Please Don’t Start a Mentoring Programme in your Company (Unless You Do...

Please Don’t Start a Mentoring Programme in your Company (Unless You Do it Right)


I recently had a great conversation with an executive while on a flight to Johannesburg. During the journey we began speaking about leadership, coaching and mentoring. He mentioned that his company supports their executives with coaches.

However, they are patently aware that a coach is not the right person for educating young executives on topics such as the company-internal rules and guidelines, networks of influence within the organisation, how to execute internal processes, etc.

Related: How can I find a mentor?

Even if the coach has worked with the company for many years and has developed knowledge of the internal procedures, it simply is not his job to educate his coachee in this regard. A coach is there to support the personal and leadership development of his coachee.

My flight companion explained how he and his company had thus developed a solution – one which is proving popular throughout many organisations.

For you as the entrepreneur and leader of a company, you want to make sure that especially new, aspiring young executives can perform at their best as quick as possible.

The solution? Assign young executives a mentor.

Essentially a mentor is a well-connected, experienced, long-term employee with valuable internal and industry specific knowledge. The young executive receives knowledge from the proverbial horse’s mouth, learns about failures and success principles without having to try out what has already been tested.

In return, the mentor gets the ‘feel good’ factor of helping the next generation get a head-start on their careers in the organisation. Sounds obvious and pretty smart right?

This is the approach of many companies I deal with, from large well-known corporates through to mid-size businesses. They all establish mentoring programs with huge expectations and almost all achieve the same results – failure.

In my experience, it’s only a very small percentage of organisations that achieve success using this approach. For the others, failure comes as a result of the following issues:

  1. Being an expert doesn’t automatically result in being a great mentor
  2. Mentoring requires respect and sympathy between both parties
  3. If there is an incentive system which does not include the mentoring, the business targets always come first.

The third is the most crucial one! If the mentor has to achieve his business targets, this will always come first; for good reason, as it is his primary function and reason for being employed.

Studies, such as one by the Australian Educational Research, have weighed in on this factor. 

‘In those that do qualify, most are already overburdened with organisational matters and professional responsibilities. To become engaged in another or possibly two or three time-consuming mentor-mentee relationships is very demanding…there is a strong risk of overloading the few available mentors.’

When the mentor becomes overloaded he reverts to his primary roles in the company and mentoring takes a backseat. I had an opportunity to speak with a partner in a global technology company about this situation. When he entered the company, he also was assigned a mentor. Sadly though, time after time his meetings with the assigned mentor were cancelled and soon became few and far between. Due to this experience, he no longer believes in the mentoring paradigm.

Let us now look at the small group of companies with successful mentoring programs and how they give mentorship the necessary awareness and significance.

There are several important steps to be taken. They range from deciding who is really capable of being a mentor to finding the perfect match. This does not have to be too difficult or complicated, it just has to be done right. Focusing on how to do that would make this post a bit too long; however, if you are desperate to know then drop me a line.

The most important ingredient in ensuring success is both simple and tough at the same time. You have to connect the success of the mentee with the incentives of the mentor.

Compare it to the role of a football coach. If his team wins, he will get a large bonus. If his team fails, he won’t get a bonus at all. The only difference is that the primary job of a football coach is to coach his team, while an executive of a company has his specific obligations while mentoring is just an add-on.

Take a moment to give some thought into the ‘why’ of mentoring. The goal is to improve the business, leverage the skills of a young executive and develop the next generation of leaders. Leaders who will be responsible for the business’ future success.

An executive who is not building the next generation of leaders is not taking on that responsibility. Instead he is putting the future of the company at risk – purposefully.

Incentive systems are part of the modern business world and utilising these systems is the way to make executives focus. Imagine that as a mentor you would not only be responsible for your mentee, but that 15% of your incentives would rely on his success. I am guessing that you would pay a lot more attention to him.

If the junior executive proves to be a low performer or doesn’t have what it takes to succeed in your company or industry, then it is in the organisation’s best interest to identify this and act as quickly as possible. Please note that this situation should be the exception and not the rule.

If it’s more than an exception, then you should be hearing alarm bells regarding the selection process of your executives.

Related: 3 Things To Consider Before Meeting A Mentor

To recap:

  1. Mentoring is one of the most important ingredients to accelerate the performance of young or new executives;
  2. The mentor needs to be the right fit to the individual mentee
  3. Mentoring has to be in the interest of the mentor, which in most companies means part of the mentor’s incentives has to be tied to the success of the mentee.
Axel Rittershaus
Axel Rittershaus is an internationally renowned C-Level / Executive Coach & Author who started as an entrepreneur in the IT industry in 1993. He knows that success is the result of hard work and determination even more than innate talent. A master of maintaining focus and follow-through, Axel supports C-Level leaders globally in achieving goals. Axel is dedicated and passionate to see clients succeed beyond their expectations. Axel is also the president of the International Coach Federation South Africa and a multiple Two Oceans and Comrades finisher. You can follow him on twitter.