This article was updated on September 19, 2018.
Mentorship programs can bring great value to the workplace. In an ideal mentor relationship between a seasoned business veteran and a less experienced counterpart, both parties can benefit from an exchange of insights and fresh perspectives. And in a broader context, the business itself often benefits because valuable wisdom is passed along that can improve operations overall.
But mentorship programs in the workplace often come with pitfalls. Here are some to watch out for:
Lack of a Plan
Simply pairing up two people for a mentoring program may result in disappointment all around. The experience is more fruitful when you define specific goals, determine ways to measure progress and establish key milestones.
Not every senior executive is cut out to mentor his or her younger employees. Mentors must be willing to commit significant time and effort to the program and have the requisite skills and insights to pass on to their mentee. One solution is to provide mentoring training to individuals who want to take part in the program.
Lack of Time
Perhaps the greatest obstacle for effective mentoring is time. A prospective mentor needs to carefully calibrate his or her available time and willingness to commit to the process. Skipping scheduled appointments or failing to be present because of other pressing concerns can negatively impact the mentor/mentee relationship.
Making These Programs Mandatory
Some companies may choose to make employee participation mandatory. Unfortunately, making the mentorship program compulsory can generate negative feelings among prospective participants, who may view this requirement as a punishment or yet another business obligation they don't have time for.
Mentors have to be especially vigilant to make sure that their mentee does not develop an unhealthy dependence as part of the growing relationship. In extreme cases, mentees may become so dependent that they feel paralyzed by indecision if they don't have immediate access to their mentor. An effective mentor carefully grooms his or her mentee to think and act independently and to find the necessary resources when faced with a challenging problem.
Cases Where Mentees Fail to Benefit
In some rare cases, mentorship programs in the workplace can fail. For whatever reason, the mentee isn't able to absorb and act upon the valuable guidance offered by the mentor. In these situations, it's best if both parties agree to end the relationship on a positive note and wish each other success in future endeavors.
With a clear understanding of the desired objectives and a firm commitment from both parties, a mentoring program can be a uniquely enriching experience. "Being a mentor informs me, and it keeps me plugged into a community that is evolving and changing rapidly," notes entrepreneur Todd Finch in B2B News Network. "And I can fire up the people who I am mentoring."