How Do I Run a Successful Mentoring Pilot?

Chris Browning
Written by
Chris Browning

7 Tips to Make Your Mentoring Pilot Soar

Running a Mentoring PilotBeing in the mentoring solution business, I will occasionally get a question around how to run an effective pilot leveraging mentoring software. I’ve certainly seen successes and failures over the years. Some clients are open to our suggestions and are willing to learn from our experience, while others come with a set plan already in mind that they don’t wish to deviate from. Based on all that I’ve seen through these occurrences, both good and bad, I have found that these seven factors are ones you should consider as you begin to plan your mentoring pilot.

1. What should we call it?

Begin by considering whether you even want to label your efforts a “pilot” or not. What does that word mean in your culture? In some corporate cultures I’ve encountered, “pilot” is interpreted by the workforce to be a “flavor of the month” initiative, one which has an equal if not greater chance of not moving forward. Referring to it among the project team as a pilot is one thing, but consideration should be given to how that term will be viewed by the people you want to engage as participants. It may be fine to use “pilot” and might have no ill effect on your program; I just know it has caused problems with some others in the past. If you decide “pilot” is not for you, some alternatives you could use include “Phase 1” or “Initial Rollout.”

2. Be sure to engage participants with real learning needs.

Setting goalsIn the past, we had a number of clients who would “pilot” the program only within HR among an extended project team. What they were really doing was familiarizing themselves with the software, not actually piloting a mentoring solution. Thankfully this does not happen much anymore. My encouragement to you is to ensure that those who are participating as mentees have genuine need for mentoring, and that those participating as the mentors have genuine expertise and experience that they can share. In this way, you can get a real sense of the impact that the actual mentoring is having on the workforce. If it makes sense, your project team can still participate in the pilot as well, but there are other ways for them to become familiar with how the mentoring software functions.

3. Set clear expectations with your participants.

Ensure that you are clear around what you are asking of your participants. For example, let them know how long you expect the relationships to last, how much time you are asking them to commit (e.g., is it one meeting per month or one meeting per week?), that you expect them to respond to surveys and/or other solicitations for feedback, and so on. Typically, the entire reason to do a pilot is to get feedback from those who are participating, so make that expectation is crystal-clear for your participants. Also, ask yourselves how you are going to hold participants accountable to what you are asking of them, and be willing and sure you can follow through on that accountability.

4. Determine your minimum audience size.

Ideas from a groupA pilot program can sometimes seem like Goldilocks—it needs to be just the right size. You will want to ensure that the audience is large enough to provide the feedback you need, but not so large that you lose control of the process and feedback you hope to gain. If leveraging a self-directed matching process, we typically recommend at least 40-50 pairs so that you can get a sense of how River’s mentoring software algorithm works in making recommendations and so that mentees feel like they had a good number of mentors to choose from. If you will administratively match people to start, you should consider at least 20-25 pairs as a starting point. However, neither of these estimates are to suggest that you should limit your pilot to only those numbers (i.e., 40-50 or 20-25 pairs respectively). If you are truly piloting something, you probably don’t want to launch to several thousand participants out of the gate, but a few or even several hundred can still work, depending on the overall size of your organization.

5. Follow the 5 M’s of Mentoring.

I’ve written about River’s 5 M’s of Successful Mentoring model that helps administrators understand the core concepts they need to address in order to have an effective mentoring program. To be clear, these are not unique to mentoring pilots nor even mentoring programs; they really apply to any type of program, including pilots, which is why I think they should be considered. You can read about these 5 M’s and apply them to your mentoring program—and other programs as well!

6. Engage critical stakeholders.

Mentoring GroupAs a part of the strategy and planning work that we do with our clients, we help develop broad, wide-reaching launch and communication plans. Within those planning processes, we focus on identifying the right stakeholders and determining when we should communicate with them along the way. For example, do they need a pre-launch briefing? Will they want interim feedback or just final program results when the pilot relationships have wrapped-up? Do any of them want to participate as mentors to get a first-hand view of the experience? Do our clients’ champions even want their senior stakeholders to participate in round one or would they rather keep their involvement at a briefing level until they take the program wider? These are just some of the questions we work through with our clients, but the general theme is that it is wise to figure out who needs to be engaged and when to engage them.

7. Mirror the anticipated future user experience.

While there will obviously be differences between the pilot and wider launch (the most notable being the number of participants), to the extent possible, we advise clients to create an experience in the pilot that mimics (to their best guess) what the long-term experience will be. Certainly, there will always be lessons learned that can result in tweaks to the design of the program, but for the most part, we try to help our clients create what we expect the program to be from day one. For example, if you envision mostly or solely self-directed matching long-term, then don’t do all administrative matching during the pilot; you won’t get insights into how the self-directed matching will work. Instead, use the pilot to truly be a mini case study of what your program will be like in the future.

These seven strategies can help you design and run an effective mentoring program pilot. Part of River’s consulting and services that we offer our clients when they buy our mentoring software is expert guidance with such things as running pilots. Contact us to discuss how River can help you achieve success with your mentoring program.

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