Mentoring relationships at work typically happen in two ways: organically and informally, or purposefully through an established program. Informal mentoring has some benefits, but because of its design (or lack thereof), it’s often missing measurability by mentors and mentees and visibility by the organization. Conversely, mentoring relationships established through formal mentoring are far more likely to begin, thrive, and end within the strong framework of measurable mentorship goals. Mentees should play a leading role in setting goals in mentoring relationships, but program administrators and mentors are still pivotal in the process.
Mentee Goals vs Mentorship Program Goals
Before diving into some best practices to consider for creating goals in your mentoring program, let’s consider the primary beneficiary of a mentoring partnership program. There are three more immediate beneficiaries of mentoring:
- The mentees who are acquiring skills, experiences, or other types of knowledge as a result of the mentoring relationships
- The organization or company, which benefits from the boost in talent that the mentored employee gains from the mentoring relationship and from the increased engagement across the mentored population
- The mentors, who often gain tremendous amounts of personal satisfaction and leadership skills while serving as mentors
The first two (mentees and your organization) are almost always the primary beneficiaries of any successful mentoring relationship. Mentees level up their skills, making them more productive. Your organization benefits from that welcome boost in productivity while also increasing the retention rate of your workers (with many companies seeing a 50% increase in retention or more when they utilize mentoring software to increase the efficacy of their matches).
Mentors also benefit from this relationship as it gives them an opportunity to be a leader and hone their leadership skills. Additionally, what we typically see from our clients is that the retention rate for employees serving as mentors increases, sometimes more than that of mentees.
Most mentorship programs will either focus on the mentee’s mentoring goals as the top priority or take into heavy consideration the existing skills gaps within the organization and dictate the goals that the mentee should acquire within that mentoring relationship to help fill those organizational needs. In both scenarios, the mentees and the organization will benefit, but how those goals are established, delivered, and measured will look different. And positively, regardless of which approach you take, the mentors tend to reap the same personal benefits.
1. Determine Goals at the Beginning of the Relationship
As obvious as this sounds, it’s a good reminder. When setting goals in a successful mentoring program, establish those goals at the beginning to produce a better end result. Don’t wait until halfway through the mentoring partnership to start thinking about what goals might be good to accomplish. And certainly don’t treat the mentorship program goals as a reflective activity at the end.
This pulls us back just a bit to the discussion in the previous section. The goals that both the mentor and the mentee establish at the beginning of the relationship fully depend on the purpose of the mentoring program.
- If you’re running an onboarding mentoring program, assuming you’re either the mentor or the program administrator, you might require mentees to read through and discuss the employee handbook, have short video meet-ups with each member of the team, or become familiarized with the company’s structure and leadership.
- In a skills-based mentoring program, it’s not uncommon for mentors and mentees to determine what skills the mentee currently possesses, what skills the organization currently needs, and then determine how to bridge that gap.
The type of goals mentors and mentees create can be standardized across all mentee participants or personalized to each mentee. It all depends on the type of program you’re running. However, most companies run multiple types of programs, so you may have a mixture of programs that focus on heavily guided goal setting and those with more open-ended personal development goals.
SMART Goals vs. Real Goals
This inevitably leads us to SMART goals, a popular goal-setting format that’s backed by numerous studies verifying its effectiveness. SMART stands for:
SMART is a popular framework for creating and maintaining a goals-based standard within organizations. As you might expect, this framework primarily works if you apply it at the beginning. You might be surprised to hear that we don’t recommend SMART goals for every mentoring relationship. This framework for developing personal and professional goals is great for programs with clearly defined objectives, like skills development programs. However, that type of format doesn’t fit well with open-ended mentoring.
We recommend REAL goals for mentoring programs that focus on soft skills, career goals, or interpersonal competencies. These are goals that are:
- Relevant – important and worthwhile to the mentee
- Experimental – focus on developmental activities that will lead to greater insights
- Aspirational – lean into areas of desired development
- Learning-based – express outcomes that are focused on gaining capability
Note that REAL format doesn’t mention measurability. That doesn’t mean you can’t track, highlight, and even measure changes in the mentee. What it means is that measurability shouldn’t be the end-all, be-all of the mentorship program. The data may ultimately be more qualitative in nature but still measurable.
