Although great in theory many mentoring programmes fail

In some circles many consider mentoring to have become a worn out cliché. Some pundits suggest that women are over-mentored and under sponsored. It’s true that women the world over lack active sponsors.  But over-mentoring is a luxury mainly found in large global, multi-nationals.  99% of European businesses are SMEs and here women struggle to find role models, let alone mentors. I am frequently asked by companies to evaluate their female talent pipelines and their mentoring programmes. I have observed a number of reasons why mentoring programmes fail.


Here are 7 reasons why mentoring programmes fail


1.  Inadequate training for mentors and mentees.

Research suggests that without training only 30% of mentoring relationships are successful. With training this increases to 66%. Laying out the structure and expectations of any mentoring programme in a formal way, is key to the success. Failure to do this effectively is one of the main reasons why mentoring programmes fail or get blocked.

Male mentors also tend to mentor women differently to their male mentees.  Male mentees are supported to navigate the “system” and the focus for women tends to be competence based – that is to help them change and fit in. Male mentors need to be aware of the subtle differences in style and understand that it’s the workplace culture than needs some reflection.

2. No benchmarks for success

If you don't set a benchmark how can you measure your success

You need a  benchmark to measure your success

Many companies start mentoring programmes to tick their KPI boxes. They have no road map for success and no benchmarks. So although there might be a fuzzy feel-good, employee engagement thing about it, without any firm goals it’s not easy to identify how (or if) their programme has worked. They basically have no idea how to measure success. So whether it’s reduced attrition, onboarding, improved employee engagement responses, or knowledge transfer, it’s important to know what the end game is.

Some organisational goals might be:

  • Improved competency for hard and soft skill mentoring.
  • Improved onboarding into new roles for first 90 or 180 days.
  • Enhanced knowledge transfer around situational issues or key topics
  • Cross-functional exposure – giving employees exposure to other  non-related areas as part of a career development programme
  • Improved succession planning  – managed supervision of hi-po employees to assess for future roles
  • Leadership development  – exposure to leadership concepts and challenges via mentoring with a key executive
  • Heightened employee engagement
  • Better retention rates

3. Wrong structure

Identifying the right structure for an organization is important and understanding communication styles and needs of all players is critical. Everyone has different preferences. Some companies create complex mentoring dashboards as part of their HRIS systems. Others use task management platforms such as Slack. Here it’s important to respect the mentors’ time as they are usually more senior.

Mentoring is about tapping into a mentor’s experience. To formalize it with detailed reporting and accountability can spill over into coaching. This is inadvisable not just because most corporate mentors are not trained coaches, but also they frequently fail to complete the admin.  Here the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) methodology is best to avoid using up the good will of your mentors. It’s pointless to put a whole programme at risk by too much administration.

4. Incorrect matching

Mentoring Programs for Women

Pairing with the right mentor makes all the difference

Many companies are hoping for a fast, Tinder-type mentoring software solution based on personality and interests. This is flawed thinking and can be clouded by affinity bias. When like-minded people come together the long-term synergy can be reduced, because the mentor affirms certain behaviours in the mentee and fails to encourage her out of her comfort zone.

The first objective in any mentor matching should be to set  a vision and objective for the programme within an organisational context. Common goals can be related to enhancing gender balance and diversity (e.g. to attract and retain more women or minorities) assist mid-career professionals at critical stages of their careers or to fill specified skill gaps. It’s important to understand what those specific goals are.

It’s also essential to look at personal development needs of the mentees and relate those to hiring projections or talent acquisition needs. The personalities of the mentor/ mentee pair can be later considerations. They’re not going on a date or going to be BFFs, although it’s important that they get on and respect each other.

Download our FREE eBook to make the most of mentoring updated post #MeToo

5. Establish benchmarks between mentor and mentee

Benchmarks between mentor and mentee are important, so it’s necessary to set up communication points for feedback and reporting. There can be situations when the mentoring relationship doesn’t work for different reasons and at that point access to a neutral arbitration process should be available. The reasons can range from mentors being too busy (common) to mentees failing to drive the relationship correctly (also more common.)

6. Manage expectations

In any mentoring programme training the management of expectations around roles, should be clearly defined so that everyone knows when things have drifted off course.
Here is a list of basics to manage:
  • How long is the mentoring period?
  • How many sessions will there be? And how long?  A good balance is 10 x 50 minute sessions a year.
  • Are they virtual or face to face sessions? If it’s virtual contact what platforms will be used?
  • How will the mentoring pairs communicate? Mentees have to respect the needs of the mentors.” This is important with cross generational mentoring as younger generations are unaware of the communication preferences of older generations. I once had a mentoring relationship go off the rails because the mentee, unknown to the mentor, was communicating by Skype chat.
  • Mentees need to understand that driving the relationship is in their responsibility
  • It’s important to set guidelines around confidentiality with a protocol if the relationship breaks down or goes off course.

7. Beat stereotypes

When mentoring women it’s important to ensure that mentors receive unconscious bias training and are aware of the sand traps that women can commonly fall into. This applies equally to female mentors who can inadvertently endorse sexism.

A well-constructed mentoring programme in line with organizational goals can make a long-standing impact on the results and culture of a company, as well as the careers of the mentees A mentoring culture can also be a key component to a strong employer brand.

It is also not just about advancing the careers of junior employees. Being a mentor is an invaluable leadership skill and is increasingly part of executive development programmes.

If implemented correctly there should be no reason why mentoring programmes fail.

If you would like to hear more about the 3Plus mentoring programs contact us NOW

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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