The Process of Formal Mentoring

Research indicates that formal mentoring partnerships can be successful, especially if the right amount of structure is present. Structure includes such things as discussing expectations, agreeing on goals and outlining a schedule.

Individuals can enjoy mentoring relationships in a program where they’re matched with appropriate partners. Or they can negotiate relationships on their own without a formal program.

Either way, they have a better chance of succeeding if they follow a process. Here are stages for a formal mentoring partnership.

1. Building the Relationship

During the first few weeks, mentors and mentees should concentrate on getting to know each other. They can certainly talk about goals and ways of interacting, but they don’t have to rush into “business”. Especially in cross-difference mentoring (i.e., partners are of different genders, cultures, etc.), spending time getting to know one another is valuable. It builds trust.

Discussion topics include: Why each is participating in this process; contact information; effective and ineffective mentoring each has experienced; job histories; schools and training attended; hobbies and other leisure interests.

2. Negotiating Agreements

After a few informal meetings, the pair can move into a more formal arrangement. They should agree on what they’ll actually do during the rest of this relationship. Exchanges should be exploratory with both the mentor and mentee proposing possibilities, discussing expectations and preferences, and finally agreeing on what to try.

Discussion topics include: How often, when and where to meet; the number of months the partnership will continue; who will manage the relationship, including logistics; how to give each other feedback; the role of the mentee’s manager; what is and isn’t confidential; how they will measure the success of the relationship.

3. Developing the Mentee

This is the longest phase of the partnership. It involves setting specific goals and objectives and helping the mentee gain knowledge, build skills, and/or modify attitudes with the help of the mentor.

During this phase the mentor acts as a learning broker, sounding board, and sometime instructor/coach for the mentee.

Potential discussion topics are: One or two major goals the mentee wants to achieve; specific objectives that will help the mentee reach those goals; how to measure the mentee’s progress; learning activities that will be the most powerful; potential resources; a feasible time line for reaching goals.

As the pair proceeds, topics can include: what the mentee is doing well and what he/she could do even better, how to solve challenges that arise, what the mentor is observing, and how they both feel about the relationship.

4. Ending the Formal Relationship

Formal mentoring partnerships should come to an official end once agreed-upon goals are met. Near the end, the two should have a discussion about what they’ve experienced and what comes next.

Topics include: What’s worked well; what they have gained; whether or not they’d both like to continue (thanks and goodbye; move to an informal arrangement; build a friendship).