Why do mentoring programs fail?

We've helped a lot of organizations run mentorship programs. Through that experience we've picked up a few common mistakes that mentorship programs make.

Matthew Reeves

Published on 

April 1, 2022

Updated on 

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Mentoring that succeeds solidifies the bond between employer and employee. It improves employees' professional and personal welfare. Studies show that professionally, employees who participate in an effective mentoring program have achieved greater career satisfaction, higher salaries, high productivity levels, and are more committed to their jobs. They have improved physical health, better self-esteem, and stronger relationships on a personal level. 

An effective mentorship program results in:

Despite its many benefits and usefulness to employees and their employers, some mentoring programs fail. Research shows that there are several variables responsible for why mentoring programs fail. 

These issues range from incorrect pairings to mentors failing to supervise their mentees accordingly. Armed with an awareness of these common variables, organizations can put the right strategies in place and experience a better outcome with their mentoring programs.

This article explores why mentoring programs fail and the proven tips for ensuring successful mentoring programs.

Why is Mentoring Challenging? 

Mentoring is more than just an HR activity to check the box on employee development. 

  • Mentors have the chance to develop amazing leadership skills that can’t be learned without experience. 
  • For mentees, it’s a great opportunity to advance their career by expanding their network to include role models who can show them the ropes. 

Companies aren’t prioritizing mentorship

Sadly, only 29% of employers are eager to introduce a mentoring program, a Statista study shows.

How willing would you be to set up an internal program where experienced employees can mentor newer employees?
How willing would you be to set up an internal program where experienced employees can mentor newer employees?

Mentoring programs can be a lot of work, especially if you are doing it manually. And HR professionals are usually taking on this responsibility on top of their existing workload. It can be hard to make the business case for mentoring in order to get proper resources to support the program’s development.

Because of the extra work, many companies acknowledge that they’d be great to have, but they just don’t have the time to do it right now.

Busy schedules can stunt mentoring opportunities

An inadequate commitment of time and effort is an obstacle to satisfying mentoring; mentees often struggle to get a chance to get into deep discussions with their mentors. 

This is typical for a boss-employee mentorship. Considering their heavy workload, bosses find it difficult to meet with their mentees.  

Mentors become problem solvers instead of supporters

Mentoring can also be challenging from an emotional standpoint. It is difficult to see someone you are mentoring struggle, and it can be tempting to try and fix their problems for them.

However, it is essential to remember that the mentee needs to learn how to solve their problems and that this is part of the mentoring process. 

eBook Best practices from real world mentoring programs

Why Do Mentoring Programs Fail?

A failed mentoring program can provoke a high turnover because workers will seek companies that value their efforts and provide them with advancement opportunities. 

Based on a Gallup finding, turnover remains a serious threat to businesses' profit margins. It's sad to see a promising relationship between a mentor and mentee collapse because of issues that can be avoided. 

Here are 12 reasons for the collapse of a mentorship program:

1. Not defining the purpose or outcomes of the program 

While this looks simple, it's a serious issue that negates the purpose of mentorship. Sometimes, the program lead fails to communicate the mentoring goals to the participants. When participants aren't aware of what they should achieve, they're unlikely to accomplish a lot. 

Before initiating a program, the coordinator should outline their expectations and have a strategy they plan to execute (here’s an example of a strategy from the United States Office of Personnel Management). When participants understand the program's objectives, it's much easier for them to hit their target. 

2. Inadequate screening of mentors and protégés 

Randy Heidt describes the two types of mentorship as either formal or informal. The type of mentoring adopted depends on the company. A classic example of an informal mentorship pattern is when a company fails to ask the right questions during screening. 

Mentors and protegés should share previous experiences with mentoring, if available. While experience shouldn't be a prerequisite, it helps identify those with some knowledge. The screening team needs to map out relevant questions that help them select those who qualify (here’s a template of registration questions Together mentoring programs include). 

Integrating unqualified candidates into a program to be mentors can be a risk. There are studies on marginal mentoring that show poor mentors can do more harm than not having one at all.

3. Inadequate training for mentors and protégés 

Mentors and protégés need to know what is expected of them and how to make the most of the relationship. Adequate training and skills will help to ensure that both parties are prepared for their roles. These skills come with ample training opportunities. A typical mentor training comprises the following: 

  • Learning to be excellent listeners 
  • Helping mentees define and actualize goals 
  • Designing a schedule for interactions with the mentee 
  • Developing a positive opinion on what mentoring should be 

When programs lack this structure, failure is inevitable. Some company decision-makers view mentor training as a wasteful endeavour. 

Mentor training enables mentors to become problem solvers and rely less on the program head when faced with challenges. Mentors should learn their roles and get interaction tips

4. Little support for mentors and mentees

Administrative aid goes a long way to smoothing the mentorship process. Aside from providing mentees with mentors, administrators who touch bases regularly with assigned pairs help the workplace to feel like a family endeavour, not so top-down. Some senior executives may not actively engage in mentoring programs out of sentiment or apathy.  

The 2022 Workplace Learning Report reveals that companies with in-house synergy can keep workers for up to 5.4 years. This may not seem like much until you realize that the normal span is 2.9 years. Companies that prove their ability to connect staffers with multiple opportunities will have several talented minds struggling to offer their services. 

5. Wrong pairings of mentors and mentees 

Compatibility is a non-negotiable factor for an efficient mentor-mentee relationship. The science of success demands that only similar elements should coalesce. While 61% of mentees said they worked in the same company with their mentors, that's not the only focus of this challenge. 

