Mentorship Programs

How to support accountability in mentoring relationships

Accountability is not simply trying to catch employees doing the wrong things. Rather, it is giving people a standard to aim for or a common expectation that is based on your organization’s mission and value statements. Mentorship is key to holding both leaders and employees accountable.

Meryl D'Sa-Wilson

Published on 

February 1, 2023

Updated on 

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According to Gallup, only 40% of employees feel that their managers hold them accountable for their performance goals. On the other hand, research shows that about 82% of managers claim they have no way or ability to hold their teams accountable.

With these numbers, it is easy to see how there might be a high level of disengagement among employees. Employees who struggle with productivity or enthusiasm in the workplace will find themselves checking out at work if they are not held accountable. The same goes for managers who delegate more than what is reasonable.

So, what can your organization do differently? Simply, plan to implement supportive accountability through workplace mentoring relationships. 

Workplace mentoring programs can provide employees with the supportive push they want to hit their goals. And when employees hit their goals, the organization benefits. The long-term effect is more engaged employees who are energized by the support they receive through mentors.  

In this article, we’ll unpack how to increase employee accountability through a formal mentoring program that pairs every employee with a relevant person to learn from. But first, we need to understand the consequences of a lack of accountability at work.

Is there a lack of accountability in your workplace?

For teams and departments to successfully work together and hit their goals, a few factors need to fall into place. In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni highlights five dysfunctions that disrupt the growth and productivity of teams and stop them from hitting their goals:

  • Absence of trust
  • Fear of conflict
  • Lack of commitment
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to team results

You’ll notice that this list also works as key red flags that indicate potential issues your teams might face.

We’ll focus specifically on “avoidance of accountability,” where employees avoid the task of calling out peers and superiors on counterproductive and/or disruptive behavior. When not curbed, this behavior leads to low standards, fewer results, and less growth. 

We believe that by solving the dysfunction of an “avoidance of accountability,”  the other dysfunctions will quickly dissipate.

Accountability does not exist separate from these other factors. For instance, when team members aren’t held accountable, they are often disengaged, refrain from productive conflict, and feel less committed to doing their best.

Supportive accountability goes a long way in building a productive and reliable team.

So how can you institute this kind of accountability? We’re going to argue that it’s through mentorship.

How mentorship can create a culture of accountability in your workplace

Mentorship encourages supportive accountability (without micromanaging) by creating a space for mentors and mentees to:

  • Establish rules and expectations
  • Check in and evaluate one another regularly
  • Work with agendas and feedback

But how exactly? Let’s take a look.

1. Establish rules and expectations

At the beginning of the mentoring relationship, the mentor and mentee go over individual goals and expectations as well as those of the program. This is a good space to establish rules and explain what accountability looks like for your organization. 

Being upfront about the purpose and process of mentorship helps mentors and mentees understand the importance of the program. And by extension, you create a level of trust and transparency.

At Together, we recommend that all mentoring relationships start by signing a mentoring agreement. This ensures that everyone is on the same page. As the relationship progresses, they can refer back to the agreement to track their progress.

2. Check in and evaluate one another regularly

Most mentorships require mentors and mentees to have regular sessions, once every few weeks. This ensures they are continually communicating and identifying potential struggles that could impede growth.

These regular check-ins don’t need to interfere with autonomy, however. Mentees can still have the freedom to build their roles and responsibilities. But now, they do it with more accountability since there is someone to see how they're progressing more closely.

3. Work with agendas and feedback

Providing agendas or templates is another way to ensure mentees and mentors are on the right track. These “plans of action” really act as a guide to help them navigate the mentorship process. 

You can include a mentorship guide, ice-breakers, mini-projects, milestones, and more. And upon completion, you can run feedback surveys to get an idea of how each participant interacted and experienced the session.

At Together, we arm every mentoring program with templated session agendas. They do a great job getting the ball rolling and keeping conversations focused. 

Does every employee need an accountability partner?

