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How to Groom Successful Mentors


First off, I’d like to acknowledge that managers need to play a role in driving employee engagement and performance. I would not recommend that you replace manager-employee coaching or try to make up for bad managers with a mentoring program.

Clarify your objectives. An effective mentoring program supplements coaching from managers, and it should be positioned as a way to make the business, not just individual employees, more successful. From there you can add a more specific goal, such as helping new employees get up to speed quickly.

Define your mentor selection criteria. Mentors need to be more than willing. They need to have a coaching attitude and ability. Describe these characteristics in writing - and other traits, such as particular business knowledge or specific skills.

Equip your mentors. Provide tools and training to help mentors fulfil their role. This process goes beyond basic coaching skills to include an emphasis on:

  • Individualised partnerships. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” may serve people well most of the time, but it can actually get in the way of successful mentoring. Effective mentors understand their individual mentees’ needs and work with everyone differently. What works great for one person can derail another.
  • Career coaching. Although employees may look to their mentors for career “navigation” advice, our research indicates that few are clear on what’s important to them. Mentors need to help people get behind the core values that create job satisfaction for them. What do they like to do and why? What would enrich their work each day? Only then can mentors help employees create a plan for professional development, career progression or job enrichment.
Reinforce mentoring. To reap the benefits that mentors provide, you need to make mentoring a way of life. Senior leaders must be role models and discuss with employees the impact that mentoring has on business and personal success.

Leaders experience success as mentors through practice. The more they mentor, the more successful their mentoring becomes. A virtuous cycle will then take hold: They believe in mentoring, they’ve seen how it works, and they’re motivated to build their own competence.

And don’t forget to build in accountability, metrics and recognition systems. Without these, mentoring can fall by the wayside as a “nice to do that we don’t have time to do,” instead of remaining a core strategy for building an engaged workforce and thriving business.

[SOURCE: Cathy Earley, BlessingWhite, San Francisco, November 27, 2007]

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