The effectiveness of mentoring programs relies heavily on a critical factor: mentors. Preparing mentors with practical skills development and supporting them with the right technology is an essential part of mentoring program success, writes Jenn Labin, chief talent & diversity officer at MentorcliQ.
Mentoring programs are one of the most effective tools organizations can use to increase employee engagement and retention, as well as promote an inclusive culture. Study after study shows that mentoring creates sustainable change and outpaces training in terms of measurable results.
What Makes a Good Mentor?
Many individuals who take on the mentor role, even senior leaders, share concerns about their effectiveness. Mentors report a lack of clarity about how to communicate with a mentee, who is usually someone they have never met before. Without a better example to follow, some mentors default to an outdated didactic approach, positioning themselves as infallible experts bestowing the gift of their experience onto mentees.
Mentors are tasked with guiding mentees with their careers, functional skills needed for their jobs, or in the always-important areas of diversity, inclusion, and belonging. They need to help mentees set goals for the relationship, be a resource along the way, and provide useful feedback.
However, the skills required to perform the job well and help mentees achieve their goals are not always strengths for the individuals we recruit as mentors for employee mentoring programs.
Facing the Latest Challenge: Virtual Mentoring
Since the beginning of the year, over 96% of mentoring programs we work with now occur virtually. For mentors who already had concerns about mentoring when they could at least meet face to face with mentees, the move to an entirely virtual experience can be daunting.
Virtual mentoring adds a layer of complexity because of the use of technology to match, communicate, track goal progress, and hold meetings. For example, poorly designed interfaces create obstacles for mentors to kick off their mentoring relationships and communicate with their mentees. Some mentors also find that the virtual environment increases the difficulty of building a deep level of trust if the tech tools available don’t support meaningful interactions.
In the recent past, not many organizations prepared their mentors in a practical and meaningful way. Unfortunately, very few have adjusted to help mentors tackle the additional skills needed to be effective virtually.
Essential Strategies for Virtual Mentoring Success
What can we do to overcome these challenges? There are two essential strategies to help mentors level up their virtual mentoring skills, which will lead to better results from mentoring programs.
First, use a mentoring platform that is intuitive and creates a more effortless overall experience for mentors (and mentees, too!)
Second, invest in practical training for virtual mentoring to improve the confidence and capabilities of all mentors.
What organizations should be implementing are skills programs that focus on effective behaviors for virtual mentoring. This means training opportunities that provide tools and checklists (not massive cumbersome workbooks) for mentors to use in real-time in their conversations. These skills and mentor development opportunities should be in alignment and hopefully integrated with mentoring platform technology.
By integrating the two components, you can provide real-time support for your mentors as they navigate the relationship. This makes it easier for the mentor to show up and be present in the time allotted as they have all the tools and information relevant to the relationship at their fingertips. For example, before a mentor has their first session with a mentee, they can review resources and training modules on how to set achievable goals as well as expectations and boundaries.
Benefits of Using Virtual Mentoring Platforms
Virtual mentoring platforms help participants, especially mentors, be more efficient and effective by automating many time-consuming components of the relationship. They provide a central place for mentors to enroll in multiple programs and engage in different relationships. In addition, they aid in matching mentors with mentees and helping the mentor evaluate if the mentee will be a good fit.
Mentoring platforms also help by making the process of goal setting and progress tracking easier. They automate regular communications to participants with prompts for the relationship and links to support resources. When virtual mentoring is taken a step further and supported by a mobile application, mentors have a quick and easy opportunity to engage and check in with their mentees without significant effort or time commitments.
The other essential step to take is to make sure mentors have access to practical, actionable skills development opportunities. Unfortunately, the majority of “mentor training” that exists today is vague and unhelpful. Current solutions often tell mentors to “build trust” and “be a good listener” without defining what those directives look like in a mentoring relationship. Those offerings certainly don’t help mentors navigate the additional consideration of virtual relationships.
Virtual Mentoring Can Be Successful With the Right Tech and Training
Without skilled, confident mentors, mentoring programs would not be successful. Regardless of whether your organization is rising to meet the challenge of bolstering inclusive practices, promote and retain top diverse talent, creating more functional expertise, or provide overall career development, mentors are essential.
Two solutions are essential to level up mentor skills and create results. The first step is implementing a mentoring platform that automates program management and is intuitive to use for program participants. Then, providing focused and practical training that is applicable to both new and experienced mentors.
I encourage you to meet with your program’s mentors and have an open dialogue to understand if they feel effective in the relationship and how to help them be effective. Even the most successful employees need guidance and training to become successful mentors. When your mentors are effective, mentees can achieve their goals and accomplish more, increasing the reputation of your program and your organization.