No, not every employee needs an accountability partner. However, for many employees, it’s very beneficial to have both a peer and mentor in their professional lives. 

As employees spend a good amount of their lives in the workplace, there is much they can learn from their peers and professional mentors. And this ranges from career development to personal growth.

An accountability partner (in the form of a mentor or peer) can help employees identify struggles and actualize goals through guidance and support.

Here are three examples of how employees benefit from an accountability partner.

  1. A senior manager paired with a newly promoted team lead. The manager can help the latter stay on the path by providing guidance on leadership. Together, they can set goals and milestones, and the manager can conduct check-ins to see how the team leader is doing.
  2. Peers who are on a “high-potential employee” list and have both been assigned a stretch assignment can encourage each other to do their best and come out successful. Together, they can brainstorm solutions, peer review each other’s work, and drive accountability to complete necessary tasks.
  3. People who buddy up naturally (and preferably in similar job levels) can discuss upcoming goals and projects. They can collaborate on bigger projects but also hold each other accountable for completing individual goals.

These examples show the power of having someone in your corner, working alongside you, and encouraging you to push through hard times.

Every employee should have access to this kind of support. But only a third of employees have mentors. This is where formal mentoring programs become crucial. But starting them isn’t an easy process. 

Let’s look at the steps for starting a mentorship program.

How to start a mentorship program that encourages accountability

Mentoring programs in the workplace can help organizations develop a more accountable and productive environment. Here are some important steps to take to tackle accountability through mentorship. 

1. Discuss expectations

Even if employees have been involved in mentoring programs in the past, it is still important to discuss their expectations at the beginning of a new mentorship. Talk about what the mentor wants to accomplish and what goals the mentees have for themselves. 

As part of a mentor’s responsibilities, they may even need to talk with leadership about their goals with respect to this mentorship, such as succession planning or developing high-potential employees. 

Being upfront about these expectations means that everyone is on the same page, and that level of transparency makes it easier to hold each other accountable.

2. Set goals

Next, move on to set smaller goals and milestones to reach the end goal. The program administrator and leadership can offer mentoring guidelines, suggestions, and agendas, but ultimately, this falls on the mentors and mentees. 

Goal-setting helps people know what they are expected to do and sets an approximate deadline or timeline. Encourage setting SMART goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, reasonable, and timely. This, alongside reasonable expectations and a workable deadline, will ensure more accountability.

Additionally, let mentors and mentees know that it is okay to modify the goals along the mentoring journey. Things change, and so can goals; try to stay flexible.

3. Communicate

Keeping people accountable is often best done through one-on-one meetings. Once expectations are set, and transparency is built, don’t shy away from tough conversations. 

If a mentor or mentee has expressed concerns over accountability, it is important to discuss the issue or problem. But always ensure you do so in a sensitive, supportive, and respectful way. Productive conversations lead to more resolutions.

4. Check-in

Whether you have an on-site or remote mentoring program, make sure you regularly check in with participants. This lets them know that you value their mentoring relationships and also gives them an opportunity to provide feedback. 

During these check-ins, mentors can evaluate their mentees’ progress. As program admin, you can ask them how they feel things are going and whether they need more help in a specific area. It may even be productive to review goals and see if they are realistic and attainable. 

5. Autonomy

Supportive accountability is best accomplished when it is balanced with autonomy. Accountability does not equal micro-managing. So, give your mentoring participants the freedom to take ownership of their roles and responsibilities and how they want to structure their mentoring process. 

Cultivating a culture that empowers employees to strive higher can have a positive impact on your workplace mentoring program.

Bottom line

Mentorship in the workplace is a good place to start enforcing accountability and aligning it with growth and development. 

And with a mentoring platform like Together, you can use an online space, sharing documents, detailed reports, and feedback surveys to evaluate how these mentoring relationships are performing.

Together’s intuitive dashboard makes it really easy for program administrators and stakeholders to see how accountability is growing within their teams. Learn more about our mentorship platform.

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