I've been thinking lately about the mentoring programs I've seen in so many companies that kick off to great fanfare, lots of excitement...and then end up with sparse participation and generally regarded as, well, lame. Why is that?
Lots of reasons, and we consult to companies about how to avoid the pitfalls. Obvious among things to avoid is the tendency of some companies to assign mentors to mentees. We could talk about how not to do mentor programs.
Let's talk, though, about how to help people connect in ways that work and have an inclination to sustain the relationship over time. If a company sets up a social network among its employees, it becomes simple to connect people based not on geography or some arbitrary basis, but rather on deeply held values, experience, interests, challenges. And the concept of what we used to call "pen-pal" communications can thus work well. One can drop a note to your mentor/mentee through the social network that is easier to do than an email. An easily calendared, pop-up that shows up as a kind of check in...so that one is inclined to always drop a few words...to keep the connection and have it show up on a regular basis.
Establishing a group within a company's social network where the mentoring program can have a place where common issues/questions are discussed and shared with others could be immensely valuable. And using the on-line opportunity as a key component of the program means that once having established the mentorship relationship based on shared interests, values, experience and the like means that people who are geographically dispersed--even across the globe--could participate valuably in a mentorship program.
Talk about valuable conversation...