Mentors: Who Needs 'Em?


Here’s a question about mentoring.

I don’t know anything about mentoring but I always seem to have an answer for everything.

I read your blog daily; thanks for the laughs and the insight.  I work in HR and am tasked with a mentor program overhaul.  I have some opinions on this topic, but would love to hear your thoughts.  Do they work?  Should HR be involved?  If so, to what extent?  Is it as Michael Scott-like as it sounds?  Do mentors want to be mentors?  And, do mentees want to be mentored? A lot of what I’m reading about mentor programs are professional and career relationships. What about mentor/mentee relationship that is just there to help an employee get acclimated into the organization? Thanks in advance for anything you’d like to share!

Formal mentor programs might work. I dunno. Lots of people who run them say they are successful — but what else would they say?

From my perspective, most formal mentor programs are lame. Why is that most companies assume that young people want to be mentored by older people? African Americans wanted to be mentored by other African Americans? Or that women should be mentored by other women? It’s ridiculous to artificially pair two people together based on age, race, or gender.

What’s worse is pairing these two people together and asking them to talk about work. Being a mentor is often as fun as watching a documentary on the history of the British monarchy. Being a mentee is often a pain-in-the-butt because you have to fake an interest in someone else’s opinions.

Before you implement a mentor program, ask yourself…

  • What the heck are you trying to accomplish? A transfer of ideas? Educating a portion of your workforce on technical items? Teaching soft skills? Would a formal program of any kind really meet those needs?
  • Can HR lead the way for better communication in your company by facilitating introductions between employees with common interests?
  • Are there better ways to get a conversation started?
  • Can employees communicate with one another on a regular basis? Do you have an instant messaging program in your office? What about common areas in your company where people can meet, have a cup of coffee, and establish relationships without ?
  • Can you encourage employees to step outside of their comfort zone and seek advice and guidance from diverse constituencies?
  • Is HR walking the talk and learning from other departments at your company?

And here’s another thing: if you count my part-time work in high school and college, I’ve worked for over 20 companies. I never needed a mentor to help me acclimate to a company because I’m a big girl with a brain. If I have a question, I ask it. If I have a problem, I try to solve it. If your company needs a formal program to acclimate its employees to your organization, you have bigger problems to address.

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