Mentoring is never a one-size-fits-all strategy. While some companies might prefer to have admins match participants, others might prefer a self-matching approach. And where some programs might opt for peer-to-peer mentoring, others might use only traditional 1-to-1 mentoring formats. What remains true across all mentorship programs, however, is that having the right mentoring tools ultimately results in better relationship outcomes for mentors and mentees. When mentoring relationships have better outcomes, that means program administrators and companies see lower employee turnover, increased employee engagement, and better employee productivity.
The secret sauce to effective program structure is consistency in the backend. That usually comes down to using the same process and relationship-related tools that create consistent results. Among the tools you’ll find lead to better mentoring relationship outcomes, we find most companies with high-impact, highly successful programs rely on these:
- Mentor-mentee matching software
- Mentoring partnership agreements
- Structured meeting agendas
- Mid-cycle feedback surveys and check-ins
- A closure plan and exit survey
For the observant reader (which is definitely you!), you’ll note that these mentoring tools cover the entire life of the mentoring relationship – beginning, middle, and end. That’s the kind of scaffolding that gives you consistent success across relationships.
Mentor-Mentee Matching Software Improves the Quality of the Relationship
Let’s start before the relationship begins, at the match. By far, the most essential tool to ensure an effective mentoring relationship is a mentor-mentee matching tool.
Traditionally, mentoring has been a manual game (and a frustrating one). Learning and development leaders running programs send surveys to mentors and mentees, get that survey data back, and then start trying to match participants by hand using personally developed criteria. This method can work, but it’s limited and introduces significant mismatches.
Of the many problems manual matching introduces, there are 4 that hurt the most:
- It limits the number of participants you can have enrolled
- It limits the number of mentoring programs you can offer
- It introduces bias into the matching process (usually unconscious bias, although not always)
- It results in a larger number of poor matches
It’s important to concede the point that, even when done manually, mentoring is one of the best strategies companies can use for talent development and employee engagement. You can still eke out a positive ROI from a manual approach. But taking a manual approach means you won’t get the type of ROI out of the program you’d want to justify the costs.
Getting a positive ROI does not mean a good ROI. It’s like the difference between revenue and profit. Just as a business might generate substantial revenue but still struggle with minimal profit due to high operating costs, a mentoring program can show a positive ROI but still fall short of expectations. You can still eke out a positive ROI from a manually run program, but it will be small because the ratio will be heavily weighted toward the investment side instead of the return side.
Here’s a graphic that will help you better visualize the difference between running mentoring manually and using an automated mentor-matching software as your primary tool for mentoring relationships:
Mentor-matching software is effectively a huge process improvement as it provides all of the following (and more):
- Automated and adjustable enrollment surveys
- Algorithm-based matching to quickly create best-fit matches, even with tens of thousands of participants (in fact, mentor matching software algorithms work best with thousands of participants)
- Significantly reduces time investment for admins, even with an admin matching strategy
- Significantly increases the number and variety of programs you can offer and the number of participants you can match
If you’re starting or improving your mentoring programs, especially at an enterprise level, mentoring matching software is a must-have tool. Otherwise, you’ll stunt your ability to get the most out of your mentoring programs.
Click here to get a first-hand look at the night-and-day approach matching software will give your business.
Mentoring Partnership Agreements Set the Stage for Better Relationships
Once you’ve matched participants and the program starts, a good practice is to have mentors and mentees utilize mentoring partnership agreements. This tool, which you can make available to participants within your mentoring platform or internal file-sharing system, helps mentors and mentees launch into their mentoring relationships with agreed-upon terms of engagement.
Importance of establishing terms at the start of mentoring relationships
Defining terms at the beginning of the mentor-mentee relationship removes the guesswork that often follows the start of a mentoring cycle between a new mentoring pair. Many different unknowns exist as you head into that relationship, especially when you’re matching participants who have never met each other:
- Participants may have different expectations for what they want out of the engagement
- Participants may have different schedules that need to be accounted for
- Participants may have certain conversational styles and norms that need to be addressed
Establishing those terms at the outset allows both parties to start on a solid footing. This is especially crucial in corporate environments where time is of the essence and both mentors and mentees often juggle multiple responsibilities. An explicit, written agreement can serve as a roadmap, guiding both parties through the mentoring journey and ensuring that key milestones are reached and critical skills are transferred.
