Structured vs. Unstructured Mentoring? Now that is the question


Mentoring is key to successful talent and organisational development. If you’re wondering how so, this Mowgli blog post should be of help.

If you are not using this vital and cost-effective tool to grow and retain the best talent, boost employee morale, significantly save on your recruitment and training costs, develop your leadership, increase your succession pipeline and enhance productivity within your organisation, perhaps it’s time you considered it?

If you are interested in developing or strengthening a mentoring program in your organisation, you’re probably wondering which is the best way to go — structured or unstructured? Both have their pros and cons; however, we believe that for mentoring first-timers who are looking to build an internal mentoring culture, a structured approach, which meets the needs of and holds the mentees, mentors and organisation accountable provides greater results.

Did you know that over 70 % of Fortune 500 companies have implemented structured mentoring programs in the workplace?

Here’s why:

1. Greater understanding of mentoring. 

It’s important to note that while you may already understand the benefits of mentoring; your employees may not be as informed. A lot of your high potential employees may not be interested in mentoring or being mentored because they do not understand how mentoring could benefit them. Unlike unstructured programs which adopt a free-fall approach to mentoring, structured mentoring programs pay more attention to ensuring that the values and benefits of mentoring are well understood through mentoring awareness sessions. This is important in gaining employee buy-in, and ensuring that mentors and mentees have a proper understanding as to the value of mentoring before the program is kicked off.

2. Setting the right foundations. 

Structured programs are designed to set the foundations of the mentoring relationships, provide support and supervision for this delicate relationship to thrive and provide both parties with the best-practice knowledge and tools to form additional relationships, thereby increasing the program’s ROI

3. Managing expectations. 

With any relationship, expectations must be managed. Mentoring is different from skill-development focused coaching and it is not an advisory service. Its main purpose is to nurture, empower and support the personal and professional growth of the mentee. All parties therefore must be well informed on what they are getting into; for instance, the mentors need to be prepared to serve and empower their mentees and not advise, whilst the mentees need to recognize that they are the drivers of the mentoring relationships and that they will not be getting the answers from the mentor.

4. Selecting ready participants. 

Being a good mentor goes beyond having a senior job title, being older, more experienced and knowledgeable. One has to be ready and willing to take on the privileged role as a mentor. In the same vein, it is key that mentoring programs select those who will benefit most from being mentored and pass on the benefits to the organisation. A robust recruitment and selection criteria and process for both mentors and mentees, is key to ensuring the success of a program and ultimately impact.

5. Training of mentors. 

Professionals who have the technical and business skills need to be trained in the art of personal mentoring so that they can adequately and holistically support those they seek to mentor. If not trained, mentors either revert to advisory-based support, which does not develop the mentee’s capacity or leadership and they could in fact damage the mentee as they do not have the skills to support them on a deeper emotional and personal level.

6. Matching the right pairs.

“It’s not about having a great Mentor or Mentee but the MATCHING of both.” — Kathleen Bury, CEO Mowgli Mentoring.

For mentoring to be effective a long-term, mutually beneficial and trust-based relationship must be developed and this can only be achieved when there is chemistry between the mentor and mentee. It doesn’t matter how well they may fit on paper; real mentoring relationships are not only based on the mentor’s professional ability to impart knowledge, but on the rapport between the mentor and mentee.

7. Structured accountability. 

Having a structured plan provides a framework, agenda, timeline and guidelines for mentors and mentees to follow. Structured mentoring programs therefore set the pace for accountability. Having a goal and a plan ensures participants are held accountable to their commitment and are consequently able to realize their goals

8. On-going support and supervision. 

Support and supervision are critical in ensuring that a healthy and productive mentoring relationship is built and exists in the long run. Monitoring helps to track the progress being made against the program’s objectives whilst monitoring the interaction between the mentor and mentee, enabling red flags and issues to be raised on a real time/immediate basis, rather than letting them fester into long term conflicts. Proper supervision can help reignite passion into the relationship avoiding mentor burnout and in some instances it can determine when to put an end to unproductive relationship

9. Tracking progress.

It’s almost impossible to track progress without structure. It also makes little sense to have a mentoring program without evaluating its impact. Your organization will need the support of a structured program to track the impact of the mentoring initiative as well as to identify what’s working or not working, and ensure that the objectives of the current and future mentoring programs are met

Unstructured mentoring programs also offer some benefits; there is no structure, timeline, agenda or goals which allows for greater flexibility, it is much more organic and natural in nature and participants feel as though the program is purely for their benefit and not the company’s.

Structured vs. unstructured mentoring…. Is it still a question? Get in touch with us to learn more about how structured mentoring programs can support your vision.

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