5 Mistakes to avoid when starting a mentorship program

We're joined by Tiersa Hall, a certified senior HR professional, master trainer, coach and speaker to discuss the 5 mistakes mentorship program administrators should avoid when building their mentorship program.
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The five mistakes mentoring programs should avoid are:

  1. Not effectively getting buy-in from executives/senior management on the program
  2. Failing to assess the personalities and work styles of participants prior to matching
  3. Not making mentorship measurable
  4. Not innovating in your mentorship program by infusing recognition of participants
  5. Lacking proper guidance for participants and helping mentors and mentees stay on track

Ryan Carruthers: Hello everyone. Welcome back to another interview in together's mentorship expert series. Today we're joined by Tiersa Hall, a certified senior HR professional, master trainer, coach, and speaker. She has over 15 years of experience in the hospitality industry and specializes in coaching and developing managers to build influential relationships with their teams. We're thrilled to have her with us today to discuss the mistakes to avoid when starting a mentorship program. Tiersa, thank you for joining us today.

Tiersa Smith-Hall: Oh, it's my pleasure. Good morning to everyone out there.

Ryan Carruthers: Yeah, good morning, good afternoon, good night. Whenever people–

Tiersa Smith-Hall: That's true. It's different time zones.

Ryan Carruthers: Yeah. To help us learn a little bit more about you and your background, Teresa, can you share with us a bit about your work and your experience helping your clients start mentoring programs?

Tiersa Smith-Hall: Sure. I'd love to do that. I'm an HR by heart, so that's where my career actually started. I started at the age of 22 in HR and I did that for 16 plus years. So I've definitely known my way around the human resource arena. And in that I've also done training and development, which is a part of my portfolio. So L&D is a passion that I have as well, which kind of took me to where I'm today. Cause I also do HR and culture consulting, but I also stand in the seat of a master trainer. So I do a lot of L&D programs and a lot of programs that kind of bring everything full circle. So it's great to be here today to really dissect and talk about mentoring, which is such an integral part of all of those elements. As HR professionals, we need to ensure that that's infused as L&D, we're trying to figure out the best way to deliver programs that have that stick. And so it's always good to explore mentoring in a great, in-depth way.

Ryan Carruthers: Fantastic. Well, you wear many hats and I'm sure we're going to bring in a lot of insights from your diverse experience in the conversation today. Now let's dive into the topic. We're talking about the mistakes to avoid when starting a mentorship program. I think it'd be great to start at a high level and then dig into each. So to start, what do you see the mistakes as being that mentorship program administrators should avoid?

Tiersa Smith-Hall: Well, the biggest one for me is in terms of the success. What's critical to the success of a mentoring program is getting the buy-in from executive level, right? Ensuring that those senior persons see the value of the program that you're trying to put in place. That can be a really big challenge if you're not focused on that.

Ryan Carruthers: Fantastic. Let's dig into that one before going over the others. How should they get buy-in for a mentoring program? What are the best practices for selling it internally, whether to senior leaders who are probably holding the budget for the program or employees that may be resistant to joining?

Tiersa Smith-Hall: Well, I would definitely say the first place is to start is really connecting and allowing them to see the value firsthand. And so sometimes that kind of takes a run of a program. Maybe even if you have other training programs such as the leadership programs that you're starting and you are creating a forum where the persons that have undergone the training are able to give feedback in terms of what they've experienced. And I'll give that as an example because I literally just finished a Rising Leaders program, which is really tied into mentoring. So we kick off with educationals from a leadership perspective, and then post that we do an assessment of the individual. We match them with a mentor, and then they go through their development program. And so at that time, when those persons finish that program, we create a platform and a forum where they do a mingling session with CEOs, with executives as a part of their growth. And at that time, they're sharing what they've learned from the program, their experiences. And so now it's not just us as HR professionals or L&D selling something that the CEO cannot see for themselves. They can see the brightness in the eyes of the individuals that have undergone that program and they can see where the benefit can be. And if you're not doing a training program, it's still possible. You can host interviews with different persons who have desires to be in a mentorship program. You can run a test run one-on-one with a few mentorship groups and capture that in a video session meeting, that mentor and mentee sits there. You do a video and you ask 'em to share their experiences. And that is real evidence, real data that shows the differences that can help executive. But of course, every executive has different perspectives. Some want to know how does that tie into the bottom line. And so the progress in which you're making with those mentorship groups in terms of what they have been able to achieve, if you measure those on a small scale, those examples are going to be critical to the ROI that you're going to prepare that accompanies that.

