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Mentorship Insider Presents: 4 Mistakes Mini-Series Mistake #2: The Wild West Mentorship Program

If you’ve addressed mistake #1 or step #1 - identifying ‘why’ mentorship AKA your success metrics or ideal outcomes or KPIs or whatever term your team and organization uses, then the next most common mistake to avoid is not providing some kind of structure or framework to help your participants understand what is being offered and expected of them. Even if you’re going the informal mentorship route providing participants with at least structural options or frameworks they can adapt and adopt leaves a lot to chance for something you’re investing in. 


Instead of leaving your participants rudderless, consider how you can best set mentors and mentees up for success: share (at least some) structure! 

A photo shot upwards of nine people standing in a circle each holding a puzzle piece and attempting to attach them together to make one whole object.

 By “structure” we mean providing your participants with a guideline or framework to support them actually engaging in, learning from, and reaping the benefits of a mentorship relationship (whatever that looks like in your program). Examples of structural elements can include: program timeline,  a mentorship meeting roadmap (commitment or meeting cadence suggestions or requirements) tools to help participants define their own goals and understand their roles. 


With structure or a framework to operate within, participants can prepare and plan to participate fully, navigate challenges in their learning journey and/or mentorship relationship, and measure their progress.  Which ultimately means you as the program manager or champion get the insights needed to understand what else your participants need AND you are steps closer to achieving your desired outcomes. 

Structure in Action

  • Ranstad’s Women’s Inclusion Network began their mentorship program as a six-month initiative to allow employees to match as either a mentor or mentee role with another individual within the organization with similar growth goals. Through a clear indication of what the structure of the mentorship program was, individuals are able to align their goals to enable effective relationships.

  • Although unstructured mentorship programs can be a way to increase flexibility while incorporating a mentorship component, structured mentoring can support greater impact. When Close the Gap Foundation switched from unstructured mentoring in 2019 to framework driven/structured mentoring, retention increased by a total of 64%, as participants had a deeper understanding of the purpose and were able to formulate their goals closer to the overall goal of the organization.

Providing Structure to Mentors and Mentees is a Gift

A lack of structure may lead to confusion for mentors and mentees and they may have a clouded awareness of what the mentorship program entails and the role they play in the process. This could also result in uncertainty for both mentors and mentees, and at large a disconnect to the organizational objectives, defeating the purpose of the program. 


Take the time to provide guidance at the start of your program; clarify any questions, and remind frequently. Guidance  could be as simple as providing starting points or templates to inspire how mentors and mentees can think about their role in the relationship, contributing to the overall formation of their own goals in relation to the overall structure of the program. Or, you could choose a more structured approach with detailed instructions (which should be dictated by your organization’s objectives for running the program to begin with).  Let’s examine some options below.


More Structured 

Provide guidance for a successful partnership by outlining key mentor/mentee milestones and activities (required and optional), as well as the commitment expected. 

Photo over the shoulder of a man sitting at a desk on a video call with another individual, and they are having a conversation smiling at eachother.

At its most basic:

  • Is this a 1:1 program? 1:many? Small group to small group? 

  • How many times are they meant to or encouraged to meet? In what period of time? For how long? (You might think you don’t need to spell these things out, but beware of assumptions of people’s knowledge about, comfort with and confidence in participating in mentorship, particularly in any multi-cultural, multi-generational, and/or power dynamic settings.) 

  • Who is “responsible for” or encouraged to “own” the relationship, i.e. instigate connections, follow-ups, etc.? (In most programs we’re seeing and supporting clients on it is a dual accountability, but that isn’t necessarily the case for all programs. Consider an upskilling program with vulnerable community members as mentees; in this case you might encourage that mentees be the ones in the driver's seat with support from mentors and program managers). 

Also consider: 

  • Do you have any guidance on or preference for how they will meet? (Are there any particular competencies you’re looking to use mentorship to help build, i.e. verbal communication via phone calling, that you may want to encourage?

  • What problem(s) are they solving or goal(s) are they working towards? 

  • How are successes going to be measured? Are they expected to contribute to surveys? If so, how many and at what time? 

  • Will you provide reflection opportunities?

  • What milestones are required for all? For some? What are considered ‘bonus’ activities?

You could:

  • Have participants sign a mentorship agreement acknowledging their commitment to the above.

  • Provide a meeting agenda, e.g. 1st meeting, 2nd meeting, etc. (participants will adapt it over time usually) and/or a list of activities that can be used.

  • Provide a mentorship roadmap worksheet they can complete together or separately.

Frameworks as Templates or Ideas 

A lot of the above still apply here, it’s more about providing options rather than a set path. Consider the following: 

  • Rather than a set meeting timeline or schedule as in the above, you could opt to offer guidance in the form of a suggested meeting range, i.e. 4-6 times (over what period of time).

  • Encourage participants to agree on what makes sense for them after they have their initial meeting and identify 1) areas where mentorship can have the most significant impact and 2) a loose agreement on how they’ll work together to advance those.  

  • We’d still encourage you to have at least one evaluation opportunity as part of your program structure; otherwise how will you be able to measure it’s impact?  Even if not done specifically about the mentorship program, incorporating questions about participants mentorship experiences and learnings into your existing survey tools/ touch-points is helpful.  E.g.satisfaction surveys, career planning convos, engagement metrics, etc. 

In both cases, consider how you can support mentors/mentees?

  • What resources will you provide?

  • What does program onboarding look like?

  • Can you offer mentorship training?

  • Who is your program champion or leader? Are they equipped to answer questions, facilitate mediation for any program agreement discrepancies, and periodically “check-in” on participants progress?

  • Will you leverage a mentorship software or similar tool to manage the program and help participants stay on track? 

Photo of a computer on a desk with a black screen and next to the computer is a 3 tiered lighted letter box displaying the words "You Got This".

The framework of your program can take many forms. Ultimately, it is important to have the underlying foundation understood by participants so that mentors and mentees:

  • Know what they are signing up to participate in and are confident they can commit the time suggested or required.

  • Consistently align their actions to the program objectives without confusion.

  • Have a natural ending for the relationship (even if they opt to exceed or adjust it) which is often seen as an easier “ask”, particularly in volunteer programs. 


A framework - no matter where on the continuum - helps participants focus on what matters, investing in their relationship and learning.


Our parting message: providing both parties with a clear framework of how they can prepare and show up for each other is crucial to its success, and helps those involved connect their personal/professional goals to the larger overarching goals of the organization.

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