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Mentor Matching

The beginning of a mentor program is critical to its success. There is a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into setting up a program but the first company-wide exposure to a mentoring program is often the mentor matching process.

Matthew Reeves

Potential mentees are often excited at the prospect of having access to certain mentors. Often, those mentors are people they would not usually have access to and this in itself can enthuse the program.

When launching a mentoring program, certain people within the company will be more in-demand than others often based on their job title or reputation. Who would not want to build a relationship with the top people in the company and formalise it via a mentoring connection? However, this does not mean that the CEO would be the best match for everyone.

Consideration needs to be given to:

  • Who would be a good mentor, it is not for everyone.
  • If the person wants to be a mentor, buy-in is essential. A reluctant mentor would not be committed to the program.
  • If the mentor/mentee are a good fit on a professional and personal level.

One effective way of creating mentoring relationships is using mentor pools, which are created by establishing individual goals as well as values and can even include personal interests. 

Selecting Mentors

There are a few ways that mentor matching can work. Most approaches are effective in their way, but the best option for you depends on the program and organization goals, how formal the program is and how much control managers and administrators want to have over the whole program. 

First, you have self-matching, where individuals choose their mentor. This is usually based on a pool of mentors that have similar goals and interests. By enabling individuals to choose their mentor or at least have a say in the match it can create more successful mentoring relationships from the start. The empowerment is a great way to start a conversation and build on something they already deem as a comfortable match. 

The issue with self-matching mentor/mentee relationships is that it takes the control away from the powers that be. While they do gain the gift of time and less administrative work, it sets a level of low participation from the start, and with little input on their perspective from the outside. 

Self-matching can also allow mentees to choose someone they deem a safe option, rather than challenging themselves or pairing them with someone who is going to take them out of their comfort zone. When mentoring has a purpose of self-improvement, a good match can be someone who works in a field that the mentee has less strength in. So, the external input would be valuable information to have in this instance, especially if it is from a direct line manager who can see these strengths and weaknesses from an unbiased viewpoint.

Even with the potential hurdles taking into consideration, studies show that the most successful mentor/mentee relationships are built when the match is not forced.

Administrator matching is another way to pair mentors with mentees and this involves the owners of the program having full control over the matches. They can use data on participants to identify where there is potential for a successful pairing based on skills, employment history and insights into their future careers. 

Data alone isn’t always as helpful in successful pairings as it promises to be. So, this is why this kind of mentor matching requires people to talk to each other about potential candidates. This is usually administrators themselves, HR departments, managers and executives.

From using their own talent management models, candidates for mentoring or progression can be brought forward into the talent pool and the data collected from group conversations give an idea of who that person is aside from their accomplishments and qualifications. This helps the matching process to ensure that people are paired on personality, skill sets and need for improvement. 

A lot of work goes into administrator matching, and while it is a firm favourite in large companies, it is still a working formula. The control over the pairing does assist with the upkeep of the mentor relationship and also provides data down the line confirming whether this way of matching mentors to mentees is successful. This helps with making adjustments to the program with a definite reason to do so rather than blindly changing things without the data to back it up. 

Preliminary Matching is a hybrid of the two methods above and involves a large element of administrator matching with input from the mentee. This type of pairing is suited to individuals with high potential as the collaboration allows a high amount of control over mentor relationship visibility, while the mentee takes their preference into their own hands. 

It works by administrators and executives compiling a list of potential mentors that are most qualified and the mentee gets to pick their mentor from the list. Individuals that are being groomed for executive positions usually benefit most from this type of matching as the list of mentors is limited to those who will have the most to give in the pairing. 

This increases the likelihood of success as all parties are involved from the start and being able to have the final say in their mentor is another boost in empowerment for the mentee. As this method requires the input of multiple people to find the right match, it is a high investment of time and therefore maybe not the right kind of matching for a junior mentoring program. 

Mentor matching software helps streamline the process and can also minimize the potential for human error that can lead to partnerships being overlooked or incorrectly matched. 

How Mentor Matching Becomes Successful

First and foremost, the priority for any business - growing or established - that adopt a mentoring program is to identify business goals early on and match those goals to the program.

There is no point in starting the process of mentor pairing if the candidates in the talent pool are already capable of progression and are not going to benefit from it. Likewise, there is no reward in pairing people in a junior role if the intention is executive succession planning within the next six months.

Decide what needs to be improved or where there are skill gaps and build matches based on those criteria. Other factors can affect a match such as location, time availability or other mentoring commitments, but the basis of a successful mentor relationship should be what the mentee will be able to improve as a result. 

It is a good idea to pick five or six criteria (for example, communication and interpersonal skills, financial acumen, presentation skills) and use these matching subjects pairing weak with strong to help someone grow. 

Matches are not an exact science and if there are 20 mentors and 20 mentees there aren’t going to be matching skills for each one so best judgement is necessary. This is where mentor matching software can really become useful. 

Another important factor in the mentor matching process is consistency. The options mentioned above cover a few of the pairing methods adopted by businesses as they are proven successful in their ways. The options are there to be viewed by what works for a particular company and their business objectives, not as an exercise for trial and error or for the sake of it. 

This especially applies in the credibility stakes as up and coming talent within the company will want to see consistency in how their own pairing will be handled. If they can see other mentees have received what looks like preferential treatment, it can diminish hopes of their mentor relationship being successful. 

On the other side of this, maintaining a level of control is important to keep business goals on track. Always allowing candidates to select their mentors can lead the program off course. 

A balance is crucial, but the criteria should decide on how mentors are paired and not a dictation from one particular party. 

Ultimately both parties should be aware of their roles and commitments before entering the agreement and they should both know what is expected and how they will be monitored. The role of an administrator or leader in HR who monitors mentor relationships is to help keep things moving forward with input where necessary. 

Providing guidance and support is part of the package, and especially for first-time mentors this resource is expected to be used to its advantage so that each party can quickly grasp the process and how to tackle topics for improvement. 

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