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How to set up a mentoring programme

Mentoring has been recognised as a top way of bringing someone forward at least since the Ancient Greeks. They described the role as “soul friend.” It isn’t a substitute for other types of learning. It is a way to help people to recognise their talents, and gaps in ability, and to come forward to excellence. Most organisations realise this, but mentoring often happens on an ad hoc basis, if at all. It’s a mistake either to restrict the benefits to the excellent few, or to use it just as a corrective for those who are not performing well. If mentoring is widespread, excellence can be widespread too.

An effective programme will need planning. The objectives need to be clear at the outset, rather than just a general aim of “improving.” Then mentors and mentees have to be chosen. One essential quality is their commitment to success. If either party is half-hearted, the programme is unlikely to succeed. The ground rules need to be set up, so that nobody is surprised or upset later. This could happen if, say, one assumes meetings will all be after work, while the other assumes they will fit into the working day.

Technology has raised the new consideration of whether the mentoring should be face-to-face or at a distance. Face-to-face has great value, and sometimes is unbeatable. However, there are advantages in electronic mentoring as well. It can be anytime, anyplace, and might be cheaper. It compels the formulating of thoughts into written words, and yet allows impromptu messages. It loses on social contact, but might make it easier to broach difficult topics. When you have distance and face-to-face meetings combines, you can get the best of both worlds.

Mentoring is a real win-win exercise. Candidates get the chance to expand their horizons. Mentors too, can gain from the interchange, and mentoring skill is added to their repertoire. The organisation gains from the increase in its skill base. It also creates a visible culture of learning and opportunity, which makes it attractive to key people already there, and to potential recruits.

There are possible pitfalls, such as the wrong areas being covered, or misuse of the time to get the candidate doing other jobs, or an over-dependence on the mentor developing. These can mostly be avoided by thorough groundwork to set out the goals and how to achieve them. It’s a time-consuming process, but the benefits are colossal.

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