By: Sandy Leandro
Member of Laguna Strategic Advisors

I was asked to create many training programs during my 39-year career. Some were considered the “flavor of the month”. Others were initiatives that became a part of the culture of the company. One of them was when I was asked to create a mentoring program for senior executives in the company to mentor females and minorities who were seen as the future leaders of the organization. Although it was the responsibility of the managers of these associates to guide and mentor them, that did not always happen and, at times, the mentoring was targeted to the benefit of the manager, not the future of the associate.

My first experience with mentoring was when I was responsible to have rap sessions with every manager and, sometimes supervisors, in the rooms operations discipline. I found them asking me direct questions about what they should do next and how they would get there. It was clear to me that there was no “one size fits all” response. When I was asked to develop a mentoring program, I used my own personal experience to recommend a process for the mentors and the protégés to follow.

    • The mentor should not have a direct reporting relationship with the protégé so that there is no conflict of goals. The mentor should be a respected leader in the organization and not necessarily from the same discipline of the protégé. The protégé should have the opportunity to CHOOSE the person they would like to meet with. Not all matches work but when they do, it proves to others that the mentoring is worthwhile.
      • Example: When I created the original mentoring program, protégés were asked to choose from a list of possible senior executives to mentor them. They did not always get their first choice but most got one of the top five they requested. One person replied to the request VERY LATE and there was only one senior executive who was not yet chosen. This senior executive was not known for a warm, and inviting personality, nor was he well known to most people in the organization. I convinced this person to have a few meetings with him and, if it did not work out, so be it. The match was perfect! So perfect that YEARS later this protégé came to me and said that mentoring with him was a LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCE! That is when you know the program works.
    • Both the mentor and protégé have responsibilities with the relationship. The mentor must be open minded, listen, and not put their personal aspirations in to the goal setting plan. The protégé must have an idea of what they really want to do and ask questions of the mentor that they feel they may not ask of their immediate supervisor since it may be a controversial change in career path.
      • Example: I was personally asked to mentor an entry-level sales manager. When I met with her I learned that she not only had a college degree in Marketing and Sales but also in Human Resources. She was struggling with which career path she should take. In addition, she was being pressured by her family to go back to school full time and get her Master’s Degree. After many meetings (most done by telephone) we set up a timeline for her to decide what she should do and by when. My advice to her was that only SHE could make the decision on what to do. She had to weigh the pros and cons of each path. The most controversial discussion we had which would affect the company would be that I was advising her that if she decided to leave her job to return to college full-time, then it was the best decision for her. She could always come back to the company, now with her degree, and be re-hired as she had a wonderful reputation for being an outstanding manager.
    • This brings me to my next point. All conversations between the mentor and the protégé must be kept confidential between the two of them. The protégé’s manager must agree to never ask what was discussed in the mentoring meeting or ask for the development plan. There will, of course, be times when the manager would need to know of the development goals, and they should be willing to assist the protégé in achieving them.
    • During the mentor and protégé’s time together. Some things should be able to remain unsaid, but I am going to say them anyway.
      • There should be an agreement between the two parties about how they will work together.
        • How often will they meet?
        • They agree on confidentiality. And the protégé needs to understand if anything arises which is immoral or illegal, the mentor is obligated to report it.
        • A timeline of projects or goals will be established. It is okay if the schedule needs to change; as long as the due date does not change so often that it seems the protégé is not interested in getting their work done. The protégé will do any “homework” assigned and be ready to report out at the next meeting.
        • If at any time the mentor or the protégé feel the relationship is not working, or it is not the right “match”, it is okay to end the relationship.
        • How long does a mentoring relationship last? One year is normal, although it will depend upon many things.
          • The protégé may get promoted. That’s great! The discussion should then be on whether there is a need to continue at this time or change the development plan!
          • The timeline may also determine how long the relationship lasts. In the case of my sales manager, she made her decision in 6 months to leave the company to go back to school (and YES! She did return to the company many years later ☺.)
          • Some mentoring relationships last for years after the mentor/protégé team was created because the match worked so well.

Mentoring works, but the organization that decides to implement a formal program should train the mentor, the protégé and, most importantly the managers of the protégés so they do not feel threatened with the process.