what’s first? mentor or mentee?

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so you’ve decided that you want to create a mentoring program to enhance organizational learning and leadership development across the organization.  you know that social learning is the real driver to creating a culture that values learning and change.  social networking tools are being implemented so teams can communicate more readily.  you have employees contributing to a knowledge base to capture organizational knowledge.  now you feel a mentoring program where leaders help new employees and prospective leaders to expand their knowledge of the organization and their leadership skills.

But where do you start?  How do you matchmake mentors to mentees?  or mentees to mentors?


which comes first?  the chicken or the egg?

do you first identify the employees who the organization wishes to groom for advancement?  Once you know who you wish to involve as mentees you could then determine the needs these people have and then search through your executive and management ranks for people who have what the mentees need.  you could then recruit them to match the needs of the mentees.

Or do you determine who amongst your leaders best exemplify the needs of the organization and establish them as mentors?  you could then either determine the employees who you wish to be mentored and match them to your team of mentors or you could let employees self-select by marketing the mentoring program and letting them apply to the program or to individual mentors.

How much control around participation in the program should you maintain?  How many mentees per mentor?  Should all managers at or above a certain level be required to be mentors?  Should all employees have a mentor?

What do you think?  Who comes first, the mentor or the mentee?


Do you think these regulations will change anything? Will they drive greater support for data collection in learning? Motivate more collaboration between the business units and L&D?

Andy Affleck posted on 3/9/09:

I am not sure the best initial approach but one thing struck me: do you want to identify those people who should be mentored or should you design a program to mentor everyone who desires it and let the motivated and upwardly mobile self-select? Seems to me that if you have anyone in an organization who you feel is not worth mentoring, they should be replaced by those who are. Too harsh? Missing the point? Possibly. But I always believed that everyone on my staff is worth training, worth helping grow their careers. If they aren’t, I sadly let them go so I only have people who are.

Dennis McDonald posted on 3/9/09

I was recently exposed to a 3rd option – a colleague informed me he was making a Sharepoint template available to mentoring programs. In that case it might conceivably be possible to start with a process before identifying mentors or mentees?

Harold Jarche posted on 3/9/09

Control is the problem here. If you want to let the best, or most motivated, rise to the top then you need an open market. The same goes for mentors. It should be an honour to be a mentor, not a task. Therefore you need to build a platform, not a programme. The specifics? That’s the $64K question 😉 [but one that can be addressed with some work and insight, I’m sure, Dave]

Harold Jarche posted on 3/9/09

got rid of all those caps that i put a lot of effort to put in? that’s sneaky, dave!

Clark Quinn posted on 3/9/09

I like Harold’s point, and want to add that you shouldn’t expect that your leaders are good mentors; I’d identify potential mentors, and guide them to be good mentors (and learners, they should have their own community) while you id your potential mentees. Those who do well in mentoring class are eligible to be mentors, with some rewards accruing. Guess that says start with mentors.

Guy W Wallace posted on 3/10/09:

First- define the business goals and the metrics to measure progress and the returns on the investments. Or, why bother? This was for an organization and not a social club, right?

Second- engage a cross-section of those that could be involved and facilitate them through a macro-design process where they would identify the process, the environmental supports/ tools/ etc., and then define the human interface rules/ guidelines/ contracts/ agreements for participants to honor…such as how to add value to both parties and ensure that no wastes the other’s time and effort. Then have a smaller team – a subset of the larger group do the micro-design to build a prototype for pilot-testing.

Third- implement a small pilot-test here and there around the organization, and measure the results, and then share those results to the design team and beyond. Capture testimonials and lessons learned to share/ market/ communicate to the masses. Announce step 4.

Fourth- reconvene the design team with new members that now may want to participate and do a continuous improvement or radical redesign to the “program” from the results and lessons learned. Make those changes and then implement widespread (or re-pilot) along with declared intent and plans for continuous measurement and improvement.

Fifth- continuously measure, market/ communicate, and improve as needed to achieve those business goals and the R’s for the Investments – so as to keep executive management engage and on-board and not seeing this as an opportunity to cut expenses later. Show value – or let it die – or kill it yourself before it becomes an embarrassment – or fix it and try, try again.

I think of it as a tight-loose design approach, or is that a loose-tight design approach? Hmmm. Whatever.

Dave Lee(09:46:15) :

thanks for the feedback so far everyone. i love the conundrums that arise from the idea of starting what should be/will be an ongoing, continuous improvement, organic system. i agree with guy that the key to starting is understanding the business goals and measures of success that are driving the decision to create a mentoring program. it goes to my mantra that the only purpose of organizational learning is the advancement of business objectives.

andy, harold and clark raise the interesting sides of the “who to involve” issue. is it “everybody in,” build a platform that enables quality self-selection, or pick the best and leave the rest? do each of these approaches have different implications for piloting, rollout, and implementation?

dennis, is your friend’s sparepoint template publicly available?

hopefully others will join in to help figure out possible starting points in this mentoring catch 22.

(p.s. to harold. my sneaky lower case trick is a simple css body tag.)

Tom Haskins(14:08:17) :

hi dave!
a blog post I read a couple years back explored strategies for jump starting mentoring in an organization where it was proving to be a tough sell. the consultant got creative and came up with a clever strategy. rather than try to convince the prospector mentors of the value, he gave briefings to the prospective mentees on the benefits to expect from getting mentored. that proved to be a very easy sell. it created demand, expectations and cooperation to “pull the change” through the system. there was lots of buy-in from prospective mentors who were responding to their people who wanted them and the difference they could make. what a contrast to pushing an imposed change through the system with a sales pitch of improved methods, new policies or increased accountability. the strategy that succeeded parallels the sales advice to — stop selling the features the inventor had in mind and sell benefits the customer will have in mind after using it.

Jim Belshaw posted on 3//09

David, I agree with Tom. Start with the mentees. Also, as Tom implies, get the mentees to nominate a prefered mentor if they have one in mind.

Mentoring is often seen in terms of one on one. In fact, a mentor can have several mentees. this opens new possibilities.

Jim Stellar posted on 3/15/09

To me what makes mentoring really work is the personal relationship. I have often said that a mentor is an advisor who thinks she/he is your aunt/uncle. So whatever you do, you need to allow that dynamic to develop. What I see in a web 2.0 world is that many people want to give advice and that is really valuable, but I would not confuse it with mentoring unless it is long-term and has that almost family-like feel to it. Still the web 2.0 software does offer good opportunities to set up mentoring.
Note in the analogy to family I used above, the mentor tends to be older and that is another issue. Sometimes only a little older is great because then the mentor and mentee can identify. Much older often works too. Peer mentoring is another issue and I have to think about that as to where mentoring leaves off and ask-a-friend begins.
Thanks. This topic needs much discussion.
-Jim (sorry to jump in late)

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