Realising the potential of a successful mentoring programme

Sarah Cook and Steve Macaulay provide the steps for a successful mentoring programme.

Mentoring programmes have become much more prominent in recent years and different forms have flourished, to the extent that the whole spectrum of types of organisations and levels can commonly be seen to feel the benefit of mentoring.

For example, career development through mentoring and mutual or reverse mentoring is increasing in popularity, mentoring is now recognised as a helpful response to the equalities and inclusion agenda, remote forms of mentoring have rapidly progressed as home-working has become more the norm as a result of the pandemic, senior managers have responded to today’s pressure by seeking out support from external mentors and mentoring software technology has rapidly developed.

Mentoring covers a wide variety of forms

Mentoring can now be seen across a wide range of organisations in different formats:

  • To help create a climate of greater inclusion and diversity, many organisations are now setting up mentoring programmes, often following a critical review of the lack of representation in terms of race and gender, particularly at leadership and management levels. In recent years mutual mentoring has grown more in popularity.
  • Today, fledgling businesses often seek the support of a business-wise mentor to overcome an entrepreneur’s relative inexperience.
  • In addition, for the organisation a mentoring programme is a successful recruitment and development vehicle which works well for Generation Y and Z, where research shows there is a strong impetus and motivation for rapid career development.

In setting up mentoring, our experience suggests energy and enthusiasm from HR will only form part of the total picture – a well thought-out policy, processes and structure and implementation is a vital component of a successful mentoring programme.

In this article the authors seek to dig deep to help you understand what a successful mentoring scheme should really about for your organisation and the conditions necessary to realise its benefits.

Importantly, we outline the practical and necessary steps an organisation needs to take to set up and maintain a well-functioning mentoring scheme and the resources needed. The role of L&D and HR professionals in successful mentoring will also be discussed, including common pitfalls.

Anticipating common problems

Be clear about mentoring and its aims

In agreeing to mentoring, all parties involved need to fully understand what they are committing to-particularly so since mentoring has taken on different forms and the right one needs to be chosen. Perhaps the most common form is career development mentoring, where individuals receive career advice from people in their organisation, typically from those more experienced than themselves.

Loose understandings will not do – you need to pin down what is the purpose of your mentoring and exactly what sort of mentor you want. For example, here are three definitions of a mentor.

  1. “A mentor is a more experienced individual willing to share knowledge with someone less experienced in a relationship of mutual trust” – David Clutterbuck
  2. “A mentor is a trusted counsellor or guide, a counsellor, coach, motivator, and role model. A mentor is a person who has a sincere desire to enhance the success of others. A person who volunteers time to help the employee” – Chartered Institute of Personnel Development
  3. “A mentor is someone who can patiently assist with someone’s growth and development in a given area. This assistance can come in the form of guidance, teaching, imparting of wisdom and experience” – The Mentoring Society

There is sometimes confusion over coaching and mentoring – mentoring tends to look particularly to the longer term, whereas a coach is much more focused on the coachee’s shorter term and immediate goals.

Be clear on the priorities

To get the most from mentoring, be clear on your priorities both as an organisation and from a mentee’s perspective – what benefits you particularly want for your organisation and the mentee, the person being mentored.

For the mentee, the range of ways mentoring can assist the individual are to:

  • Set career goals and a sense of direction
  • Gain practical advice, insights and support
  • Develop strategies to resolve issues
  • Become more empowered to act
  • Develop personal confidence
  • Learn from the experience of others

It is widely recognised that the mentor benefits too, including:

  • Developing leadership skills
  • Improving communication skills
  • Reinforcing expert knowledge and skills
  • Increasing motivation and confidence
  • Gaining a sense of self-fulfilment and personal value.

Agree who is responsible for what

A mentoring relationship can last for a fixed term or over many months and years. To set up a successful mentoring programme, it is important that the responsibilities and boundaries of the mentor and the mentee are clear. For the mentor to be effective in their role they need to:

  • Help the mentee set goals
  • Listen actively
  • As appropriate, share experience and give advice, recommend actions and resources
  • Be available and responsive
  • Respect confidentiality
  • Encourage independence
  • Inspire confidence

The mentee’s role is to:

  • Set clear goals
  • Be open about their needs
  • Be available and responsive
  • Come to each meeting with an agenda
  • Heed mentor’s experience and advice
  • Take responsibility for their own learning
  • Trust their mentor.

Devote sufficient resources and be wary of a one-size fits all approach

It is tempting to cut corners, to smooth distinctions between schemes and to pare back budgets. However, to help the mentor be effective in their role, it is essential that they are provided with appropriate mentoring support and training.

We have also found it useful to create a well-budgeted resource hub of materials and activities that the mentor can access to help their mentee pinpoint their career goals, recognise their strengths and aspirations.

Ensure that you consult widely with key stakeholders to gain buy-in for groups in the organisation and to ensure that the mentoring scheme is appropriate to the target audience. In this way, you get full support and avoid the risk of grumbles of disagreement or even hostility from affected groups.

Be clear about the role of L&D and HR

L&D and HR professionals are often keen to set up mentoring since it fits neatly into the heart of the development of the organisation. The HR and L&D profession have a key role to play in the successful creation and development of a mentoring programme.

They can help set up and promote the programme, provide training and resources as well as acting as ‘brokers’ by matching mentees to appropriate mentors. Co-ordinating and maintaining the scheme is also important to prevent it drifting off its intended direction or deteriorating.

Select mentors and set expectations carefully

The mentor/ mentee relationship is central to any scheme. Selecting a mentor who is too busy to fully participate or who does not see this as important will fail-however theoretically they are a good fit for the role.

Setting up a typical mentoring programme

Top success pointers

No quick checklist will encompass the richness of variety in mentoring schemes. However, we suggest as a summary takeaway:

  • Be clear what you want out of the scheme
  • As part of this, discuss and agree with stakeholders the objectives, benefits and reasons for using mentoring
  • Give information and training to everyone involved, but particularly the mentor who needs to be selected and developed carefully
  • Set up methods for evaluation and review of the scheme to avoid it becoming out-of-date and less relevant.

Examples of the spread of mentoring schemes


Boeing offers a range of mentoring schemes throughout the company. One programme, the rotational programme, helps new employees to get started on planning their future. Also, they have a one-to-one learning programme focused on peer mentoring opportunities. In the Boeing Leadership Centre employees are partnered with senior leaders to develop their skills of leadership.


Caterpillar offers an in-depth experience of mentoring over two to three years. Caterpillar encourages returning engineers through its returning professional development programme, a four-month mentorship to get skilled employees back into the workplace.

General Electric

The company is well-known for its reverse mentoring programme, which is over twenty years old. Traditional forms of mentoring have also flourished through its GE Global Leadership Institute. Here senior members of the company coach and mentor participants throughout the world.


The company operates a number of mentoring programmes focused on professional development. These might relate to particular specialisms or group opportunities, but also informal mentorship schemes exist.

Royal Society of Chemistry

This professional body has developed a mentoring programme for employees, using some 80 mentors as volunteers to work with those who join the programme.


PayPal operates a mentorship programme focused on its female employees. Some 100 pairs of mentors and mentees are involved in the programme, either from the same and or in other cases from different departments, with some matching of genders and some not, within the pairings.



With a sound structure as a foundation, mentoring programmes can have a substantial and beneficial impact on company performance and employee engagement, sharing knowledge and experience and encouraging career progression, as well as fostering mutual growth and development.


The authors

Sarah Cook is MD of the Stairway Consultancy at; Steve Macaulay is an associate at Cranfield Executive Development at


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