Secrets of a Productive Mentorship Program

How to get meaningful ROI from your coaching relationships

For all its benefits, pairing people up to share experiences and education is not a silver bullet for success and some relationships work better than others. Smart Meetings reached out to experts to narrow down the dos and don’ts of mentor-mentee-etiquette.

Set Guidelines

Start by asking what the person being mentored hopes to get out of the experience—introductions, perspective on specific problems, coaching through a promotion—and what the mentor is willing to give in time and recommendations, is a good start, says Lori Pugh Marcum, manager of global education and event production for MPI Academy.

Formal programs often have a required amount of time (say 9–12 months) and a set number of meetings per month. “Everyone has to agree on the goals and objectives up front,” she says. Setting boundaries can make it possible for more people to commit. “You have to be realistic,” she says. Then, if things change personally or professionally, all parties can work to balance expectations.

Mentoring partnerships are both an art and a science. Pairings can be made based on job track, region or background. But chemistry may be the most telling signal to determine success.

Some formal programs spawn other, less formal ones. Pugh Marcum describes one year when MPI grouped first-timers and veteran attendees at a ratio of 3:1, respectively, at its annual World Education Congress event. While the mentees learned a lot about what to expect from attendees who had experienced the educational event multiple times, the interaction with their fellow first-timers resulted in lasting bonds and they created their own group organically.

Look for Chemistry

Informal mentorship often happens at events when two people find they get along well. Jil Dasher, senior vice president and managing director at HPN Meeting Services, reported that after being introduced at a breakout session at The Smart Woman Summit in May, a woman approached her and asked if she would be a mentor. Dasher—no stranger to informal, peer-to-peer growth, since her company supports it robustly—responded, “Only if we can mentor each other.”

At HPN, managers are tasked with growing their replacement and helping people evolve into their “perfect job.” The guidance starts with the interview process, when prospective employees—often young college graduates—are asked about their strengths and weaknesses, and how they want to grow. Once hired, the conversation turns to creating a plan and a timeline for what it would take for them to grow into that role. In turn, the employees are expected to coach their team members to take their place. Reviews become about more than talking about the past. Instead, they focus on looking toward the future.

“This reduces internal competition and increases the trust factor,” Dasher says. “We want everyone to know they are working toward something more and bigger. A community of mutual support and positivity is a nice side effect.”

Many of Dasher’s best mentors come from outside the company: industry mentors, past clients and members of the executive team. The same is true of Dasher’s co-worker, Desi Whitney, who we met at the top of the article. “We are constantly learning from each other on the management team,” she said.

Whitney is proud of the industry grounding that sourcing jobs offer new recruits as they learn professional skills, how to network and all the opportunities available. As people get comfortable with their job, she encourages them to stretch their duties and offers the wealth of resources available in the industry. “Hopefully, they stay longer because of the coaching, but there are no hard feelings if they leave. We want to make sure they grew while they were here,” she says.

Questions for a Mutually Beneficial Mentor Connection

  1. What are your goals?
  2. Where do you see yourself in five years?
  3. Here is what I do; can I help you with anything?
  4. What problem do you want to solve?
  5. How much time do you have to devote?
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