9 reasons why mentoring programmes fail – the tell-tale signs of a failing programme 

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The value of mentoring is no secret. In fact, several successful people before us have had one or many mentors whom they speak of very openly and highly. Because of the proven impact that mentoring has had on individuals, more and more corporates and entrepreneur support organisations integrate mentoring programmes with their other value drivers in a bid to drive up leadership and ownership in their operations. However, setting up an effective mentoring programme which adds real value is easier said than done. Many mentoring programmes fail. Often, they start off strong but then slowly fizzle out, and other times, they don’t even take off. Today, we are here to share with you our experience because we are keen to help others reap the real benefits of mentoring. It can be done if you set the right foundations.  

Reasons why mentoring programmes fail

There are quite a number of reasons why a mentoring programme could fail. These pitfalls are mainly as a result of the inherent design of the programme or as a result of external factors. Let’s explore some of them:

  1. No clear leadership.

    Like any process or project, there should be someone leading it and carrying it through to fruition. This person, a mentoring programme manager or coordinator, will be the point of contact in the event that the mentors and mentees have any questions, concerns or needs that require addressing. This individual will design the programme, roll it out, follow-up on activities and ensure that things are running the way they should. Without someone coordinating the programme, there will be no follow-up, accountability or troubleshooting which can lead to the failure of the programme.

  2. No clear goal for the mentoring programme

    It’s important to define the objective of the programme and set out the expectations from the onset. The programme objectives should have a link to a business need or business priorities e.g., to reduce employee turnover in a company, or to encourage more women in leadership or entrepreneurship etc. When there’s a clear goal that people are working towards, it becomes easier to keep the mentors, mentees and programme team engaged and focused. Having a clear goal will also allow you, as a programme manager or coordinator, to determine whom to target for your programme and how to measure its success.

  3. The programme is not supported by top management/leadership

    This may sometimes go without saying, but if your mentoring programme has no top management buy-in, it will not be a priority for the business. For that reason alone, time and resources will not be adequately allocated to it which can have a negative impact on the programme outcomes. Management should support the programme by encouraging participation and possibly even leading by example.

  4. No training (skills and competence) for the mentoring programme manager

    Besides knowledge on mentoring and mentoring best practises, a mentoring manager needs to have the right skills to be able to adequately run the mentoring programme and see it to the end with success. He will need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to effectively support his programme participants, take the lead on designing the mentoring programme to ensure it delivers the right results, and to provide the right trainings to the participants to facilitate achievement of the programme goals. Additionally, the mentoring programme manager needs to have project management knowledge as well as people skills in order to activate participants and get them involved in the programme as well as assess the performance of the programme.

  5. Mentor and mentee training and preparedness

    Sometimes, it is assumed that an accomplished entrepreneur, or the best managers and leaders make the best mentors. Conversely, unprepared mentees might not have the right expectations of a mentoring relationship like expecting their mentors to provide them with funding, or with solutions to their challenges rather than helping them come to the solutions themselves. Both mentors and mentees require training to be able to prepare them for the mentoring process.

    Studies have shown that mentor training has a significant and positive correlation to the quality of the mentoring relationship in terms of trust towards the mentor and the perceived similarity between the two. This consequently has a positive correlation to the mentoring relationship outcomes and the mentee learnings. Mentoring relationships are three times more likely to succeed if the mentors and mentees have been trained.

    The mentors and mentees will not come out of the training with all the right qualities that a mentor or mentee should possess. They will however be sensitised about the risks and challenges associated with being a mentee or a mentor, and the salient lines not to cross so as not to disturb the balance in the mentoring relationship.

  6. The programme isn’t designed to fit the organisational needs or structure

    Copy and paste solutions from a previous programme are not always effective when it comes to designing a mentoring programme. That’s often because there may be other variables that come into play. These can range from organisational or people related factors such as departmental cultures, workloads on participants, to programme deliver models such as online or in-person programmes, or other competing variables. All these moving parts provide for a plethora of design options for your mentoring programme. When designing a mentoring programme, design it with your target audience in mind.

  7. The mentors and mentees were not appropriately matched

    Mentor-mentee matching is one of the most important elements of the success of a mentoring programme. If the process of matching mentees to mentors is not well thought out or executed, the mentoring programme may not succeed. From a corporate standpoint, the relationships within the workplace can be negatively impacted, hurting both the company top and bottom lines, if the matching is poorly done. When preparing for matching, consider elements like whether or not your mentors will be staffed from within or outside your organisation, their abilities (their skills or experience), values (their guiding principles and behaviours), culture (their attitudes and behaviours relating to their backgrounds and previous exposure) and any other factors that would need alignment so that both parties can be open and ready for the mentoring process to happen effectively.

    Very often, people may not fully open up to colleagues in their workplace (junior or senior), or successful entrepreneurs or industry experts and show their vulnerabilities as either mentors or mentees. Sharing of vulnerabilities may be easily misconstrued for a lack of competence or general weakness. When designing a mentoring programme in a corporate setting with mentors and mentees being from within the same organisation, be sure to find mechanisms that separate mentoring from talent management. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, design a matching model that will not be too intimidating for the entrepreneurs but will still challenge them at the same time.

  8. Disengaged team/programme members

    The process of mentoring will be completely ineffective if one or both parties involved in the mentoring relationship are checked out or disengaged. Mentoring relationships take time and effort. There needs to be rapport, openness, understanding, patience, empathy, listening and feedback. For all this to happen, the mentors and mentees have to be able to make time for each other so that they can trust each other and be vulnerable enough to start gaining value from each other’s experiences.

  9.  Inadequate or insufficient coordination in the programme 

As mentioned, mentoring is only successful if both parties make time for each other. For this reason, a bit of coordination may be necessary so that there is some level of commitment and accountability to the programme. But at the same time, the programme should not be so rigid as to put off the participants from the programme or make it a chore. As the programme runs, the mentoring manager should measure the effectiveness of the programme so that they can adequately support the programme participants. By so doing, they’ll know what to start doing, stop doing or continue doing.

As we alluded earlier, the failure of a mentoring programme can happen even before the programme is set to take off, or just fizzle out during the course of the programme. In order to understand the why, we will take you back to one of our founding principles, a formula by Timothy Gallway – author of The Inner Circle. 

Success = performance – interferences. 

For your programme to be successful, it is a factor of performance without interferences. Interferences come in the form of a lack of skills or knowledge gaps, as well as self-limiting beliefs such as imposter syndrome, lack of confidence, fears of failures etc. If we reduce the interferences through training and mentoring, and continually monitor and evaluate the programme adequately, you will begin to experience real results for your programme.

Sign up today for our ‘Running an effective mentoring programme’ course designed to support mentoring managers set up customised mentoring programmes that are poised for success from the onset. 

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