What should a mentoring agreement look like?
We’ve covered this topic rather extensively in the past, so we won’t rehash all of the details. Check out our longer post on mentoring agreements. Since you’re here, we’ll still give you a high-level overview.
A comprehensive mentoring partnership agreement may include the following elements:
- Goals and Objectives: Both the mentor and the mentee should list down what they aim to achieve through this relationship. It could be anything from developing leadership skills to mastering a specific technical skill.
- Frequency of Interaction: How often will the mentor and mentee meet? Is it going to be weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly? What will be the duration of each meeting?
- Communication Channels: In today’s digital age, face-to-face meetings are just one way to communicate. Identifying whether communications will occur over email, video calls, or other mediums can help streamline interactions.
- Confidentiality: It’s crucial to outline what information is to remain confidential between the mentor and mentee, especially in a corporate setting where sensitive information could be discussed.
- Progress Tracking and Feedback: How will progress be measured and tracked? What are the key performance indicators (KPIs)? When and how will feedback be given?
- Exit Strategy: A well-thought-out exit strategy or sunset clause will provide a way to amicably end the mentorship if it’s not yielding the desired results or if either party wishes to terminate the relationship for any other reason.
Consider creating and adjusting this mentoring tool for varying use cases. The way mentors and mentees engage in an onboarding mentoring program probably won’t be the same as they’d engage in a reverse mentoring program, for example. Different program dynamics will have different partnership needs. That said, a structured and repeatable template will save everyone time and standardize the engagement approach across your organization. That will go a long way toward helping you maintain the type of mentoring culture you want to achieve.
A Structured Meeting Agenda Will Keep Engagements Focused on the Goal
The great thing about MentorcliQ’s matching software is that it also incorporates a proprietary personality survey to generate best-fit matches. When mentors and mentees meet for the first time, they’re often shocked at how well-matched they are in personality. The mentor and mentee often feel like they’re engaging with an old friend, making that relationship far easier and removing much of the unease or anxiety around the engagement.
That natural and organic flow in the mentoring relationship due to the algorithm-based match also means that the mentor and mentee could quickly go off track. After all, it’s easy to get lost in a fun conversation with friends and miss the reason you’re meeting!
A solution to this is to make sure you keep engagements focused with structured meeting agendas.
6 items to include in a mentoring session agenda
To ensure that you make the most out of each meeting, here are some components that should be included in a structured agenda:
- Icebreaker + review: Most mentoring sessions are weeks apart. Spend the first few minutes breaking the ice a bit. Small talk helps lighten the mood and generate more conversation.
- Review of previous goals and milestones: The mentor and mentee should spend some time reviewing the goals set during their last meeting and discussing what has been achieved and what hasn’t.
- New goals and objectives: Setting the agenda for the current meeting’s goals will keep both the mentor and mentee accountable. Clear, actionable steps should be outlined.
- Skill-building or knowledge-sharing: Allocate some time for the mentor to impart knowledge or skills relevant to the mentee’s goals. This could range from a technical skill to softer skills like leadership or communication.
- Feedback loop: Constructive feedback is crucial for improvement. Both parties should feel open to giving and receiving feedback.
- Wrap-up and Next Steps: Summarize the meeting’s discussions, confirm the next meeting date, and reiterate action items for both parties.
As with the mentoring partnership agreements, add this as a downloadable template to your mentoring platform or organization-wide file-sharing system. Additionally, draft different versions of the agenda that suit different types of mentoring relationships and mentoring formats.
Mid-Cycle Surveys and Regular Check-Ins
Is your refrigerator running?
I know, I know. You’re wondering why I’m using a joke older than Gen Z. But there’s a good point to it. If it’s been a long time since you’ve verified that your fridge is functioning, how can you be sure it is? (Better go catch it! 😅)
The same is true of your mentoring programs. If you’ve done all of the frontloaded hard work, like matching and providing them with engagement-boosting mentoring tools and templates, you can just set it on autopilot and take a nap…right? Unfortunately no.
