5 Ways to Personalize the Mentoring Experience

Laura Francis


5 Ways to Personalize the Mentoring Experience

Personalized attention. Individualized conversations. Tailored activities. These are just a taste of what one can expect from a top-notch mentoring experience. Unfortunately, not all mentoring programs utilize this strategy. Mentoring is meant to be organic, and within that framework, personalization typically goes best. But how you define “personalization” can vary from program to program.

To help you make your mentoring relationship a personalized learning experience, here are five elements to adapt to your needs and individual situation.

What Is a Personalized Mentoring Experience?

A personalized mentoring experience is one in which various aspects of the mentor-mentee relationship are developed around the individual needs of each mentee. Ostensibly, this is the way mentoring is supposed to work, especially in a more traditional 1-to-1 mentoring format.

That said, personalization can come in various ways that extend outside this.

For example, let’s say you’re running a group mentoring program. It’s going to be challenging to ensure that each mentee in that group gets a highly personalized experience. After all, the focus is on communal development around a common theme or purpose. That’s hardly “personalized.” But you can still create a personalized mentoring experience using a rotation strategy, where each mentee’s needs are in focus during each session.

There are more ways to personalize, of course, but hopefully, this gives you a general idea. Even in non-traditional mentoring formats, personalization is possible. You just need to think a bit outside the box and, in most cases, allow more mentee control over the direction and outcome of the relationship.

Other mentoring formats where personalizing the mentoring experience may be more challenging include:

  • Peer mentoring: As an admin, you may need to provide peer mentors with more training to help them understand how to personalize their development.
  • Affinity circles: This will have the same issue as group mentoring.
  • Reverse mentoring: Depending on the nature of the engagement, the junior-level mentor may need additional training on how to effectively personalize this approach.
  • Employee Resource Groups: Assuming your ERGs have a mentoring component, they may operate similarly to group mentoring, at which point, the same issues apply.

The reality here is that your personalized mentoring experience is most easily accomplished when your mentors and mentees are properly trained on their respective roles and expectations and mostly operate in a traditional 1-to-1 engagement. Again, 1-to-1 is not required for effective personalized mentoring experiences, it’s just easier.

But easier isn’t always more fun, impactful, or effective, so be bold!

Now, let’s focus on some of the top strategies to help you add that special touch to the mentoring experience.

1. What Should I Focus on in My Mentoring Relationship?

The focus of your mentoring relationship epitomizes personalized learning at its finest. The learning areas you choose to work on during your mentoring relationship should be the ones that will make an impact on you (or your mentee, if you are a mentor).

Two men and a woman in a group mentoring sessions aligning on topics that will improve the mentoring experience.

These will be unique to your situation and can change over the course of your relationship as you progress with your development.  

For example, you could work on building or improving your leadership skills, such as strategic thinking, visioning, or creating value, if these are areas that require your attention and that you will benefit from developing. Or perhaps you need to focus on more technical skills like planning budgets, giving feedback, or presentation skills.

Regardless of what you need to learn about and work toward improving, the final focal point should be decided upon by you and your mentor (or mentee). This blog on “5 Questions All Mentees Should Ask” is a great starting point.

Special Note: Some organizations choose to dictate what the overarching focus of mentoring relationships should be within a particular program. For example, perhaps in a high-potential development program, the company wants its mentees to focus on a handful of leadership skills. In that case, the focus of the relationship may already be defined for the mentee and mentor.

2. How Long Should My Mentoring Relationship Last?

The short answer: Your mentoring relationship should last as long as it needs to. The long answer is, well, longer. A good mentoring experience is one that’s focused on development, not timing.

Mentoring can be beneficial whether it lasts for two weeks, two months, a year, or even longer. The duration of your mentoring relationship is less important than making sure you are progressing toward your goals and improving in those development areas you identified for your relationship (see question #1).

You may very well be able to address your learning needs within one month, so you could potentially only need your mentoring relationship to last for one month. In a different scenario, you might need your relationship to last a year (or even longer) as you work on improving the core competencies you’re targeting.

Ultimately, you and your mentor (or mentee) will need to discuss how long you want to engage in a mentoring relationship. Many people will set a timeframe with their partner, with the understanding that the relationship can be extended if need be (or shortened if that is the case).

Consider setting up your relationship to last for six months, at which point you can evaluate if you need to extend the relationship or not. Our blog post, “Is It Time to Say Goodbye to Your Mentor?”, can help you assess your situation.

Special Note: Again, some mentoring programs are fairly structured in nature, with the organization setting the duration for mentoring relationships within a particular program. For example, an onboarding program may require all relationships in that program to last for 12 months, with the mentee and mentor not being able to shorten the duration.

3. How Often Should I Meet with My Mentor/Mentee?

Two employees sitting in an office at computers discussing their mutual mentoring experience.

Your meeting frequency or cadence should be as often as necessary to accomplish the established goals within the overall duration of the relationship. Best practice shows that you and your mentor (or mentee) should meet at least once a month, but by no means should you limit your meetings to monthly if more frequent meetings will benefit the achievement of your established goals.

Even if meeting only once a month, as a mentee you should be applying knowledge learned from your mentor so that you can report back during your next meeting. Of utmost importance is agreeing to a cadence of meetings with your mentoring partner so that you can hold one another accountable.

