The mentoring implementation process: from theory to practice
By: Marius Meyer and Leon Fourie
Marius Meyer facilitates mentoring programmes for the Institute of Organisation Development and Transformation of Technikon SA. Leon Fourie is head of the mentoring programme for the South African Navy. They can be contacted on and
This article is a follow-up to the November article. Many positive emails responses were received. Numerous requests for more information about the implementation process for a typical mentoring programme was requested by human resource professionals and SDF facilitators.
The mentoring programme implementation process suggested in this article has been designed for South African companies who want to integrate mentoring with their skills development and employment equity plans.
Like all other organisation development interventions, mentoring must be implemented in a carefully planned manner, both in terms of the process and content of the intervention. Some of the major steps in initiating and managing a mentoring programme in an organisation will be discussed in this article.
2. Introducing the mentoring process
The first step in implementing a mentoring process is to specify the objectives of the intervention i.e. is the process and programme aimed at:
# Developing black and female managers,
# Empowering the disabled
# Fostering inter-cultural understanding and awareness
# Succession planning, or
# Fast-tracking to achieve employment equity targets.
Mentoring support structures are needed to steer the implementation of the mentoring strategy. These support structures may take various forms, depending on the unique nature of the organisation. The following options are presented:
# The formulation of a mentoring strategy
# Appointing mentoring co-ordinators
# Allocation of people resources for mentoring
# Ensuring a communication and marketing plan for mentoring is in place
Where large-scale mentoring programmes are launched, mentor co-ordinators need to be appointed to ensure that the process is implemented and maintained to the advantage of the mentors, mentees as well as the organisation. Typically these individuals would also assess the process to ensure its continued effectiveness. They could also provide the necessary information and feedback to the organisation’s employment equity committee.
3. Training of mentoring co-ordinators
Although mentoring co-ordinators might be positively inclined towards the process and its implementation, they need knowledge and skills to implement mentoring effectively. Their training would typically revolve around the mentoring process, as also broader aspects of organisation development and transformation.
4. Identifying mentors and mentees
The most important qualifying aspect of participation is mentors’ voluntary participation but one doesn’t have to wait until they nominate themselves, as some might be hesitant to do this. Rather, ask other members in the organisation to suggest names of potential mentors. This includes asking potential mentees themselves about whom they suggest. This exercise enhances the credibility of the programme. Approach the nominated members and establish whether they are willing to participate. If mentors select themselves for the programme it demonstrates their level of commitment. This is clearly advantageous to the mentoring initiative.
5. Training of mentors and mentees
Joint induction training for mentors and mentees provides valuable opportunities for them to become acquainted and reach agreement about expectations. Even those who know each other very well will need to set parameters in terms of their existing relationship to encompass the roles of mentor and mentee.
The induction programme must address the following minimum issues:
# Establishing the mentor relationship (rapport and empathy)
# Clarifying expectations
# Setting clear parameters, and goals
# Phases of mentoring relationships
# Giving feedback
Ethical issues such as confidentiality
# Establishing timelines and meetings
# Evaluation requirements
To enable them to be effective in their new role, mentors need to be develop skill at:
Reflective interviewing and discussion skills including:
# Establishing rapport, and maintaining empathy
# Listening skills
# Giving and receiving feedback
# Questioning skills
# Goal setting
# Interpersonal conflict handling
6. Matching mentors and mentees
Ideally, the linkages between the mentor and mentees should be a natural process. There are times where it is necessary to ensure that all learners are linked to a mentor and have a mentoring relationship at a formal level.
The matching of mentors and mentees is absolutely critical. We can allow mentees to identify and approach their own mentors. Where there was already a mentoring aspect of some sort between manager and employee, this must be encouraged to strengthen the relationship. In other instances try to find out as much information about what the potential participants consider important so that one has a strong foundation on which the matching can be based. One may also generate a dossier for the participants to choose from.
7. Relationship goal setting
The mentor and mentees have a discussion where the developmental goals are set. Part of this discussion includes the quality of evidence required to determine whether the objectives of the programme will be met. A useful mechanism in formulating developmental goals is the use of some form of diagnostic instrument. Such an instrument may comprise questionnaire batteries for completion by mentee and supervisor, tests of potential and the like.
