A mentor is someone with whom the mentee can have a confidential conversation about career aspirations, challenges and dreams and about planning the next steps in mentee’s career development. Therefore, mentor should not be mentees direct manager or any other in a direct line of authority.
However, the direct manager is one of mentee’s most important stakeholders in the organisation and should therefore actively engage in the mentoring programme.
Often the direct manager has a role when it comes to designate potential mentees for the programme, however, when we ask mentees to score on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 means “completely disagree”, and 5 means “completely agree” the following statements, they usually get the lowest score:
- My manager gives me ongoing feedback about how my results from the mentoring programme affects my daily work performance.
- My manager actively supports me in applying my learning from the mentoring programme to the benefit of the department.
This indicates to us, that even though the direct manager is one of mentee’s key stakeholders and that their support is vital for the success of the programme, most direct managers do not follow up on their mentees’ development or give their mentees the opportunity to implement their new skills.
The role of the direct manager in mentoring
The purpose of the mentoring programme is to provide development opportunities for the participants in such a way that the programme benefits both mentees, mentors and the organisation. To ensure that the learning benefits the organisation, the departments, and the participants, it is important that the direct managers take active part in the process.
So, what should direct managers do to show their commitment? The answer is clear – by being approachable, helping mentee identifying development needs and providing feedback and recognition. Before the mentee has the first meeting with the mentor, the direct manager should set up a meeting with the mentee to discuss and align expectations.
The role of the direct manager can be described as follows:
- Provide mentee with input and feedback on potential learning topics for the mentoring programme – and to give feedback at appropriate times during the programme on the achievement of this learning.
- Provide mentee with opportunities to experiment with new behaviours, try out new skills, and explore new career opportunities during the mentoring programme.
- Be supportive and observant and give the mentee feedback when you (the direct manager) can see the mentee is changing behaviour or communication style as a result of the mentoring programme.
- Be available to discuss long-term/medium-term career ambitions and career opportunities.
- Support mentees in taking the necessary time to take full benefit of the mentoring programme.
Also, it is important that the mentee and the direct manager discuss the issue of confidentiality in the mentoring process – the mentoring conversations as such are confidential, however, the learning and insights in relation to the defined learning themes are not.
It is important that the direct manager keeps a high engagement rate throughout the programme, but also after the closing of the mentoring programme. When the official mentoring programme ends, in most cases after 10-12 months, many mentees feel alone. For a long time, their development has been in focus, and then suddenly they must stand on their own. If they don’t feel that the development continues after the programme ends, the organisation risk losing the mentees, as they may start looking for new jobs and new opportunities.
The involvement of the mentee’s direct manager is vital for the success of the mentoring programme and especially for the goal of retention – keeping the mentees in the organisation.