one mentor and one mentee quickly becomes the base for more complex and lasting relationships: the mentor introduces the mentee to associates or recommends him for a position, the mentee becomes a mentor herself and introduces her new mentee to her own mentor, etc. In 2010-2011, when I was the Process Architect for the U.S. State Department’s TechWomen mentoring program, many of the potential mentors I contacted to join the new program were former Sun mentoring program participants.
- In July 2011, toward the end of the first TechWomen term, I wrote a Katysblog entry called “37 Sisters – TechWomen“. That feeling of family, of a strong and growing US-MENA-based sisterhood, has only increased since then. The photo above was taken after our Successful Panel at the October, 2012 Grace Hopper Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, when several dozen TechWomen mentors, mentees, and staff from the 2011 and 2012 terms met to celebrate. Fifty of us gathered again in February 2013 to join the TechWomen delegation to Jordan. The photo below shows us at Injaz, one of the many schools and programs we visited in Jordan to talk with local girls and young women about STEM, TechWomen, and TechGirls.
The worlds of STEM and the Silicon Valley in particular are small places. Even though there are over seven million people in the San Francisco Bay Area, after a few years working here, it becomes hard to to go anywhere without meeting folks you know. Professional trust and connections, such as those built and supported by formal mentoring programs, enhance both reputation and effectiveness.
Images Copyright 2012-2013 by Katy Dickinson
The conference version of the book Triangular Partnership: the Power of the Diaspora (including the chapter “Professional Mentoring – Fostering Triangular Partnership”) is available for free download.
“Triangular Partnership” is a term used by People to People to describe the relationship of three global groups:
- Developing Countries Institutions
- Western Institutions
- According to Webster, diaspora means “people settled far from their ancestral homelands”.
- People to People (P2P) is a MentorCloud customer, a non-governmental, non-profit organization dedicated to improving health care and reducing the spread of diseases, particularly in Ethiopia and in diaspora communities.
- In August 2012, at the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA) annual meeting, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton described MentorCloud as “a new mentoring and networking web platform specifically for diaspora members trying to get involved and give back.” (Read more about this in “The Power of Diaspora Mentoring” by MentorCloud founder, Dr. Ravishankar Gundlapalli.) MentorCloud is proud and privileged to be a strategic partner for the IdEA initiative, working with organizations such as P2P.
- IdEA is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that engages global diaspora communities, the private sector, civil society, and public institutions in collaborative efforts to support economic and social development.
- In the 13 March 2013 “America’s Largest Diaspora Populations”, Susanna Groves wrote: “The U.S. has the largest number of global diaspora members of any country in the world. Indeed, virtually all Americans have immigrant roots — and these roots are a quintessential part of the country’s narrative.”
How does professional mentoring interact with this Triangular Partnership, and with the global diaspora in particular?
Here are three successful professional mentoring programs in which the global diaspora takes a key role:
- Below are two pie charts showing a summary of 2001-2009 data on mentor and mentee work locations (from p.77 of the Sun Microsystems Labs Technical Report: “Sun Mentoring: 1996-2009″ by Katy Dickinson, Tanya Jankot and Helen Gracon). As you can see, for this Sun Microsystems world-wide Engineering mentoring program, the largest number of both mentors and mentees were based in the USA (green), compared to those based in APAC (Asia-Pacific Region, blue) and EMEA (Europe-Middle East-Africa Region, red). Even so, there was a disproportionate number mentors based in the USA (more than in APAC and EMEA combined). In 2009, when this data was analyzed, Sun had about 15,000 Engineering staff distributed among thirty locations around the world, including large campuses in China, India and Europe – but most of Sun’s Engineering staff was in the USA. These charts show professional mentors’ willingness to engage in successful mentoring relationships beyond borders in order to build and strengthen a community.
- A second example of mentors’ and western institutions’ willingness to reach beyond their national boundaries for a greater good is the TechWomen mentoring program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). For TechWomen 2011, there were thirty-seven mentees from six Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries. For TechWomen 2012, there were forty-two mentees from eight MENA countries. All mentees were hosted at Silicon Valley companies for a month while working with both Professional and Cultural mentor volunteers from over fifty companies and organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. TechWomen has been so successful that its size was doubled for 2013 and the geographic area expanded to include Sub-Saharan Africa, in addition to MENA. The purpose of TechWomen is to bring people together for greater understanding and to empower women and girls worldwide. In both TechWomen and the Sun Microsystems mentoring programs, many of the US-based mentors were either immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants. Sometimes those immigrant mentors or their families were from the same country as their mentee (a direct-diaspora connection), but most times not.
- A final mentoring program example showing a more-direct diaspora connection was the sold-out December 2012 Inaugural Open Mentoring Session, presented by TiE Silicon Valley as part of their TiE SV MentorConnect program with MentorCloud. About TiE: “TiE, a not-for-profit global network of entrepreneurs and professionals, was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley, California, USA. Although its birth name, The Indus Entrepreneurs, signifies the ethnic South Asian or Indus roots of the founders, TiE stands for Talent, Ideas and Enterprise. It is an open and inclusive organization that has rapidly grown to more than 57 chapters in 14 countries.” Feedback on the Open Mentoring Session: 82% of mentees completed the post-event survey and rated the event as “Highly Recommended” or “Recommended”. 90% of them said the event “exceeded” their expectations, and a whopping 95% said they would recommend a similar session to their friends.
These examples have shown two legs of the triangle – Diaspora and Western Institutions – using mentoring for community building, mutual-understanding, and professional growth. To see mentoring connections with the triangle’s third leg – Developing Countries Institutions – check out the customer logos on the MentorCloud home page, including:
- Global Science and Technology Foundation (GSTF) – Sub-Sahara African Universities
- Indian Institute of Science Alumni Association (IIScAA) – Knowledge Exchange Programme
- International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA)
- The SABLE Accelerator – The South African Business Link to Experts
- TechWadi – Building Bridges for Entrepreneurship – MENA region
- TiE Silicon Valley
- University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa (Wits)
Images Copyright 2012 by Katy Dickinson
19 October 2019: Post links updated. For more about MentorCloud business practices, see Collecting a Labor Judgement (15 January 2016).
16 TechWomen 2011-2012 mentors (and potential-2013 mentors) gathered at my house in San Jose California last weekend for a potluck lunch and to hear Conference Chair Taghrid Samak tell us about EgyptNEGMA (Entrepreneurship for Development in Egypt – to be held next week at MIT). One of our own TechWomen mentees, Heba Hosny, is an EgyptNEGMA-2013 finalist. My guests enjoyed the new porch and a tour of WP668 – the backyard caboose where I have my office. Three had also been mentors in my SEED mentoring program at Sun Microsystems. It was such a pleasure to be able to host this remarkably talented and energetic group of technical women!
Images Copyright 2013 by Katy Dickinson