Formal mentoring programmes can increase employee engagement, accelerate employee development, and positively impact retention. However, not every mentoring programme live up to expectations. We have identified 6 reasons why mentoring programmes fail:
- No clearly defined need for mentoring
- Lack of support from top management
- No one is taking the lead
- Poor matching
- Lack of training and preparation
- No evaluation of programme quality and outcome
One, some or all of these elements might be overlooked in the design of mentoring programmes due to lack of knowledge, lack of time and resources and lack of engagement in people development.
No clearly defined need for mentoring
A classical mistake in establishing mentoring programmes is unclear goals disconnected from the strategic business agenda. This may result in a very vague or broad purpose making it very difficult to measure and evaluate whether the programme has been a success – and therefore also difficult to gain commitment for the programme (and resources), as it is difficult to see how it benefits the organisation as a whole.
Lack of support from top management
If top management has not bought in on the mentoring programme and supports it by encouraging participation and even leading by example fx acting as mentors, it will be difficult to gain commitment from others in the organisation. When top management does not prioritize the programme, the mentoring programme will be perceived as less important. Other key stakeholders will probably follow top management’s lead, and it will be difficult to gain traction and resources for the mentoring programme.
No one is taking the lead
For a mentoring programme to be a success, someone with the right skills and commitment needs to be in charge of and visibly taking responsibility. This key person is also called a programme manager. The programme manager needs skills, time and resources and is often working together with a programme management team and is the main point of contact for all key stakeholders. Additionally, the programme manager supports the participants and is their first point of contact for questions or concerns during the programme.
Poor matching can happen because of unclear criteria for what is a good match and when mentors and mentees have no influence on the matching. When HR comes together and creates the matches on their own and perhaps with input or confirmation from the managers/top management, mentors and mentees can feel manipulated and insecure about why they are in the programme and what HR and the leaders really expect from them.
The best matching process is transparent with clear criteria for how to match and makes sense in terms of the overall purpose of the programme. Additionally, a good matching process includes input from mentors and mentees on their expectations, learning themes and understanding of mentoring.
Lack of training and preparation
Not everyone is a great mentor – even when they perform well in their daily job. Even when the mentor candidates have shown talent as managers, training is still required to understand how to behave in the mentor role. Many skills of mentoring are the same as for good leadership, but the context is different – especially in terms of how power influences the relationship between a leader and a direct report vs a mentor and a mentee.
Often it is expected that managers will know how to act as mentors. This is putting pressure on the mentors which can lead to underperformance in the mentor role or to becoming a very directing mentor.
For both mentors and mentees training and preparation for mentoring is valuable in clarifying expectations for what mentoring is and how to benefit. Training provides insight, skills and tools for creating sound mentoring relationships that can provide learning for both mentors and mentees.
No evaluation of programme quality and outcome
All too often mentoring programmes are not evaluated – neither on quality nor on outcome vs programme purpose. It may be because of lack of resources to do this – or for lack of commitment to the programme. However, evaluating mentoring programmes and communicating the results – good and bad – is a way to document the actual value and effect of mentoring. Evaluating the programme influences the engagement and commitment to mentoring. And evaluating will help identify how to keep improving the design and management of the programme. Finally, evaluation – asking mentors and mentees to answer a questionnaire on their experience, perception and outcome of the mentoring programme – also provides the participants with a reflective moment to consider what they have learned, how this is valuable, and how they can apply this going forward.