Ryan Carruthers: That's fantastic advice. I think whoever's listening to this is going to want to rewind and start taking notes on all those things you were sharing cause that was a lot. So that's super helpful. Let's move on to the next mistake you think that mentorship program should avoid making when starting a program? Which one is that?

Tiersa Smith-Hall: For me, that's failure to assess the personal work style of the individuals that are within the group. I think many people aren't focused on the impact that who someone is, plays into the mentorship process. And so you want to know one, who is my mentee? What is their personality type? I think that's so important to do. So you have assessment programs. I personally am certified with disk, so I use disk a lot in most of my assessments. That gives me a clear view of the personality type, how that individual learns, how they connect with others, how they're motivated and inspired, and what particular groups are going to motivate them in the best way. And so when you get that information, two things it does. One, it provides my insight in terms of guiding the mentorship program, but for the individual that is the mentee, they now have a very clear point of who they are. They see how who they are is interacting with those that are around them. And so now they have a better understanding of what they want for themselves. And then for the mentor that is going to be providing that guidance, they also are aware of what approaches they should be coming with. So then you have the possibility of a very effective working relationship. And in a mentorship program, especially if you're using software and you're connecting, you want to also make sure that, you can't get every personality type, right? You can't have, okay, these two match perfectly together. But if they have good awareness of the different personality types, then it makes it much easier to peer groups. And you can see where the group happens there, where the strengths and the weaknesses are combined and both parties come out of the program a lot better than they went in.

Ryan Carruthers: Interesting. So for best practices on matching mentors and mentees, if HR administrators are running programs, should they focus on matching like with like, or like similar personality types together? Or should it be like what criteria should program administrators be taken into account? Should they all be the same? Should like same with same? Should it be opposites? How should matching work?

Tiersa Smith-Hall: I don't think it should always be the same. I think you have to have consistency in whatever process you're doing to match individuals. I think when you look at the criteria in terms of qualifications, when you look at the area of work, the field of work, the desires of the individual to the skillset that mentor has, then those tend to be a little bit more rigid, right? Because you're looking for a specific type of match to ensure that the knowledge base is there to support the mentee. But if you're looking at, you know, some of the goals that persons have are not tied into their field of choice, right? It might be communication, it might be my delivery and speaking, it might be my ability to connect with my team members to be able to influence persons and get them to do what I desire them to do or connect to them in a unique and profound way. And if that is the goal, then you wouldn't use the metrics of skillset, you would look at personality types. So that will give you the guidance needed. So I think it's a combination based on the goals that are there. And I also am a fan of not necessarily having the same mentor for the whole entirety of your career, but based on the need that you have, there can be some shift that will allow for longevity to continue.

Ryan Carruthers: Mm-Hmm. And I think one thing that's becoming more popular as a strategy with mentorship programs is the whole idea of your personal board of directors and stuff like that. And that's just having more than one mentor in your life and career for different parts of your life and career. So I think it speaks a lot to mentoring programs and how they should be designed in such a way that for the next six months, maybe you have a mentor, but it's not something that you should sign up for, for like two years. It's, it's a hard ask for mentors to commit to someone for that period. So one thing with together, for example, is we have evergreen programs and cohort programs. Cohort programs are your match with the mentor for say, 6 to 12 months. And then the relationship concludes formally through the program. And then evergreen programs are kind of always on, so you can start and start mentoring relationships on an ongoing basis so you can really build that personal board of directors.

Tiersa Smith-Hall: I like that personal board of directors. I like that concept, but it's true because as you're growing and as you are evolving, it's kind of like when we take the advice of our parents, we take it up to a certain point and then we're looking at people that look more like what we desire to be or where we would like to end up. And so based on those, we make those shifts as necessary. And I'm sure because every person that I've interviewed, I've worked with in the course of my career, they always speak about a mentor that helped them and their development. And they may not be in the mentorship program currently with them, but the impact is so far reaching. So that's why it's so important to keep it evolving.

Ryan Carruthers: Mm-Hmm. That’s fantastic. Let's move on to the next mistake that you would see mentorship program managers that they should avoid.

Tiersa Smith-Hall: I think we touched on this a little bit already, but the three M’s, make mentorship measurable. That is so important. You have to, that's the three M’s. Make it measurable because if you don't have a clear direction on what you are hoping to achieve for your mentorship program, then you can't achieve it and you can't tell how well you are doing. And let's face it, we have people that work at different places. Some people work based on how they see their progresses being made. And so if they're doing that, then they're constantly wanting to see the results. If they don't, then they don't rev up that engine, right? Oh, the deadline is next week, what have I done? Let me go ahead and catch it. But if there's no deadline and there's someday or at one moment, then there's nothing that's really pushing the sense of urgency to continue the process. And so you should always, at every angle use measuring, use a mentoring software. I recommend mentoring softwares for programs for companies that can afford it, that have that large number because it really takes the head work out of everything and allows everyone to be focused on what's important, which is fostering the mentor relationship. But if you can't do that, find a way to at least solidify what specifically you are measuring. So what is your goal in terms of what are you hoping to achieve through the mentorship program? You need to spell that out. And then how are you going to measure it over time? What are the results you're looking to see? What is important to the organization and to those that are involved in the program?

