Ensuring proper bottoms-up and top-down support is essential to any mentoring program. Learn from Ellen Ensher how to avoid the trap of the HR “superhero," how to leverage your champion(s), and building accountability by clarifying goals, roles, and results.
- I started my career in HR, so I am so empathetic to what I like to call the HR superhero syndrome. Most HR people are in the profession to help people, so designing a mentoring program is often an inside HR job. Most HR people I know often pull out miracles with limited resources. Designing a mentoring program can help people and be an exciting opportunity, and it can be a disaster if the proper organizational support is not in place.
I'm gonna share some tips with you to ensure organizational support. I'm going to start by walking you through an actual phone call I received from an HR superhero. A few months ago, an HR professional at, let's say a famous law firm, called me about creating a formal mentoring program. This firm receives literally thousands of applicants for even their entry-level jobs. However, in recent years, the retention of their entry-level associates has become a problem.
This law firm has noticed that their millennial employees are just not willing to put up with the same work conditions and abuse that their predecessors did. So, the company was losing lots of valuable talent. The HR professional explained to me that one of the partners had attended a seminar and learned that mentoring is a great way to increase retention. So, the partner asked the HR director to create a mentoring program with the junior associates and the senior partners. Does any of this sound familiar so far? Here are the questions I asked my would-be client and her answers.
What does the top management support? She shared that the CEO really wants a mentoring program, but that he's way too busy to be personally involved. I asked what is the interest from the potential mentors and proteges? It turns out that some of the would-be mentors are willing to help, but are concerned about the opportunity costs of spending time with their proteges instead of building time. When I asked how much training time the mentors were willing to engage in, I was told that mentors were not willing to be trained for more than 20 minutes.
I asked what are the resources, support, or budget available? The answer was not much. So, the only way this program was going to happen was if the HR director used her superpowers to make it all happen. I wish I was exaggerating this conversation, but, sadly, I am not. I counseled my would-be client to go back to management and discuss the five factors needed for organizational support for a mentoring program. These five factors are, one, ensure top management support and a champion.
When I kicked off a mentoring program at Legg Mason a few years ago, the CEO was the first speaker on the agenda and he shared a personal story about mentoring. This sent a strong message that mentoring matters. Two, ensure bottoms-up support. As the HR professional, don't do everything yourself. Engage the employees actually doing the mentoring. For example, at the L.A. Department of Water and Power, the LGBTQ employee affinity group actually runs their own program and conducts training and events themselves.
Three, determine realistic goals and training needs. So, if your focus is retention, what mentors will you use before and after your mentoring program to measure this? How much training will folks need? Four, determine roles and accountability. In my book, Power Mentoring, we discuss the importance of creating clear expectations regarding who is doing what tasks. This can simply be asking your protege to make it their job to set regular meetings with their mentors.
Five, make sure you have adequate resources. You will need resources for the additional administrative work that comes with building a mentoring program as well as for the training, coaching, and evaluating that comes along with it. You may also consider software that helps administering the program. I recommend a great book, called Modern Mentoring, by Randy Emelo, CEO of River Software, that covers as well. I really want you to set yourself and your mentoring program up for success by getting the organizational support you need.
This way, you don't have to rely on your superpowers for doing good this time around.
- The benefits of formal mentoring programs
- The types and purpose of mentoring programs
- Designing a framework and a needs assessment
- Creating a mentoring culture
- Ensuring organizational support
- Choosing participants
- Training essentials for mentors
- Concluding and celebrating your program
- Evaluating your program
- Making your mentoring program last