Creating an Effective Mentoring Program, Part 6: Mentoring Program Guidelines and Tips
At the beginning stages of a successful mentoring program, you must provide appropriate development and clear expectations for your mentors. Your program’s success will largely depend on how well you mentor your mentors. Don’t expect them to be expert mentors just because they may be excellent researchers or teachers.
You may wish to use a repeatable four-step pattern to foster self-reliance in your mentors:
- Don’t simply tell them what to do; show them what is expected.
- Give feedback and guidance as needed to help them as they practice new skills.
- Give them sufficient time and resources to work on new skills. Reassure them that you are available, as needed, to watch them to see where additional support or redevelopment may be needed.
- Give them the freedom they need to perform the tasks without your direct involvement, and let them put their own flair on it.
Help your mentors look for ways to use this same general pattern with their mentees. The further this process develops, the less involved trainers should become. As mentees assume more ownership and responsibility, their capacity to solve problems and resolve concerns should increase.
The following additional principles and practices can help program administrators work effectively with mentors and mentees:
- Don’t try to demonstrate, guide, observe, and facilitate in a single development session. This is not a one-time event. It is a process that requires both time and patience.
- Carefully match mentors and mentees, and then monitor the working relationships that develop. What may have seemed like a perfect pairing at the outset might result in personality clashes, incompatible teaching or research styles, or scheduling conflicts that may require administrative intervention.
- It can be an exercise in frustration if you require mentors to become experts in all aspects of new faculty development. Instead, identify issues (e.g., legal policies, human resource benefits, campus teaching and research resources, citizenship requirements, Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, emergency procedures) that are generally applicable to all mentees and discuss them as a group. Rely on campus experts to present development on these topics. Doing so will allow your mentors to focus most of their efforts on improving the scholarship, teaching, and citizenship skills of their mentees.
- Set reasonable time commitments for program participants to avoid surprises and frustration. Otherwise, mentees may demand too much of their mentor’s time or participate too little in their own development. It is important to establish realistic expectations early in the process regarding how long it should take (in months or years) to accomplish major mentoring program goals and measurable outcomes.
- Clearly establish your mentoring program objectives and communicate them to all participants in multiple ways and on multiple occasions. Identify the key indicators for success with each outcome. Also determine how those indicators will be measured and quantified.
- As with most things, don’t assume that one size fits all. Nobody likes feeling victimized by unnecessary mandates or busywork. Give each mentor/mentee pair the freedom and flexibility to decide for themselves how to best accomplish program goals in a way that fits their unique situation. Wherever possible, provide program participants with choices and adequate resources to facilitate their success within the broad parameters you have set.
- Be careful to select only the most vital aspects of your program as key indicators for measurement and analysis. Recognize that whatever you emphasize and measure is also likely to become a focus of your mentors and mentees. Be certain that these “program measurables” are within the participants’ control.
- Set appropriate intervals (perhaps monthly, quarterly, biannually, or annually) to collect and attempt to interpret formative research data on your key indicators. This review will allow you to discover potential negative aspects and unintended consequences of your program and make appropriate adjustments before behaviors become entrenched and threaten future success or funding. This also prepares the way for more predictability when administering summative evaluation on your program.
- Continue to look for meaningful and constructive ways to incentivize excellence within your mentoring program. Positive feedback, formative advice, and little perks along the way can help to ensure that your mentors and mentees stay focused on your program’s objectives, rather than putting forth a flurry of activity shortly before announced deadlines.
Successful mentoring programs require clarity of focus, clear vision and expectations, open communication, frequent monitoring, appropriate adaptability, and ongoing development for the mentors. All participants, including supervisors and program administrators, must remain vigilant and active to ensure success.
This is the sixth in a series of seven 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.