There is a classic exercise often done at a mentoring program launch where participants are asked to think of the best mentor they have had and think about why that person was the best. Go ahead, do that now, I’ll wait.
The reason this exercise can be powerful is because it helps participants uncover the golden truth of mentoring first-hand; Mentoring is About Connection. The mentor you thought about may have challenged you, encouraged you, or helped you through a difficult situation. What we immediately think of are their characteristics, but at the foundation of these characteristics is an authentic connection with someone you trust.
Those connections are critical to the success of mentoring programs. A learner with a strong connection to a mentor is more likely to use that relationship to drive their development. They feel more comfortable seeking their mentor for help in ambiguous or challenging situations. They trust the guidance they receive, and are more likely to show vulnerability in the relationship to grow.
If a learner is able to leverage the mentoring relationship to its potential through a connection to the mentor, they are then more likely to put what they are learning into practice in their jobs. Applying what they have learned is the first step to higher performance. The more this happens, the better results your mentoring program is going to achieve.
As practitioners, and mentoring program leaders, we carry the burden of creating mentoring programs that foster these connections. Successful mentoring programs rely on the positive experiences and authentic connections of mentors and learners. This is different than traditional classroom training where, in the worst case, learners may not be fond of the facilitator but can still walk away with new skills and knowledge.
Throughout the program design, practitioners must focus on how to create the best possible experience for participants so that learners and mentors can make long-term empowering connections. The design approach has to take into account the various aspects that make mentoring programs unique in the talent development space, such as the need to support connection.
The AXLES Model has been created to guide talent development practitioners through the sometimes daunting process of developing a mentoring program. This model (see below) consists of five steps. First, Align the program to a measurable organizational purpose. Second, design the Experience for learners and mentors using specific guided design decisions. The third step is to design the Launch or onboarding experience for participants. Next, the fourth step is to measure the Effectiveness of the program through frequent and varied methods to anticipate participant needs. Finally, create a thorough plan for supporting mentor skills and learner needs.
If you are coming to the ATD International Conference & Expo this year, I hope you will come by session SU310: Real World Mentoring Programs where we will dive further into the model and the “how-tos” of program design. Bring your questions, this will be an interactive session!
by Jenn Labin