Mentoring is and will always be a social learning strategy. Any strategy involving two or more people trying to work together is one where regular temperature checks are needed. Communication is hard work, and mentoring is distinctly an engagement and learning tool built around effective communication.
With that in mind, here are a few tips to on creating and operationalizing engagement surveys and check-ins.
1. Automate this process as much as possible
Ideally, the mentoring platform you use should allow you to automate the process. As your programs grow, including in size and variety, you should not be spending your time trying to create and send surveys manually every time you need engagement data. MentorcliQ’s platform provides multiple tools to get the job done, including our QuickcliQs feature.
QuickcliQs are sent via email or push notifications in the MentorcliQ App. These quick little nudges remind participants to track the time they spent on mentoring with just a click! This makes it easy to track meetings with their mentor/mentee AND track the time they spent preparing and researching.
2. Simplify the feedback process
Surveys that are too long aren’t going to get good results. Surveys that are too short aren’t going to get good data. So what should you do?
The art lies in making the surveys succinct yet comprehensive. Use focused questions that directly pertain to the mentoring experience, such as “Did you meet your objectives for the last meeting?” or “How comfortable are you in discussing career goals with your mentor?” This way, you get quality data without demanding too much time from the respondents.
If you want to get answers and data faster, use a Likert scale (0 to 5 or 0 to 10) for question responses. Include space for written feedback, but don’t make it mandatory.
Monotony can lead to disengagement, and that’s the last thing you want when you’re measuring engagement. Mix up your question types—use multiple-choice questions, sliders, and open-text fields. This not only keeps the respondents engaged but also allows you to gather both quantitative and qualitative data.
3. Leverage data analytics for insights
Take the raw survey data and run it through analytical tools to generate actionable insights. If you’re using a mentoring platform, you should already have this data as a dashboard without trying to do the data crunching yourself. Assess common trends, areas of improvement, and levels of engagement. Use this information to refine your mentoring program continually.
4. Make feedback actionable
What good is data if it’s not used to make improvements? Share the summarized findings with stakeholders. Create a plan of action based on the feedback and track its implementation in future check-ins.
5. Regularity is key
To get the most accurate insights, make these surveys and check-ins a regular feature of your mentoring program. Depending on the program’s length and intensity, this could be monthly or quarterly. The key is to make it frequent enough to catch issues early but not so frequent that it becomes a chore.
All of this starts with asking the right questions. For some additional insights on how to ask questions, check out our Mentoring Masterminds video on creating questions for surveys.
A Closure Plan Helps Generate Smooth Exits from the Relationship
At some point, mentoring relationships end. That’s a natural part of the cycle. When mentees are ready to say goodbye to their mentor, it could be an emotional experience. It should also be a structured experience, as it’s also another time to help gather success data for the program.
Create an easily-accessible Closure Plan document that both mentors and mentees can access. You can have them complete these together or separately. The biggest key to remember is that it should be consistent across program types.
Your Closure Plan can ask fairly open-ended questions, such as:
- How do you feel about the length of the mentoring cycle?
- Did we meet as often as we thought we should? Why/why not?
- Was the planned goal(s) achieved?
- What worked well in our partnership? What didn’t?
- What happens now?
Making this a consistent part of the end of your mentoring relationships will give both participants a sense of completion. And it will give you more qualitative data to work from to help better understand if your programs are having the intended results.
The Best Mentoring Tool Is the One You Don’t Have to Think About
Mentoring tools are designed to make you and your mentoring program participants’ lives easier. That means if you have to spend too much time stressing about the design and functionality of the tool or whether it’s working correctly, it’s not a good tool.
After all, if you’re worried that the head of your hammer will come flying off the handle, it’s not a good (or safe!) tool to use.
This is why MentorcliQ is the top mentoring software provider for Fortune 500 companies. The biggest, most successful companies in the world have little patience for tools that don’t work. Get a demo to get a first-hand look at the mentoring tool that’s the top choice among enterprise companies.