Q&A Lis Merrick discusses four key questions in mentoring

Questions in mentoringLis Merrick shares her thoughts and experiences around key questions in mentoring in this video interview with AYO Mentoring.

Watch the video and/or follow along with the text beneath.

Considering your vast experience and mentoring expertise: How do you consider that this practice can enhance the workforce’s human development and what economic impact can this generate in companies?

In my experience, mentoring can enhance the workforce’s human development in many ways. Some of the biggest benefits of mentoring include:

For the mentee:

  • Improved performance and productivity in their current roles
  • enhanced Career opportunity and advancement
  • Improved knowledge, skills and wisdom from working with their mentor
  • and Greater confidence, self awareness and well-being

Mentoring will also develop the mentor, there is considerable two way learning in developmental mentoring and the Benefits of mentoring for the mentor include:

  • Greater knowledge of the area of the business the mentee works in
  • Improved self-awareness
  • Enhanced communication skills, particularly listening and questioning
  • and their development of themselves as a Leader. In fact some organisations will introduce mentoring to work on the mentor’s leadership skills!

And for organisations, mentoring will create greater:

  • Staff retention and improved communication
  • Improved morale, motivation, better working relationships
  • and Improved learning on the job
  • plus the development of the organisation’s talent and leaders.

Mentoring can have an economic impact. One of the best examples of this I use to demonstrate tangible economic benefits is a Talent Mentoring programme that I designed, where out of 20 mentoring pairs, 5 mentees told me, when evaluating the programme a year later, that if it wasn’t for their mentoring support they would have left the organisation! These were senior leaders for whom the cost of replacing them alone more than justified the programme’s existence, let alone the unknown costs to the organisation of getting their successors up to speed etc. This is an example of saving money.

However, the results from improved talent and leadership development creates an enormous justification for organising well designed mentoring in an organisation. Individuals forget 95% of the content of a training programme within 3 months of attending it. Mentoring research demonstrates that the learning from a mentoring conversation is retained, used and embedded far more effectively.

What would you say are the main pain points of the HR coordinators that want to begin or scale an internal mentoring program?

The main pain points tend to be around:

Firstly getting the buy in from senior leaders to having an internal mentoring programme. Once the programme’s purpose and success factors are established, the next step begins by influencing and gaining key stakeholder buy-in to it. Senior management support is vital. By exhibiting their commitment and enthusiasm to the programme, it will influence other organizational members to accept and support the programme in the future. Without this top-level commitment, potential mentors may just see the role of mentor as onerous, as it will require more time and energy on top of their already busy day jobs.

In addition, who is going to have ownership of the programme within the organisation, will this be with Human Resources or the line? This is a common sticky issue as Human Resources tend to drive the programme as part of their Learning and Development strategy and do not always have the requisite commitment from the line and then the credibility and commitment to the programme can fall at the first hurdle.

The next pain point to me is around recruitment of mentors and mentees
The next step is to identify the mentee or client target group and potential mentor population and invite them to participate on a voluntary basis. Voluntarism is a key factor in making your mentoring more successful. Programmes vary in terms of the formally of the recruitment process, but making participation compulsory or “politically correct” for individuals or key talent, can turn your mentoring programme into a competition to obtain the most senior sponsor in the organisation.

How the programme is being communicated to the rest of the organization is important. Communicate a clear programme outline to anyone you are interested in recruiting, to include the benefits of their involvement, but also communicate with line managers and other stakeholders so there is complete transparency. 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? Without this transparency, potential participants can make erroneous assumptions about who mentoring is for and the agendas of the various stakeholders involved. This can lead to accusations of favouritism or an assumption that mentoring is remedial, thus managing impressions of the scheme is vital.

Finally, making sure some good evaluation is conducted.

The evaluation of a mentoring programme should be planned as part of the initial programme design whilst it is being set up and the programme outputs and success factors agreed. Mentoring programmes should be continually assessed to provide formative evaluation, which can be used to review the design and future implementation of the programme. In addition, summative evaluation should be completed at the end of each cycle of the programme. Evaluation should be conducted at programme and relationship level and focus on both process and outputs. Unfortunately this just doesn’t happen and so many programmes aren’t continued because there isn’t the data available to justify it continuing. Many HR co-ordinators sadly put evaluation in the too difficult box.

What would be the 3 main tips that you would give to an organization that seeks to develop an internal mentoring program for the first time?

My three main tips are:

Firstly how supportive or not is your culture? Will it embrace mentoring and what obstacles or challenges might mentoring face? This feedback is such a useful guide as to support the design steps, which may need to be taken, particularly around influencing stakeholders and communication/publicity before the programme commences.

Second, Another critical decision to be made is about the type of mentoring to be utilised. 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. 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.

Finally, ensure you have the resources to run a programme. Well run mentoring needs good support and supervision. Don’t ever just set up a programme and leave it to run itself, it will die!

Considering your experience as a mentor, what would you say has been the most valuable thing you have learned or gained from these relationships?

As a mentor myself, I think what I have learned over the years is how common most of the issues are that people face in their work and personal lives, whatever industry or profession they may work in. Simply listening, giving unconditional positive regard and paying attention to your mentee will create that powerful reflective space to support them to make sense of what is going on for them and to help them reach their own conclusions about the way forward.

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About Lis Merrick

Lis Merrick is Managing Director of Coach Mentoring Limited, the ISMCP Accreditation Chair (European Mentoring and Coaching Council International Standards for Mentoring and Coaching Programmes), a Visiting Fellow of the Coaching and Mentoring Research Unit at Sheffield Business School and she was the EMCC (European Mentoring and Coaching Council) UK President from 2015 to 2018.

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