Everyone has different opinions on topics, and program managers are expected to pair participants with similar views. One great way to approach this is by collating personal experiences from the participants before matching them. The coordinator should match partakers sharing a sameness of values upon studying the data. 

Mentoring programs suffer greatly because of improper matches. This prevents mentees from acquiring experience and skills. Only those with shared skills, goals, and experience should be matched. Together Mentoring software helps simplify this process.

6. Failure to monitor the program’s progress

Once participants are properly paired, and connections have been established, managers shouldn't slack. The manager must focus on each relationship, gauging each pair's highs and lows. By doing so, they know when to offer advice or commendation. With the right tools, measuring a mentoring program doesn’t have to be cumbersome. But running a program manually can make getting insight into each pairing difficult.

Once a conflict arises, the program coordinator must ascertain the reason. They can suggest that both parties collude to meet and discuss how to move past the situation. Both parties are accountable to the program head, but the latter is more accountable than the former. 

7. Poor expectation management 

The participants in a mentoring program come with different motives. The mentor may expect the mentee to be diligent, while the mentee would prefer that the mentor stay committed.

However, some mentors tend to expect too much from the mentee, mounting severe pressure on the mentee. Sometimes, the mentee is the culprit when they insist on frequent meetings and constant in-depth reviews regarding their efforts. Both parties should strike a compromise to prevent this from happening, an excellent skill to master in all walks of life. 

Mentoring programs haven't enjoyed a long stay in most companies' history; according to one survey, only 24% of companies have had a mentoring program for over ten years. If these programs succeed, the coordinator should enlighten mentors and mentees on forming reasonable expectations

8. Insufficient feedback

Mentors and protégés need feedback to improve their performance. Feedback should be given regularly and specific, objective, and actionable. It also sustains the relationship between both parties. When the mentor fails to regularly share their thoughts on the mentee's progress, the mentee becomes disillusioned with the program.  

An efficient mentoring program is built on constant engagement, a study reveals. If the mentor needs additional information on a presentation, they should indicate that is the case. Lack of communication gives the mentee room to consider exiting the program.   

9. Lack of respect for one’s confidentiality 

When a mentor points out a flaw in a mentee's work, the smart thing to do is to discuss it and conclude on a positive note. Sadly, some mentors prefer to address their mentees publicly. This lowers the mentee's self-esteem and increases the risk of losing interest in the program. 

As a long-term solution, mentors should learn the negative impact of calling out their mentees' mistakes. This should help them to develop a healthy approach. 

10. Insufficient time devoted to the program 

Before any mentorship program is introduced, all the would-be participants already have very active work lives. It's always difficult to include a new activity in a tight schedule. On account of this, some mentors and mentees don't meet as often as they should. 

The University of California at San Francisco credits time allocation as a cause of mentoring program failures. It negatively impacts the bond between both individuals, discouraging growth. 

11. Absence of a program evaluation plan 

A crucial part of a mentoring program plan is the assessment section. Upon initiating the program, the coordinator should conduct regular check-ins to determine the program's performance. Sadly, some coordinators neglect this important point. 

When coordinators feel there's no need to gauge the program's progress, they won't discover flaws and make the necessary effort to resolve them. This contributes to the program's failure and may cause a huge employee turnover.

12. Zero networking 

Aside from the traditional one-on-one mentoring, there are several other ways individuals can attain personal development. For instance, in group mentoring, a mentor gets a cohort and is responsible for their needs. However, some mentors don't allow mentees to network. 

This prevents them from sharing ideas and accessing career advancement openings. While many consider networking a job seeker's weapon, a study says it's equally valuable to workers. Dissuading mentees from networking demoralizes them and brings about disinterest in the program. 

12 Tips that Make a Mentoring Program Successful

Mentorship has several use cases with exciting benefits that will help companies record low turnover rates. 

Below are twelve great tips for a better mentoring program: 

1. Define the goals and objectives of the mentoring program from the outset. Measuring the program's success won't be easy without a clear understanding of what you hope to achieve.

2. Choose participants carefully. The individuals chosen to participate in the program should have the potential to be successful mentors and mentees.

3. Foster a culture of mentoring within the organization. Encourage employees to take part in mentoring relationships and support those who do.

4. Train mentors and mentees on how to effectively participate in the program. This training should cover communication, setting boundaries, and conflict resolution.

5. Match mentors and mentees based on compatible goals, interests, and personality types. The more compatible the pair is, the more successful the mentoring relationship is likely to be.

6. Create opportunities for mentors and mentees to get to know one another. This can be done through informal social gatherings or more formal activities like structured mentoring sessions.

7. Provide regular check-ins and feedback. Regular checking in with mentors and mentees will help ensure that the relationship progresses as planned. This feedback should be constructive and focused on helping the mentee reach their goals

8. Evaluate the program periodically. Assessing the program's effectiveness regularly will help identify areas for improvement. This can be done through surveys, interviews, or focus groups.

9. Be prepared to make changes. As the program evolves, be open to making changes to improve its effectiveness.

10. Celebrate successes. Recognizing the accomplishments of mentors and mentees will help motivate them to continue participating in the program.

11. Communicate regularly with stakeholders. Keeping stakeholders up-to-date on the program's progress will help garner their continued support.

12. Promote the benefits of mentoring. Help others see the value in participating in a mentoring program by sharing your own experiences and highlighting the program's successes.

Ready to launch your mentoring program with ease?

Our team at Together has made running a mentorship program easy. Forget the hassle of manually matching dozens or hundreds of program participants. Our matching algorithm can match up all your employees with the click of a button. 

If you want to launch a program right away consider starting your pilot program for free or learn more about how our mentoring software can make building a mentoring culture easy.

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