Taking a people-matched mentoring approach
By Kay Guccione and Charlotte Bonner-Evans, the Future Leaders Fellows Development Network Mentoring Team.
For National Mentoring Day 2022, we wanted to share a bit about how we ensure such a high success rate for our mentoring partnerships. One of the pillars of the Future Leaders Fellows Leadership Mentoring Programme is that we make a bespoke match for each mentee, and mentor. This is because we believe that at the heart of a successful mentoring partnership is a good matching process and we don’t compromise on our commitment to this. We know that a well-designed matching process can add several positives to the mentoring partnership:
For example, for our busy mentees there are many unknowns that can provide barriers to getting started. Simply not knowing who is available as a mentor, and considering what kind of person might suit them best, may cause them to put off getting started. Knowing what to say and how to make an approach, can create a further obstacle. A matching process takes the anxiousness out of contacting a mentor and removes the possibility of being disappointed or rejected.
For our mentors who volunteer their time, we want to make sure that they are supported to work with a person with whom they can build a good working relationship, and to whom they will feel useful. We also need to make sure that no mentor is overloaded with requests, and that no mentor goes unmatched for more than one programme cycle.
And for both, matching is the basis of building trust and alliance in the partnership. A people-centred matching process can ensure alignment of each participant’s own objectives with the overarching programme objectives, reassure both parties about what’s expected of them (and what isn’t), communicate why they have been matched together, ease the first introductory meeting, and support the relationship to get off to a great start.
We use a Matching Profile Form to collect matching information. This form is designed to:
- Find out more about each participant as a person. This includes what they enjoy, what they value and how they experience their work, as well as what they specialise in and their qualifications and achievement.
- Get information about who participants would like to meet, and what kind of person would help them to be at their best.
- Support mentees to articulate their specific goals for the programme, and to prioritise these.
- Keep any potentially personal or sensitive matching information relatively confidential (compared to, say, publishing all mentor profiles online and allowing mentees to browse and pick), which allows them to be more open in what they include on their Matching Profile form.
The form also acts as a means of introduction. Once a pair is matched, they can read each other’s profile as a way of getting to know a bit about each other before their first meeting.
Once the forms are all in, the mentoring programme team spend time reading, re-reading, discussing, and note taking trying to get to know each person better through their profile. If we need more information, or if we can’t understand what they want to prioritise from their form, we go back to them for a discussion. Making a hand-picked match for every mentee takes up quite some time and is probably the most time-intensive task we engage with as mentoring programme leaders. But it works well for us, as we have built time into the programme cycle to consider each mentee as an individual.
However, this method gives participants reduced control over their match (compared to picking their own mentor from a list) and so it pays to build relationships with them through the Welcome Workshops we run prior to Profile-making, that demonstrate how it works, that we can be trusted with the information they disclose, and that we will select a match for them with their best interests in mind.
A final bonus of this matching system is that if the pairs meet and for any reason decide that they are not well matched, they can come back to us for a re-match without the awkwardness of having to admit to each other that they may have made the wrong selection. Our programme has contingencies built in for re-matching (though this rarely happens) and we work closely with the pairs so that they feel they can come back to us with queries or concerns about how or why they have been paired.
We generally advise that ‘no match is better than a bad match’ to avoid wasting participants’ time, and if we don’t have the right mentor at first, we will recruit one, or match them as a priority in the next cycle. An example of this, and more about the value of a good match can be read about in this blog post, in which mentor and mentee discuss their experiences.