“I love filling out applications!” said nobody, ever. Applications are associated with bureaucracy, inconvenience, and let’s be honest, pain and torture. HR has come a long way and is still working on making applications less painful and even questioning their necessity in some cases. For example, job applications are generally still required, but have now been simplified or delayed until candidates are further along in the selection process. With the emphasis on user-friendliness and efficiency, it makes complete sense that if you run a mentoring program for employees, you would do your best to avoid a mentoring program application, if possible.
What do you think, should mentors be required to go through an application process to be in your mentoring program? What about protégés? Is it enough for them to simply express they want to be mentored? Why put them through an application process if you already know they are interested? If you are implementing a mentoring program for employees, you may be faced with these questions.
There are viable reasons to justify each side of the issue. On the one hand, requiring participants to go through an application process may be perceived as a good idea because it provides structure and participant criteria that would be difficult to incorporate without it. On the other hand, a formal application process for your mentoring program may be perceived as too resource-intensive to justify. In practice, most companies have opted for the latter. A recent benchmarking study conducted by Art of Mentoring found that just 32% of organizations with mentoring programs have a formalized application process for matching mentors and protégés.
Here at Fast Mirror, we side with the 32% minority. The benefits of using a mentoring program application far outweigh the resource concerns. Moreover, resource concerns should not be an excuse to reduce the quality of your mentoring program. It is indeed possible to implement an application process that is not resource intensive. With integrated talent management systems, automated survey tools, or even a well-designed spreadsheet and email system, you can set up a mentoring program application that is manageable and simple, yet meaningful. While there is a bit of planning involved to get it started, in the long run, it will be to your benefit. Here are six examples of those benefits.
6 Reasons To Use A Mentoring Program Application
Reason 1: Opportunity to screen participants for motivation.
Few people will tell you they would decline a mentor if it was offered to them. But what happens when they must do a little bit of work to get that mentor? Requiring participants to go through an application process can screen out the least motivated individuals. These are the individuals that are not even motivated enough to apply to be mentored, so will likely not be motivated enough to participate in mentoring program activities. Requiring applications can also help identify the most motivated individuals. These employees will submit their applications early and may even provide you with more information than you need. Though potentially inconvenient, it can be beneficial to know in the beginning who your most motivated participants are because they can provide you with valuable feedback throughout the duration of the program.
Reason 2: Opportunity to assess protégé readiness.
Mentoring is a hot topic right now. It might seem like everyone wants to be mentored. It’s funny that while coaching can be viewed as a stigma or sign of weakness, mentoring has the opposite perception such that Training Journal has even proclaimed “mentoring is the new black.“ So, you might find yourself in the position of having many more protégés raising their hands to be mentored than mentors offering up their time.
Unfortunately, not everyone that says they want to be mentored is ready to be mentored. To be successful, mentoring needs to be timed right. Protégés must be willing to commit to their goals and put in the work to achieve them. They need to take ownership of their professional development. They need to communicate with their mentors and take accountability for making that communication happen. They also should be willing to solicit and accept feedback from others. The fact is, it takes a lot of work to be mentored and it has the potential to get uncomfortable for some people.
If you have an application process in your mentoring program, you can address these issues from the start. Not only will it allow you to identify individuals who are simply not willing to make the commitment and do the work, it will also help identify individuals who are willing to do it but don’t realize the timing isn’t right. By asking the right questions and having candid conversations, you can screen and level-set potential protégés for program requirements before investing in them as program participants.
Reason 3: Some popular leaders are just not good mentors.
Oh HR, I know you’ve been there. There’s a well-known leader in the organization that everyone wants as a mentor, but in truth, that leader is not skilled at helping people. Maybe there have been some issues with direct reports. Maybe there have been some policy violations. Maybe there’s a juicy story that explains why this person should never ever mentor anybody, but you can’t repeat it to anyone or you’ll get fired.
Program criteria and participant standards apply to mentors too. Having mentors go through an application process can help establish and maintain standards for your program. You can be flexible in terms of the level of rigor and stringency you apply, depending on your needs as well as the politics. A simple example would be requiring that mentors have not had any substantiated violations or disciplinary action within the past two years. On the opposite end of the spectrum of complexity, you could select mentors as you would select a new leader or employee by putting them through a series of assessments (interview, 360 feedback, review of performance data, etc.). The latter suggests that the organization has more potential mentors than are needed, which unfortunately is usually not the case for companies. Still, just because you need mentors for your program does not justify a mindset of “we’ll take whatever we can get.” You owe it to your protégés to at least make sure there is a minimum standard that mentors must demonstrate.
Reason 4: Allows for better matching of mentors with protégés.
Matching protégés should be based on more than scheduling limitations and location proximity. It should be approached with the goal of maximizing protégés’ success in the mentoring program as well as the mentors’ overall experience. Asking protégés and mentors about what they seek to achieve and what they’d like out of the mentorship increases the chances that participants will be matched with a partner that can help them reach their goals. For example, if I seek a mentor to help me navigate organizational politics, I can be matched with a mentor who is skilled in that area, but only if this information is collected ahead of time in the application process.
Reason 5: Provides you with data early in the program that can be used to measure program effectiveness.
It is common for organizations to rely on anecdotal feedback from mentoring program participants as evaluation data for the effectiveness of the mentoring program (see the Art of Mentoring study referenced above). While anecdotal feedback is fine as a data point, it should not be relied on as the sole measure of program effectiveness because it is difficult to link to goal attainment. Ideally, you should measure the effectiveness of your mentoring program by determining whether stated goals and objectives were attained by the protégés. You should also link that goal attainment to organizational-level objectives, such as a decrease in turnover or increase in sales revenue.
Collecting information about participant goals and objectives as part of the application process gets you thinking about this evaluation from the start. By having early access to protégés’ goals and expectations, you position yourself with the ability to think about what data you’ll need to collect to measure the success of that goal. For example, if I indicate on my application that one of my goals is to promote to the next level within 18 months, the program administrator can start tracking that data at the beginning of the program rather than having to backtrack over a year later. Not only does backtracking have the potential to be an administrative nightmare, it is much less likely to occur simply due to the passing of time.
Reason 6: Having an application process provides consistency.
There are several reasons consistency is warranted for mentoring programs. First and most obviously, it sets the foundation for fairness and helps control for the impact of unconscious bias on decisions regarding who to accept into the program. Second, consistency helps you form routines. If you plan on running your mentoring program on a regular basis, you will benefit from developing these routines each time you begin a new cohort. Ultimately, these routines will save you time in preparing for and implementing your mentoring program. Finally, consistency can be helpful when problems surface. For example, suppose there is an employee that was recently disciplined for bullying another employee, who wants to participate in the program as a protégé? Having an application process with standardized criteria for participation can help address the issue because you already know what is and is not permissible. While you won’t account for every possible consideration from the beginning, you can continue to refine your application criteria and process such that each time you implement the program, you are increasingly prepared for potential challenges and less prone to “surprise” situations.
Hopefully, these reasons have convinced you to incorporate an application process in your mentoring program. What do you think are you convinced? Why or why not? What has your experience been in this area? Share in the comments!