To ensure that there is clarity as to what is to be achieved, a learning contract serves as a mechanism to ensure effective communication and understanding. Some guidelines are useful in the documenting of what needs to be achieved and how the achievements will be evaluated.
For the above process to work, goals need to be set. Such goals need to be specific. A helpful acronym is SMART where the goals are
# S = specific / stretched, the goal must be written in language that relates to specific and that would "stretch" the learners to perform;
# M = measurable, there needs to be a way to ensure that the goal has been achieved or progress has been made in achieving the result;
# A = achievable, the question is whether the result can be expected within this time frame;
# R = relevant, the task or activity needs to be relevant to the learner, where what needs to be done is not relevant to the mentee, the mentee will have difficulty in completing what needs to be completed and
# T = time framed, where there is a point in time when the result must be available
Another instrument important in managing the mentoring relationship is the maintenance of a contact log of all interactions between the mentor and mentee. This can be used to exercise control over the mentoring relationship and to ensure that all actions are documented for future reference and follow-up action.
Flexibility is very important during the process of implementation; in other words adapting the mentoring process to suit the needs of the programme. However, it is essential that both mentors and mentees should realise that they have a responsibility to keep to the deadlines and action plans decided upon by both parties.
An effective relationship will be based on mutual respect and will be a "risk-free zone" for the mentee to examine options and brainstorm strategies. Remember that many of us "talk our way to understanding" when we are given freedom and encouragement to express our creative thoughts without fear of judgement. Active listening on the part of both mentor and mentee is important.
The relationship should be subject to re-negotiation in order to accommodate new issues and address needs as they arise. Clear and concise records of dates of meetings should be kept. The duration of each meeting will vary according to the mentee’s need to discuss issues. At least one hour should be set aside for every meeting.
The meeting times and venues should be conducive to focused and confidential discussions and should be mutually convenient. The meeting space should be private. The times of meetings should vary, but should not always be at the end of a working day or week.
Periodic feedback and discussion are essential to ensure the continued development and support of the mentee. This would also be an opportunity to establish progress and the provision of resources and other aids. All the progress should be recorded so as to provide an indication of what needs to be done in the next review period.
Feedback needs to focus on learning. Ensure that the feedback session is a dialogue where the mentees also have the opportunity to voice ideas and opinions relating to the issues at hand. Feedback would first be given on positive issues, for example something the mentee has done well, then moving to the areas where development is still required, ending off with issues regarding areas where the mentee has performed well again.
Feedback should be descriptive, specific, in the mentee’s interests, useful, given at the right time, clearly formulated and correct. Conditions under which feedback occur should be socially minded; refrain from demoralising the mentee and giving subjective interpretations; do not confuse feedback with value judgements; be open and honest. Finally, the feedback should relate to the learning and how performance may be improved.
The learning contract would be completed when the mentees have evidence that all the learning included in the contract has been acquired. The completion would depend on the learners being able to apply what has been learnt.
One of the shortcomings of mentoring programmes in South Africa is that very few of them carry out systematic evaluation.
Measuring relationship outputs focuses on more quantitative data, e.g.:
# How many of the learning objectives were reached?
# Has the mentee improved key scores on his or her performance appraisal?
# Does the supervisor feel that mentoring is helping the mentee make progress?
Measuring programme outputs e.g.:
# Decrease in mentee labour turnover.
# Achievement of performance appraisal scores on key competencies.
# Number of mentees considered suitable for promotion after a set period.
Unlike other people management interventions such as performance management, or skill training, mentoring has more medium and long term implications. For certain skill areas, it will be impossible for the mentee to develop the required skills within a year. It may be necessary for the mentee to attend other courses, or to study a degree before he or she will obtain the overall level of competence required.
No mentoring programme will be perfect. Like many other functions in an organisation, mentoring depends to a large extent on the human element, which means that mistakes are inevitable. All role players should therefore see the programme as a learning experience. The long-term objective should be to improve employee performance and development.
The mentoring relationship refers to the interaction between mentor and mentee while the mentoring process focuses on the steps that must be implemented to make the overall mentoring process work. Mentoring could also be part of a larger initiative to support skills development in an organisation. However, both the mentoring relationship taking cognisance of the diversity dynamics of the relationship, and the overall mentoring process must be managed well to ensure intervention effectiveness.