Sunday, October 2, 2016

Matchmakers? To Match or Not To Match

This posting is primarily targeted to those who seek to create or improve on an existing mentoring program.

When companies start to create formal mentoring programs they typically struggle with these questions:

  • Should a formal mentoring program be expected to match mentors and mentees or simply give guidance? 
  • What type of information should be collected in order to make the best match suggestions? 
  • If a formal matching process is undertaken should those matches be forced for some period of time? 

There are strong opinions on all sides. After many years as a mentor, a mentee and as someone that's helped launch and run these programs I too have ideas which I'd like to share.

A core part of my philosophy around mentoring is that the onus is always on the mentee/protégé. It is ultimately best if the mentee develops a candidate mentor list, approaches those candidates and, once selected, drive the ongoing agenda of the mentoring conversations.

Matching can take a lot of time and resources on a company's part. There is data to collect, time constraints, tracking of communication, sensitivities to be aware of, etc. etc. So when Organizational Development professionals from various companies or universities approach me about how to lower the cost of the matching process in their mentoring programs my answer is simple: Don't match! Your cost will be zero!

I would much rather have programs spend their precious resources coaching prospective mentees in developing the skills of finding a mentor rather than doing the matching. I'm also supportive of company mentoring programs helping to reach out to candidate mentors, such as executives, on behalf of mentees as executives are typically individuals who are difficult to contact.

Another huge benefit of handing the process back to prospective mentees is the ownership they'll need to take and ultimately feel during the process. It weeds out folks who aren't serious about mentoring and wouldn't benefit very much in any case.

If a formal mentoring program is going to match mentors with mentees the most important information to collect is:

  • From the mentee: What are they looking to get out of the mentoring relationship? Is there a particular skill they are looking for or is it about more general career or life guidance? 
  • From the mentor: What types of skills are they strong in (for example: public speaking, networking, communication, leadership, etc.) and can offer guidance on to prospective mentees? What qualities in a mentee would they like to see to increase the chances of a successful relationship?
Answers to these questions will provide critical clues in any matching endeavor. 

Finally, on the question of forcing matches - I'm completely against forcing matches even if a formal mentoring program has taken all the time and care in the world to figure out the best opportunity. I've known mentors and mentees in these situations where they were simply told to "figure it out" for 6 months or longer by their companies. If two people sense that it's not going to work they should be honest as early as possible and respectfully move on to other possible mentors/mentees. 

I hope these ideas were useful. I'm happy to answer questions or discuss any aspects of mentoring programs. Just contact me via email or the "Ask a Question" link on my site