Ryan Carruthers: Mm-Hmm. I think one of the hallmarks of a successful mentoring program is when before they even start, before they open the doors to let mentors and mentees in, they have a clear idea and instruments for what they want to measure to determine success. They know what success looks like for their program. I think that together, when we see mentoring programs, that's one of the hallmarks of the successful program. They know what success is going to look like before they even start.

Tiersa Smith-Hall: I think that's the great way and the pathway to approach it for sure that you have a clear ideal of what it is and then now you can focus on getting there. You got gas in the car, now we just need the directions to move forward.

Ryan Carruthers: Fantastic. Do you have any concrete practices that mentorship program administrators can put in their program for measuring success? Like is it surveys, is it like midpoint check-ins? Or like what things should program administrators be doing maybe before, throughout and after the program to measure success to 3M’s?

Tiersa Smith-Hall: I would definitely say surveys. I think those are an easy way to just keep track and to ensure that persons. In the technology phase, people tend to be most comfortable with something that is easy to click and move through. I think those are important, but I also think that there should be some, I would say random check-ins on a person to person basis on checking into various groups just to see the type of energy that's coming out of the mentorship pairings. Because if you see a trend in the selective groups that you've made, the random selections that there are persons that are struggling or challenges, then that tells you that there needs to be some additional insight to catch in or maybe there's some perspective that you need to put in some clarification. So it's always good to do checks of that sort to know what's going on. Again, we are dealing with mentorship, which is very human. So the more human connection that you can make, obviously within reason, because if you have 500 employees, you're not going to see 500 employees. It's just not possible. But if you can randomly select and check in or you can provide an opportunity or a space for people to type their thoughts or share their challenges, then that keeps you abreast of what's happening. And it also tells them that you are invested in their process and ensuring that they are successful.

Ryan Carruthers: That's fantastic. It actually brings to mind an example of, we've had on a mentorship program at together. I forget the administrator's name so I'm kind of kicking myself, but program managers from First Horizon a bank, I think it's just in the states. They were running a mentorship program and one of the practices they had in place as program managers was in together's platform. After each mentoring session, the mentor and mentee rate the session out of four, I think. So if there was ever a low rating, it'll ping the program managers that you might want to check in with this particular pair. So the admins would know whenever a thing came in and they had a large program, so there was no way they could have done this manually, but they would know that when a rating came in that was lower, they would immediately check in with that individual that gave the low rating and just ask them, what's going on? How's it going? Is there anything that we can help with? And a lot of the time they shared that the mentors and mentees would say, we had no idea people were even looking at that. So it builds good faith with the participants.

Tiersa Smith-Hall: That builds trust.

Ryan Carruthers: The organization is there, they want it to be successful and they're there to support. So I think that's a really good example of checking in and measuring.

Tiersa Smith-Hall: That's a great example. And I think also it's important to point out that catching those hiccups and in that moment in real time is so critical to the success of the program because people, over time, if I have a hiccup, or a misunderstanding with my mentor and I don't resolve it or there isn't a resolution right away, people tend to get over it. And by get over it, means they don't address it. The anger or the frustration or whatever emotion is subsided. And now because that's subsided, they don't see a desire to bring it up or to approach it, but it stays there, impacting the full relationship of the mentor and the mentee because they're no longer sharing. So those meetings tend to be shorter and shorter because that invested energy isn't happening. So I think that's a fantastic way, and if you can catch that in real time with a software program, then wow, that makes it a whole lot easier.

Ryan Carruthers: It's a very good point. And if you think that if there's a mentoring relationship that goes sour, if they're not going to share about that experience, that poor experience with their colleagues like they're definitely going to be talking about it, whether the feelings have subsided or not. So nipping it in the bud is a best practice. Absolutely.

Tiersa Smith-Hall: And I'm an island girl by heart, so I know all about that. That's definitely going to spread like wildfire.

Ryan Carruthers: Very good point. This is good advice. Alright, so we've talked about getting buy-in for your mentorship program. We've talked about making it measurable. We've talked about assessing the personality and work styles of mentors and mentees. What other mistakes should program administrators be aware of when starting a program?