2. Make Mentoring Program Goals Challenging and Organizationally-Aligned
This may seem counterintuitive. After all, if we set easy goals, they’re more likely to be achieved. Right? Consequently, easy goals usually don’t move the needle on the mentee’s developmental needs. As a result, the mentee doesn’t actually get what they need out of the relationship.
The same is true to an extent for goals that aren’t aligned with what the business wants or needs. That holds true both for mentoring programs related to the personal and career development of the mentee and those within skills development. After all, creating a more cohesive culture and establishing stronger bonds between teams is a worthy goal for any organization, especially in an increasingly remote work environment.
Mark Murphy, the founder of www.LeadershipIQ.com, sponsored a study that discovered that individuals who have goals that push them out of their comfort zones have 29% higher engagement with the organization — and those whose goals align with organizational objectives have 75% high engagement.
Additionally, make sure mentees write goals down and create a process for achieving them. They’re more likely to meet those goals when they’re both written and planned out in easily-followed steps.
3. Evaluate Goals Throughout the Process
Put your mentoring program participants on the path to success by adding reflective stopping points along the way. This will be particularly important for mentoring programs that have predetermined relationship timeframes.
For example, maybe you’re running a high potentials mentoring program that lasts for 12 months. Your mentees may need to work on certain goals during that time, but you don’t want to wait until the last meeting to review whether or not they’ve met those goals.
What’s a good cadence for reviewing goals? Ideally, every time the mentor and mentee pairs meet. Each time the pairs get together for video calls, coffee, or drinks, they should be discussing existing goals, progress toward those goals, anything blocking progress toward those goals, and the shifting of priorities. That will help both mentor and mentee get more into a growth mindset.
4. Don’t Tie Hitting Mentoring Goals to Performance Reviews
If you’ve been following along, you’ll note that we’ve emphasized multiple times that mentoring programs are about personal and professional growth through the mentor/mentee relationship. The ultimate goal of these programs is to take the mentee through a journey of self-discovery and growth in ways that are a benefit to them, first and foremost. Mentoring programs fall well within the realm of employee learning and development.
As such, tying the progress made or not made in a mentoring program to a positive or negative outcome in performance reviews is the wrong way to go.
Can you require employees to complete mentoring programs? Sure! Can you add concrete goals that you’d like employees to hit from beginning to end? You bet! Should you make making the goals within the mentoring program part of an employee’s performance review? Definitely not.
Importantly, you can and likely should highlight the beneficial progress employees have made in their mentoring programs within the performance review process. For example, if an employee within a sales mentoring program has shown improvement in closing, you can certainly highlight and discuss how mentoring has helped produce that result.
This would help you and the employee celebrate that success and help keep the employee motivated to continue engaging in mentoring and learning opportunities, or even motivate them to become a mentor down the road. However, it’s the result (improved closing rates) that you’re examining in the performance review, not the completion or participation in a sales mentoring program.
Mentoring and performance are definitely linked, especially if your mentoring program is tied to your company’s business objectives. But mentoring is not a performance management program. It’s a learning program. What workers learn within a mentoring program will likely help them perform better. But not everyone learns the same way or at the same pace. Tying performance reviews to mentoring program goals may punish people for learning differently, the exact opposite of what you want from mentoring.
Effective Mentoring Programs Start with Structure
Are your mentoring programs structured for success? Do your mentors even know how to set goals with their mentees? Setting goals in mentoring programs is only part of the equation. The mentor/mentee match needs to be strong from the start, while mentors often need effective training to understand how to make that mentoring relationship work well. And once programs are launched, measuring the effectiveness of those relationships is no easy task.
MentorcliQ is the backbone of thousands of mentoring programs at hundreds of companies worldwide. Starting with high-powered algorithms that result in better mentor-mentee matches, MentorcliQ also offers structured training opportunities for mentors, an ROI dashboard for administrators, and tools to help mentors and mentees create and track goals.
Schedule a demo today to learn more about how MentorcliQ can help mentors and mentees set and meet their goals.