Author and missionary William Arthur Ward once said, “Opportunity is often difficult to recognize; we usually expect it to beckon us with beepers and billboards.” While many believe that mentoring opportunities arise organically and in the moment, we believe that effective mentoring programs require continuous optimization of opportunity. Often opportunities are right there in front of us and yet we fail to recognize them or bargain them away, thinking that we will find the time to get to them later.
Let’s take a look at some of the opportunities you may have missed and how you might proactively address them.
Missed Opportunity #1: Staying connected to program alumni
Once your mentoring program year ends and a new class of mentees and mentors comes on board, it is easy to lose contact with them.
What You Can Do: Keep track of alumni so you can measure long-term success of the program.
What occurs after a mentoring relationship comes to closure speaks volumes about the success of your program. You will never know its full impact unless you do keep track. Keep in mind that program alumni become prime candidates for seeding a mentor pool. As more and more of them become mentors that too will speak to the quality of your program and the value it has created in your organization.
Missed Opportunity #2: Following up with participants after initial mentoring training
Many organizations offer some form of mentoring training for mentors and/or mentees at the beginning of a mentoring program cycle. Priming the pump with an initial training helps prepare them to engage in mentoring. By itself, it is often insufficient. Opportunity lies in the “teachable moments” that occur after the training as those new to mentoring begin to invest in their relationships.
What You Can Do: Create a continuum of training and support opportunities for new and experienced mentees and mentors. Set up a series of mentoring roundtables (virtual or onsite) to share best practices, get questions answered, and work on mentoring skills.Provide next level opportunities for experienced mentors to deepen skills and hone their craft.
Missed Opportunity#3: Insisting that all mentors, regardless of their levels of mentoring experience, participate in mentoring training
It is common practice to “excuse” some mentors (especially senior managers and executives) from training because of ubër-busy schedules, stature or position. This creates a missed opportunity for those in the training sessions and for the busy mentor. Their participation adds a whole level of experience and helps raise the level of discourse and engagement during the training experience. Their presence underscores the importance of mentoring in the organization. It also provides an opportunity for mentors to reflect on experience and, thereby to enhance their own growth and development as a mentor.
What You Can Do: Make participation in mentoring training mandatory for all program participants. People come to mentoring training with a variety of expectations and assumptions about mentoring and their roles. Mentoring training helps assure that everyone is on the same page. If someone cannot attend, either make arrangements for them to get the training off-line or defer their participation. If your organization has a group of veteran mentors, you may want to offer a next-level training experience for them so they can enrich their mentoring practice.
Missed Opportunity#4: Proactively creating safety nets to ensure mentor and mentee success.
Don’t assume that once they are paired, your mentors and mentees won’t need support. Mentoring partnerships must be supported throughout the duration of the relationship. Supporting them means providing ongoing encouragement, relevant and timely tools, and just in time guidance.
What You Can Do: Make mentoring coaching available for mentors and mentees. Train people in-house so that they are prepared to work individually with a mentoring partner or with a mentoring relationship where the partners are stuck or just need more support. Encourage mutual accountability of mentoring partners by providing them with tools and resources to gauge the progress of their relationship. Create tools and checklists to guide accountability conversations and make them safe and successful.
Waiting for beepers and billboards to beckon doesn’t cut it. Perhaps, as Thomas Edison once said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” If you do it right, mentoring takes work. Isn’t it time you got to work and reframed your missed opportunities?