Tiersa Smith-Hall: I think keeping it innovative and keeping it fun. Keeping it fresh. That is so hard to do for a lot of persons that are in mentorship programs because they continue the process. It is a standard process in terms of time and how often you meet. But there's great ways that you can infuse some spark of creativity or something different to draw attention to the program that allows one, perspective persons to join the program, but also for those that are in it, to feel that is something of, you know, great worth that they're a part of. And so I think it's important cause I don't see it happen very often that mentors are recognized for the time they're sacrificing and mentees are celebrated. Mentors need that because if you're mentoring someone, you're giving them their time, you're giving them your, your insight, your guidance, you're invested in them. And if you really are doing a great job at it, you are really invested beyond the time that you're spending with them. And so that moment to highlight those persons that are serving as mentorships in your program, you need to take advantage of that and highlight that, celebrate them. Use social media, use different sources of updates, email blast to highlight a different mentor and what they do and the insight they bring to the table. That just gives them even more fuel to come into those programs and really give their all, which is going to be a great benefit to the mentee. And I think there should be perks. That's just my opinion. There should be perks to being a mentor, right? Not just you do it obviously for the good and for the for the insight that might have been passed on to you. But there should be something that really highlights that, you know, these persons that going the extra mile, they should be recognized for that. So find unique ways that you can do that. Find fostering social settings, small social programs that you can get mentors and mentees together to just mingle. To just share some of the struggles they may have had, some of the challenges they've overcome, some of the things that they've celebrated, their wins, their successes and create that environment that allows persons to say, well, I didn't get the same experience as she did, but know what? I'm going to give it a little bit more focus this time around, or I'm going to stick with the program and maybe I'll get those results that someone else shared. So finding ways to get that information out so that people constantly see the benefit of the program. Never lose sight of that because we all get bored doing the same thing over and over again and we stop paying attention to what we're doing too. We do it so knee-jerk that we don't even realize what we've already done. And so that's why we need to make sure that we are taking the moment to pause, celebrate small wins and recognize those that are involved.

Ryan Carruthers: That's fantastic. And I think all of those things help build a mentoring culture that we're hearing a lot more about these practices that are around the actual mentoring relationship that support it. They do build a mentoring culture. I think one thing we've had a conversation with other experts in these interviews is things like mentorship communities. I think it was Mentor Strat, which is mentorship consultancy that that coined it. But it was exactly what you said, getting like different mentoring relationships together in one room for some kind of mixer or event of some sort where they can mingle with other mentoring relationships because there's learning between that, talking with other people's mentors, talking with other mentoring relationships, hearing ideas. They give you things you want to bring back in your own relationship.

Tiersa Smith-Hall: Yes, and I like that you said the word culture because as a culture advocate, culture is always my end game in anything that I do. If I'm doing training, its how are we going to create a culture that's going to ensure that this training doesn't just stop at a dead end, but that it actually continues? And if it's, you know, mentorship, it's about a culture, an organization that has a great mentor platform, that has a great leadership platform, that has a great focus on their service they provide, if it's a service arena or the product they provide, if they have that culture that has that support, the success of all of the individual programs is elevated. And so I think you have to always focus. Cause community is natural, right? Community is what we like to go home to. We go home to what we are familiar with, where the values are shared, where we feel that high sense of belonging. So we are able to capture that then we share at all costs try to do that and also maintain it.

Ryan Carruthers: That's fantastic. This is very good advice. Alright, let's go with the, is it the last and final mistake that mentorship program managers should avoid or are there more? Let's grab that.

Tiersa Smith-Hall:  I think that was the last one. I had another one in terms of, you know, just make sure you just keep guiding tools to keep people on track because sometimes people put mentor programs together, but they don't like specify within each realm, okay, we're going into this new week or this new quarter, what specific actions, because sometimes people come and they have a lovely conversation where they don't leave with the actionable items. They don't leave with, based on all of this that we discussed today, what specifically am I setting out to do? And so I always say that that's important to ensure that your mentee is very clear on what it is that they're going to achieve. Specific, measurable, going back to measurable again, but making sure that they have that specificity, if that's a word. I just made it up.

Ryan Carruthers: It brings to mind, is there anything that mentorship program managers can do to train mentors so that they're coming in with the right expectation or right mindset when they're going to be mentoring and guiding their mentee. Is there anything that program administrators can do to prepare mentors?

