A well set up mentor programme can be easily combined with other initiatives to develop senior leaders, say Carola Hieker and Maia Rushby
How would your mentee rate you…and what does your mentee say about you when you leave the room? And as a mentor, do you know your mentee’s strengths and development needs? Are you trained with the right skills and do you use them effectively?
The importance of mentoring for accelerating the development of the high potential men and women in organisations is widely acknowledged in research and literature (McKinsey Survey Results 2014). Diversity-in-Leadership talk about developing ‘mentors to sponsors’ to illustrate the depth of responsibility of senior leaders in progressing the high potentials in their organisation. However often mentoring programmes do not achieve the desired outcome.
This is a pattern that we constantly see in our work at Diversity-in-Leadership. In a series of interviews that we conducted across multiple sectors, the senior leaders who were chosen as mentors as well as the respective mentees reported unanimously that most initiatives were not very successful and the results were not proportional to the time invested.
The mentors reported that they often didn’t really know what to do in their role and were not sure how much they were supposed to challenge and develop their mentee. They also expressed the wish to have a coach/supervisor as a sparring partner during the mentoring period to reflect on their mentee’s strengths and development needs and better understand how to coach and promote them.
At the same time, many of the mentees didn’t feel that having a mentor made a significant difference to their career options, or that the time they spent with their mentor was an important investment. Mentors as well as the mentees reported that in many of their meetings the relationship was reduced to ‘having lunch together’ where ‘small talk’ and ‘hero stories’ were shared.
So, if everybody agrees on the importance of mentoring – that good quality mentors are an essential success factor to accelerate the development of future leaders – what needs to be done?
Bridging the gap: mentor supervision?
Let us consider the definition of a good mentor: ‘someone who should act like a sponsor and champion the mentee’s career advancement, nominating the mentee for stretching assignments or promotions and taking the mentee up in the discussion they are not part of’ (Glasshammer 2014).
Companies often get frustrated when they don’t see the desired results after starting a mentoring programme. The initiative to provide a platform and offer the opportunity for mentoring is a good first step but it is not enough to make mentoring effective and sustainable.
Working closely with several of these companies, Diversity-in-Leadership has developed an approach that focuses on the different challenges that make mentoring programmes successful. Key to our approach is deepening the capability of the mentors who then become the change makers for building a diverse workforce.
Diversity-in-Leadership’s approach is based around designing and deploying effective mentoring frameworks; this consistency of approach is what makes mentoring initiatives both sustainable and impactful. We work together with our clients on three key pillars: clear objectives, a facilitated matching process and supervision of mentors.
Clear objectives are based on the values of the organisation and need to be led by the senior leadership team. This gives organisational ownership. In addition, the organisation needs to decide at what stage does the return outweigh the investment in establishing a formal mentor platform.
2. Matching process
The matching process needs some guidance to avoid ‘favourites’ and ‘fall-outs’. Diversity-in-Leadership has developed a simple, effective and easy to implement tool to drive this process.
3. Mentor supervision
Above all, the real difference to making a mentoring programme sustainable and bringing about the desired behavioural change of the mentors is supervision for the mentors.
Supervision needs to be provided by a professionally trained supervisor/coach who is independent from the organisation and therefore is able to recognise and challenge unconscious bias in individuals and within the organisation. This independence gives the supervisor the credibility and authority to ‘check in’ with the mentors and provide a safe space for them to reflect and learn from their relationship with their mentee.
A well set up mentor programme can be easily combined with other initiatives to develop senior leaders. Because of the lasting behaviour change that mentor supervision can bring, it can form an important component to broader ranging cultural change programmes.