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Coaching and mentoring monthly feature: The ‘6 per cent club’ and mentoring


Over the coming months, Dr Richard Hale, Director of Action Learning Forums, International Management Centres Association and the CPD Business School will be writing exclusively for TrainingZONE on a whole range of coaching-related issues.

Dr Richard Hale
In this second column for TrainingZONE, Dr Hale examines why training designed to alter behaviour has such a low success rate, and looks at how mentoring relationships can help sustain behavioural changes if properly defined.

The 6% Club and Mentoring

I have always found it fascinating that many training professionals in organisations know that behavioural training courses when used in isolation do not work, yet they keep using them. It reminds me of the comment that the only difference between humans and Skinner's rats is that the rats learned from experience.

I was involved in some research a while ago to study whether behavioural change following courses was sustained over time. 99% of the participants questioned immediately after the course stated they had learned and changed their behaviour. Questioned a year later as to whether they were still implementing their learning we were down to 6%. I came to describe this as the 6% club. Not a viable return on investment really, but the course was well-marketed, positioned as high profile and in any case the people who were paying for it never had any involvement in assessing ROI. As one of the trainers I had learnt how to ensure the participants were in the right frame of mind before they completed their Course Evaluation and my paymasters were happy and the course ran for years.

Eventually I had to question my own behaviour, continuing to deliver something that everyone seemed happy with even though it wasn't working. One line of enquiry I pursued was to explore whether mentoring might be the missing link between learning on the course and sustaining behaviour change over time.

I interviewed 46 matched mentors and mentees individually and some of the results are reported in the articles linked below. A few highlights of the research are worthy of special mention though.

Many people were willing to attribute benefits to mentoring without having any real evidence. Claims ranged from improved staff retention to increased motivation and that catch-all phrase 'improved communication'.

The focus in mentoring schemes is often placed on the mentee rather than the mentor. Most mentors when I asked 'What were you looking for from the relationship?' revealed they had no objectives at all. A bit like the training course participants who attend 'because they are told to' the mentors were doing it because they were told to and never considered that there might be something they could learn from being a mentor. On reflection though they did feel they had learnt a lot and I wondered how much more they might have learnt had they set out with some objectives.

Methods of matching mentors and mentee varied across organisations and despite all the anecdotal views I could find no formula for matching mentor and mentee that led to greater learning for either party. Even study of the relative learning styles of mentor and mentee showed this has no significance despite the various opinions of writers and practitioners in this field.

In most cases mentoring schemes were set up without any recognition of the fact that informal mentoring is live and well in the organisation. There were cases of people being pushed into mentoring relationships and playing along with it even through they felt their undisclosed informal relationships were the ones where there was real value. While the HR or training department, often with the best intentions had developed courses, manuals and contracts to support mentoring relationships, the way these were received varied from welcome acceptance to outright rejection of central efforts to interfere in something as personal as a relationship.

Perhaps the most useful information came from those relationships that had undoubtedly failed. In these cases the mentor and mentee just stopped meeting because they felt that the relationship wasn't going anywhere. The common problem in these situations was a lack of sensitivity, usually on the part of the mentor, to differences in the personal values of the mentor and the mentee. One mentee said of her mentor 'He just seems to assume because he is driven by ambition to climb the corporate ladder, that I am the same.' When I asked the mentor why the relationship was floundering he said 'She is very slow in understanding how you have to behave to get on here, but she will probably learn given time.'

In one organisation there were great benefits seen from arranging informal lunch meetings of the mentors where they could discuss their experience of mentoring and equivalent sessions were run for mentees. This overcame the problem described by one participant in another organisation of wanting to find out how others were managing in their relationships. He said 'It is a bit like wanting to know how someone else's marriage is going - you might be able to guess but you don't like to ask'.

The best news of all was that mentoring does indeed support, help embed and sustain the learning and behaviour change initiated through off-job courses. Good mentors know when to prompt and challenge the mentee to implement their new skills and behaviours, and they understand the reality of the mentee's organisational context. A good mentor will deliver significantly more than a 6% return.

More in-depth advice from Dr Richard Hale on how to implement and sustain mentoring within organisations can be found in the TrainingZONE Library.


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