Tiersa Smith-Hall: That's a great question because most times, people think mentorship is just aligned with the person's skillset of where they're working in the field when it's more than that. Communication skills are very important for mentors, for them to understand how to communicate information that's going to best guide a mentee. They need to understand and have a sound platform. My personal recommendation is understanding personality types and work styles. So if they have that solid base, again, it makes them easy. Okay, my new mentees coming in, let me do some assessing cause assessment is always the first step. So teaching them how to do that. If it's a technology or software that you're using, then you need to make sure that your mentor is comfortable with that program. And so if they haven't used it and they are efficient in computers, then you do need to ensure that you start with a prep program so they can maneuver themselves through the system and do that comfortably without being distracted from the session that they have with the mentors. Leadership is also important because there's great talent in individuals, but they need to know how to influence individuals and guide them. And so that type of skill isn't always in a good mentor candidate. You may have a great mentor candidate from skillset level, but how do you get them to open up and to communicate what they know in a way that isn't rigid isn't unforgiving or high pressure. You want them to be able to communicate in a way that connects with the person that they're being assigned to.

Ryan Carruthers: Mm-Hmm. It sounds like the training is both training for mentor story is both orientation of here's how this works, here's the software that you're going to be using, here's how to integrate your calendar, all the basic stuff like that just so people are on the same page, but then also like the in-depth training of like, here's how to communicate, here's how to actively listen, here's how to deal with potential conflict, all that stuff. So I think there's a lot that mentorship program administrators could do, but I think, correct me if I'm wrong, I would think it would start with just like clear expectation setting so that people go in with a clear idea of what the program's going to look like.

Tiersa Smith-Hall: Yes. So those programs in terms of leadership and development and communication, I think those are ongoing. So these are things that they're developing and could be, again, another perk that comes with being a mentor, right? That they're constantly updating their way of communication. So that's kind of like a gradual process. The first specific goal would be obviously what is the expectation? What are we measuring here? What is our purpose, right? What are we existing for in terms of what we hope to achieve from the program? But all of the other things really help formulate and foster that productivity at the highest levels that you're hoping to achieve.

Ryan Carruthers: Mm-Hmm. That's a good point. I get the pressure is off mentorship program administrators a little bit like do a good job setting expectations. You do not have to turn every mentor into the world's greatest life coach before the program even starts. So I'll backtrack on what I said. You don't have to do that. That can be an ongoing process. It is an ongoing process for all of us. That's fantastic. There's one more mistake that we want to outline, I think, which is the last mistake to bring us home that mentorship program administrators should avoid when starting a program.

Tiersa Smith-Hall: I think we covered them all. We did proper guiding and defining tools to keep mentors and mentees on track.

Ryan Carruthers: Yeah. Fantastic. We did, we've covered everything and gone over them a couple times. So just to reiterate, we've got getting proper buy-in for your mentoring program, assessing personality types and work styles, making it measurable, keeping it fresh and fusing recognition to your program and yes,  keeping them on track with guiding tools, stuff like agendas and things like that. Tiersa, as we wrap up, if you were to say a word or two advice to the mentorship program manager who's maybe starting a program for the first time and they've heard all your advice, they've probably taken a lot of notes and they're still a little worried about starting their first mentorship program, what word of advice would you leave that program manager with?

Tiersa Smith-Hall: Well, I would leave you with advice that you are ready to proceed with the process. You have all the tools you need and everything that is going to guide, the successes already within you. Don't let nerves, don't get overwhelmed by the process. Most mentorship programs grow better with time. And so knowing that you're taking the first step and if you are watching this, you're getting a heads up. Some people don't even get the heads up of what to avoid. So you already have some insight to what could be potential issues. So you're even more prepared on the journey that you have. But there's lots of resources around you. You have great programs like together software that can help support in terms of the measurables. But just look at those, look at those examples, learn from those examples and go into it. Invest it because in persons that are invested in the program and want to see it do well, we'll give all the energy to it and it will be successful. Best of luck to you on your journey.

Ryan Carruthers: That's fantastic. Thank you so much for your time, Tiersa. Before we go, where can people go to learn more about you, your work and potentially connect?

Tiersa Smith-Hall: Sure. You can find me on my website, is www.tiersahall.com. I'm on LinkedIn a lot, so most times I'm connecting with clients there. That's where they find me. I'm also on Instagram and I'm on Facebook. I think I'm everywhere. Those are the main ones though. Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. You can find me there. Just type in Tiersa Hall. Very simple, I think I'm the only Tiersa Hall in the world for now. Let's see what happens in the future. But it's been a pleasure and of course, you can always reach out if there's any questions, any insight, I'm always happy to be a blessing to others and thank you so much for having me. It's been a great time.

Ryan Carruthers: Fantastic. Thanks so much, Tiersa.

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