The 5 most common mentoring mistakes to avoid

The benefits of a mentoring programme are well-documented: When you give new employees one-on-one time with experienced employees, your junior and mid-level staff members not only gain knowledge about the company and the industry. They also advance their careers and have an easier time finding their way in the workplace.

Having a successful mentoring programme in place will help build a better work culture, improve staff communication, create a high-performing team, and have a positive impact on your retention efforts.

Unfortunately, not every mentoring programme does what it sets out to do. When mentoring relationships aren’t properly supported, they can fail, to the frustration of both the mentor and mentee.  

There’s no one-size-fits-all template for effective mentoring. But on your way to empowering your employees -- no matter your organisation’s size, industry or workplace culture -- it’s a good idea to avoid certain mistakes.

Here are the five most common mentoring programme mistakes to avoid:

Pairing people at random

It’s never a good idea to make random mentoring matches by picking names out of a hat. Instead, you should first identify possible mentors in your company. Don’t just assume that any senior person is willing to participate in a mentoring programme. Approach candidates to gauge their interest level in serving as a mentor. You want to find people who are enthusiastic about the idea, and are willing and able to commit.

Then, ask potential mentees about their professional interests and long-term goals and what they hope to get out of a mentoring relationship, either in person or through a survey. Consider uniting the different generations in your workplace. Pair junior employees with tenured ones by considering their interests and personalities. This kind of thoughtful selection process increases the likelihood that the relationship will be beneficial and successful.

Failing to define the role of the mentor

Do you want the mentors in your company to be life coaches who meet with their mentees for weekly sessions, or just more-experienced employees your junior staff members can have coffee with once a month? It’s important to spell out your expectations at the start, no matter what they are.

Do keep in mind though, that a mentor should not directly supervise or work alongside their mentee. Mentors should offer guidance and direction, but they should not be in a position to tell the mentee what to do or how to do it. Also, every mentorship should have an end date, after which both parties can decide to continue or part ways.

Not allowing enough time for a mentoring programme

When the office gets busy, mentoring is often the first thing that gets pushed off everyone’s schedule. And if it’s left on the back burner too long, there’s a chance it’ll end up being forgotten completely.

To help ensure the success of your mentoring programme, ask participants to make the relationship a priority. Encourage them to put meeting dates on their calendars and treat them like mandatory events. Consider setting aside some of your department’s budget to reimburse mentors and mentees for lunches they have together. And remind mentors and mentees that there’s value in scheduled phone conversations, just as there is with spontaneous text messages.

Treating mentoring as a one-way street

Mentoring is not a monologue, where leaders impart wisdom while followers sit at their feet and take notes. Effective mentoring is a dialogue; mentees often offer valuable insights and information to their mentors as well.

Your mentoring programme can push this concept further by introducing reverse mentoring, where a junior member of staff acts as a mentor to someone more experienced. This is often used to help senior employees improve their IT and social media skills, as many millennials have a strong grasp of those realms.

Failing to monitor the mentoring programme

A good mentoring programme must be monitored over time. It’s not something you simply set up and release into the wild, hoping for the best. Make sure you canvas participants on a regular basis to see how the relationship is going and what management can do to make it more successful. Also bear in mind that mentees’ needs, goals and expectations can evolve. When that happens, help them end their present relationships and find someone else who can be a career coach.

A mentoring programme is a valuable asset for professionals, regardless of where they are on the career ladder. Help your employees make the best of their mentoring relationships, and watch both new hires and senior staff become stronger, more capable and more satisfied in their jobs.

This article originally appeared on the Robert Half Finance and Accounting blog.

Tags: Mentoring

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