When Mentoring Programs Fail

Laura Francis
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Laura Francis

Is Your Mentoring Program Doomed?

Mentoring Program Failures I recently wrote about failure as it pertains to a personal experience and how we can still learn from a situation even when things don’t go as planned. This got some of my colleagues asking: What about when it happens on a larger scale, like with a mentoring program?

Over the course of nearly 20 years, I have certainly seen organizations make some missteps when it comes to their mentoring efforts. My colleague Chris Browning even wrote about five pitfalls to avoid with your mentoring program. The flops we’ve seen often occurred because of a lack of attention, focus, or support from within the organization. But you can learn from the mistakes that others have made so that you don’t repeat them yourself. See if any of these sound familiar (and if they do, call River right away so we can help!).

Scenario #1: Started Strong, But Fizzled Fast

You have a specific plan for implementing mentoring with a targeted group of people. You have excitement around the program and support from key stakeholders. You have the energy and momentum to kick off the program to great fanfare. And then…nothing happens.

You begin the day-to-day work of managing your program only to find out that not as many people have signed up as you expected. Or maybe you discover that your program is competing with a similar initiative in the organization from another department or that your key stakeholder has moved on to another project (or even another company). The fantastic excitement from only a few short months ago can quickly fade and leave you feeling like you are stuck in place with no idea of how to proceed.

So what do you do? Identifying the reasons for lower than expected participation is a good first step (River can help with this). You should also investigate how you have marketed your program to your intended audience and assess if your message is getting through to them. Lastly, you should identify and ask other stakeholders to speak up about the program to help you draw attention to it.

Scenario #2: Great in Theory, But…

Not measuring mentoringYour leadership team likes the concept of mentoring and has tasked you with learning more about it and figuring out a way to bring it to your organization. You do not have a specific need for mentoring identified beyond the fact that it’s a directive from your executive team. While you have stakeholder support, you don’t really have any direction on where to go next.

The theory of mentoring is wonderful, and there have been amazing results and statistics that show that mentoring is a great development tool for people. But unless you have a core business need to tie it to or at least an initiative to give it a framework, the program may be doomed to being too broad and undefined.

So what do you do? Look for areas within your organization where there is a business need that mentoring can help solve. Do you need to have better employee retention or engagement? Are you trying to improve diversity and inclusion? Do you need to get better results from your formal training programs or onboarding program? Identify one area to start and connect mentoring to that business need. This will give you the opportunity to target a key audience and measure success before you take the program to more people.

Scenario #3: Not It!

Lessons learned through failureYour organization is starting a mentoring program, but who is in charge with running it day-to-day? Do you have a point person for the program, or have people backed out and said “Not it!” when it comes to being the mentoring administrator? Perhaps your mentoring administrator changes so frequently that it’s hard to keep track of who to contact about the program?

All of these situations can spell trouble for your program. Without a key person to act as the main point of contact, your mentees and mentors won’t know who to talk if they have questions about the mentoring program. And with no one really in charge of it, the chances of it actually working are fairly slim. No one will be running reports, looking for red flags, hyping the program to participants and leaders, or looking for ways to improve the mentoring experience for your employees.

So what do you do? Assign someone who will be your mentoring program point person. This person will be the go-to administrator of the program and will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the program. If your administrator gets reassigned or leaves, be sure to assign a new point person and foster a smooth transition between the two. Training and communication are critical here.

While all of these scenarios can lead to problems for your mentoring program, the good news is that River can help. Our mentoring experts have seen this and more when it comes to what not to do with your mentoring program, and we can help you avoid these mistakes altogether. Contact us today to discuss your mentoring issues and to dive into some of the best practices we can provide related to mentoring software and mentoring programs overall.

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