Mentoring Programme Design — the 8 key steps

Mentoring Programme DesignHow to set up a Mentoring Programme

A successful mentoring programme design that delivers the results you are looking to achieve can be a difficult process. Particularly if the organisational culture is at odds with the philosophy of mentoring, or the senior management are paying lip service to the programme’s introduction.

As a mentoring practitioner who spends a considerable amount of time creating bespoke programmes for my clients, before I start to think about the mentoring programme design, I like to talk to some of the people who may become involved as prospective mentors and mentees and to some of the senior managers who may be expected to support and sponsor the programme’s implementation. The questions I ask are quite simple:

  • How supportive or not the culture will be to embracing mentoring?
  • What obstacles or challenges mentoring may face?

This feedback is so useful to guide some of the steps, particularly around influencing stakeholders and communication/publicity before the programme commences.

What type of mentoring will you use?

Sponsorship Mentoring

Sponsorship Mentoring focuses on career sponsorship by the mentor and is often a relationship where the power dimension between mentor and mentee is fairly strong.

Developmental Mentoring

Or Developmental Mentoring, which places greater emphasis on learning and development and the growth of the mentee, where the mentee or learner takes responsibility for their own learning. Developmental mentoring should be a mentee driven, two-way learning relationship.

These days many Talent Management mentoring programmes, will decide to take some elements of sponsorship into their design also and it is wise to be absolutely clear on the outcomes of mentoring required before defining the roles and behaviours of the mentor for the programme and agreeing where mentoring should sit on the developmental-sponsorship spectrum.

An effective mentoring programme should consider the following stages in its design:

1. The Rationale for a Mentoring Programme

What is the requirement for mentoring and how is it going to add value or contribute strategically to the organisation? It is so important to identify what the objectives are for the mentoring programme and what outputs or success factors you are seeking to obtain from the programme. The number of organisations who begin by identifying a pool of mentors and then hunting around for suitable mentees for them to work with is quite terrifying!

👍 Make it Work

  • Always start from the “mentee need”.
  • Identify clear objectives, outputs and success factors for the programme.

👎 Fatal Flaws

  • Identifying individuals you think will make good mentors before considering who needs mentoring.
  • Not identifying the programme outputs/success factors until you come to evaluate it a year later!

2. Influencing Stakeholders

Setting up and running any mentoring programme begins by influencing and gaining key stakeholder buy-in to the programme. Senior management support is vital. By exhibiting their commitment and enthusiasm to the initiative, it will influence other organisational members to accept and support the programme in the future. Will you be identifying one particular mentoring champion to lead the programme? Who is going to have ownership of the programme within the organisation, will this be with HR or the line?

👍 Make it Work

  • Agree who are the key stakeholders right at the beginning.
  • Get these individuals to both sign up to and actively support the programme within the organisation.

👎 Fatal Flaws

  • Not identifying who is responsible for the programme at the beginning and the programme falling down between the senior line management champion and the HR function.
  • Finding out too late that senior management are not really supportive of the programme.

3. A Clear Recruitment Strategy/Communication and Publicity

Identifying the mentee target group and needs first and then inviting mentees to participate before recruiting appropriate mentors is key. Seek all programme participants on a voluntary basis. How the programme is being communicated to the rest of the organisation is important and should be given due consideration.

👍 Make it Work

  • Make mentoring voluntary for the most successful results.
  • Ensure individuals understand what is expected of them within a formal programme. Are there events they need to commit to? Do they realise how much time approximately that participation in a relationship will take?
  • Communicate a clear programme outline to anyone you are interested in recruiting, to include the benefits of their involvement. Also communicate with line managers and other stakeholders so there is complete transparency.

👎 Fatal Flaws

  • Identifying the mentors first and then hunting around for suitable mentees for them!
  • Making participation compulsory or “politically correct” for ambitious individuals.
  • Not communicating the programme to the outside world effectively and making mentoring appear to be only for the “elite”.

4. Preparing the Participants

Research has demonstrated that relationships are three times more likely to succeed if formal training of mentors and mentees has taken place. As well as mentoring skills development, training provides the opportunity to raise concerns and questions prior to the relationship commencing. As a minimum, this preparation should encompass the programme purpose, objectives and process, roles and responsibilities of mentor and mentee, contracting, agreeing expectations and boundaries, skills and techniques (with an opportunity to practise in a safe environment) and the understanding of the life cycle of a relationship.

👍 Make it Work

  • Ensure there is some preparation, even if it is a short briefing, it will make a huge difference to the programme success.
  • A one-day interactive workshop for participants is fantastic, with time for practising mentoring skills in a safe environment with feedback. If this is not feasible, then a half-day workshop can also be very effective. Or run a webinar, you can pack a lot into a good one hour session!

👎 Fatal Flaws

  • Not preparing mentors or mentees in any way and letting them “make it up” as they go along.
  • Not covering how to have a mentoring agreement between mentor and mentee so they do not have a safety net in their relationship.

5. The Matching Process

This can involve identifying selection criteria and assigning pairs or allowing self-selection for the mentoring pair. Some choice should be allowed if at all possible as the most successful matching occurs in relationships where both parties felt they had some choice in their partner. It is very important that if either party in a mentoring relationship is uncomfortable with the way it is going, that support is available and a ‘no fault’ separation clause can be invoked. Matching can involve using specialised software or a specially designed database.

👍 Make it Work

  • Allow some choice to both parties.

👎 Fatal Flaws

  • “Arranged marriages” with no get out clause!

6. Supporting the Mentoring Programme

Allowing mentors and mentees to meet in support groups on a regular basis is one way of providing ongoing support to a mentoring programme and supervision to the mentors. An opportunity to discuss concerns, perhaps gain some further knowledge or skills training and to network generally with other participants of the programme is critical.

👍 Make it Work

  • Ensure all participants know whom to contact if they have problems in their relationship.

👎 Fatal Flaws

  • Just leaving a programme on its own once it has been set-up. Without a regular injection of energy, most programmes will wither and die.

7. Review and Evaluation

Assess the mentoring programmes to provide formative evaluation. Use this to review the design and future implementation of the programme. In addition, complete summative evaluation at the end of each cycle of the programme. Conduct evaluation at the programme and relationship level and focus on both process and outputs.

Some of the aspects to evaluate include: programme and relationship processes, selection criteria, proportion of successes/failures, the training, programme support, meeting frequency/relevancy/value and the learning acquired. Certainly measure how the programme impacts on the retention, promotion, and performance of individuals and some of the less tangible aspects such as self-confidence and self-belief.

👍 Make it Work

  • Plan your evaluation as part of the initial mentoring programme design before it is set up.

👎 Fatal Flaws

  • Not assessing mentoring on an ongoing formative basis.
  • Failing to agree success factors right at the beginning of the mentoring programme design.
  • Not using the evaluation to build a business case to develop mentoring further within the organisation.

8. The Role of the Mentoring Co-ordinator

Every mentoring programme needs a key individual to take responsibility for the day-to-day running and operation, whether or not they were responsible for its initial design and implementation. The role of the mentoring co-ordinator or manager is to:

  • Support the mentoring relationships once they are established
  • Handle difficulties between pairs should they arise
  • Rematch and refocus relationships when required
  • Ensure participants complete the appropriate evaluation at the appropriate phase of the relationships
  • Communicate and publicise results and feedback.

Take a look at our Virtual Programme Management if you need help running an existing scheme, or look at our Mentoring Start Package and choose just those items you need to reinvigorate your mentoring.


👉 Get in touch to find out how you can benefit from our expertise in setting up mentoring schemes.

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