These meetings can be face-to-face or virtual; the choice is yours. Many people take advantage of technology to video chat in place of a face-to-face meeting, which allows more flexibility in the relationship. You no longer have to pick a mentor (or mentee) who is in actual close proximity to you. Whether it’s video chats, email, phone calls, texting, or conversations over coffee, you should pick the communication options that are right for you.

Special Note: For those structured, formal mentoring programs that the organization wants more control over, you may be asked to meet in person at least once, perhaps as part of a program launch event. You might also be asked to take part in periodic events for the program where mentees and mentors meet with one another in a larger group setting and come together as participants in the overarching mentoring program. This is completely dependent on the organization and how they want to set up their program.

4. What Should We Talk About?

Your conversations with your mentor (or mentee) should focus on the topics identified by both of you as critical to the relationship. One meeting could focus on a particular competency you wish to improve, then at the next meeting, you can check in with your mentor (or mentee) to discuss your progress and assess your development plan for that area of learning.

A subsequent meeting could center on a learning assignment you tried or a work situation that arose—it is truly dependent upon what you want to learn from your relationship.

Special Note: Just as some programs may give you a focal point for your mentoring relationship, administrators may also wish to provide you with some specific topics that they want you to cover. Learning activities can be built into the mentoring relationships in MentorcliQ, providing you with a pre-set learning agenda designed by your program administrators that helps drive the conversation.

5. How Do I Know If We Are Making Progress?

Determining if you are making progress in your mentoring relationship will be dependent upon the goals you set for the relationship. A self-assessment by the mentee and an independent assessment by the mentor can both work well here. You may want to ask such questions as:

  • Have you improved in some way or to some degree in relation to one of your learning areas?
  • Have you pushed yourself to try something new?
  • Have you overcome obstacles?
  • Have you learned a new approach or technique to address your learning need?
  • Have you seen a positive impact on your work because of what you are doing in your mentoring relationship?

The way you assess your progress will again be unique to your relationship, but the point is to compare where you started in terms of your skill levels and where you are currently in those same skill areas.

Special Note: MentorcliQ offers check-in surveys through our mentoring software and we strongly encourage our clients to run these periodic surveys to help them keep track of the mentoring relationships taking place in their organizations. The administrators may ask survey questions that hone in on topics they are tracking, such as retention rates, promotion rates, satisfaction rates, etc. that fall outside the questions a mentee and mentor want to ask themselves. Both types of questions are recommended when assessing progress.

How to Create a Personalized Mentoring Plan

As with most aspects of program and relationship management, it’s not enough to talk about theory. Your next step is to put what you’ve learned into practice. With that in mind, we’ll talk through some actionable steps you can take right now to create a personalized mentoring experience for your mentees.

Step 1: Complete a Needs Assessment

Every good mentoring relationship starts with both the mentor and the mentee understanding what the mentee needs. A great way to accomplish this task is by having the mentee complete a needs assessment. A needs assessment does not need to be complicated at all. It just needs to get to the heart of what that mentee needs from the mentoring relationship. Essentially, it should be able to help both the mentor and the mentee understand:

  • Why the mentee is requesting or being asked to start a mentoring relationship right now (that time element is important. Why now of all possible times?)
  • What the mentee hopes to see as an outcome of the mentoring relationship
  • How much time can the mentee commit to personal growth and development as it relates to the mentoring relationship (that should be the total sum of time he/she is able to commit, which includes time spent in mentoring sessions and time spent working on tasks and assignments for development)
  • Personal rating on level of skill or familiarity with the topics that will be covered in the mentoring relationship

Again, this should be simple. Your needs assessment shouldn’t take more than a few minutes for the mentee to complete. Having them do that prior to your first meeting will give you both a headstart.

By addressing these five core elements of a mentoring relationship, you can set up a personalized learning experience that focuses on you and keeps your needs at the center of all decisions that are made. It’s no wonder mentoring is having a moment.

Step 2: Engage Between Sessions

Intra-session engagement is a distinct way to help personalize a mentoring relationship. Not only does it keep you top-of-mind to your mentee/mentor, but it also helps continue to build your relationship as a mentor-mentee pair.

That, of course, begs the question: What type of engagement should you have between sessions?

Well, that depends on what exactly you need. While mentoring is a learning arrangement, it’s a social learning arrangement. The social aspect of a mentoring relationship can at times be as important as the learning aspect.

So, even if your mentoring relationship is about developing outbound sales skills, engaging on other interpersonal topics during and between mentoring sessions can be necessary. That’s the beauty of mentoring relationships. They take into account the humans behind the development. Mentors help mentees navigate the professional world that is distinctly built on human interaction and sometimes strong emotions.

Step 3: Thank Your Mentor or Mentee

The last step is one of the most important ones: Saying thank you to your mentor or mentee. Expressing gratitude is not just a kind gesture. It helps retain that personal relationship that was established over the course of the mentoring relationship.

Thankfully, you don’t have to start from scratch on this one. Before you go, download our free thank you letter template. It’ll help you get a running start on writing that thank you letter you’ll need to show your mentor (or mentee) just how meaningful the mentoring relationship was to you.

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Laura Francis

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