Most administrators can easily generate a list of reasons why they need an effective faculty mentoring program. Many can also describe the desired outcomes of mentoring efforts. The struggle begins when they are confronted with questions regarding how to develop such a program and obtain buy-in from stakeholders at every level. Here are a few suggestions:
Analyze the cost/benefit of mentoring efforts. This begins with knowing how much time, energy, resources, and money are being spent on recruiting and hiring new faculty members. It also involves knowing the outcomes from past tenure processes. How much did each failed tenure candidate cost the department? Also, consider the costs and lost benefits to the department when some candidates gain tenure but fall short of excelling in their work. Once administrators clearly quantify and qualify these factors, they can proceed with more clarity and efficiency to achieve the desired mentoring program outcomes.
Understand what leads to failure and what contributes to success. Begin by identifying the major challenges that consistently impede your faculty in the tenure process. What are their most predictable “pain points” when striving to meet research, teaching, or citizenship expectations? Which expectations are they consistently meeting or exceeding? What patterns emerge when contrasting the successes and struggles? Based on the outcomes of this analysis, an administrator can recognize which aspects to target through mentoring efforts.
Assemble the right team to design and develop an effective mentoring program. At first, this step may seem like a no-brainer, but it is too often bypassed during program creation. Begin by identifying the “natural mentors” among your veteran faculty members, and seek their help in designing an effective mentoring program and a successful mentoring environment. These are usually the teachers newer faculty members inherently respect and approach for advice and direction. Provide the team members with the resources they need to succeed. When they fully understand the needs and potential benefits, have a shared vision for what is expected, and are given appropriate compensation for their time and effort, they are more likely to fully invest and give meaningful input. Guide them through the process to design a program that will best meet faculty needs. The more this small team is involved in program decisions, the more likely they are to feel shared responsibility for helping it succeed. They will also be more likely to help junior faculty develop to the point where they can be effective mentors for the next generation of instructors and scholars.
Share your newly created mentoring program plan with higher administration and seek their buy-in. Explain the costs along with the numerous benefits of supporting such a program. Your senior leadership team will be more likely to give their support if they see a well-designed plan with measurable outcomes. They will look for a return on their investment of limited campus resources. You cannot proceed until you lock in program funding. Ideally, initial funding should be for a one-year pilot program. Administrator confidence will increase if your new program includes clear benchmarks with objective evaluation criteria to measure its effectiveness.
Seek buy-in from department chairs. They know the needs of their department, the teaching workloads, and the strengths and weaknesses of their faculty members. Chairs are in a good position to give recommendations regarding which mentors should be the “best fit” for recently hired faculty. Chairs can also help identify possible resistance or concerns among participants.
Actively work to obtain buy-in from your faculty—potential mentors and junior faculty alike. This could include appropriate incentives such as salary bonuses, cash awards, research funds, course reductions, scheduling flexibility, and parking privileges. Mentored faculty could also be offered appropriate incentives to encourage deeper engagement with your program. Getting participants fully “on board” will require more than just incentives, though. You may find it beneficial, for example, to dedicate time during department meetings to recruiting and educating your faculty about this effort.
Get started! Allow your design team and mentors flexibility to implement the program. Create a culture of effective feedback and teamwork so everyone can benefit from individual successes. Don’t expect your mentors to be experts on everything. Even veteran professors can benefit from mentoring regarding how to be a more effective mentor. Keep a written record of lessons learned throughout your pilot program. Recognize that this will be an iterative learning process.
This is the third in a series of articles about creating and maintaining an effective mentoring program.
Kenneth L. Alford, PhD, is a professor at Brigham Young University. Tyler J. Griffin, PhD, is an associate teaching professor at Brigham Young University. Reach them at Ken_Alford@byu.edu and Tyler_Griffin@byu.edu.