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Mentoring: Your managers don’t buy it?


This article, submitted by J. Leslie McKeown of training and development consultants Yellowbrick, looks at ways of breathing life into tired mentoring programmes.

When we're asked to help refresh or rejuvenate mentoring programmes that are struggling to make an impact, the most common underlying problem is lack of clearly defined programme goals. The second most common problem is lack of buy-in by managers and supervisors.

Here's the top three reasons why this happens:

1. Managers are too busy already. The last thing they need is another set of responsibilities, or another process they have to adapt to.

2. Mentoring is a threat to a manager's sense of self-esteem. "Why should my employee need a mentor if I'm doing a good job as a manager?".

3. The managers weren't consulted at the outset of the mentoring programme design process, which means something is being imposed on them, rather than asked for BY them.

The good news is that in our experience, dealing effectively with these issues isn't rocket science, although it does require a little bravery...Here's how to make sure your managers 'Deliver The Mentoring Promise':

1. Consult, Consult, Consult

Ask your managers what they would like out of your mentoring and coaching programme - at the outset.

Ask most managers "Do you think a mentoring programme would be helpful to you as a manager?", and mostly, they'll say "Yes!". Conversely, tell them: "Here's a mentoring programme that will be helpful to you as a manager", and they'll feel imposed upon and that you're being presumptuous about their skills.

It's a very small step from asking "Do you think a mentoring programme would be helpful to you as a manager?" to asking "What specifically do you think a mentoring programme could best do for you?". Involving your managers in agreeing the objectives of the mentoring or coaching programme is not just good commercial sense (it grounds the programme objectives in reality), it also starts the whole process of achieving buy-in.

Does this mean you have to get all the managers in a room, endure a four-hour debate and try to accommodate everyone's point of view, before getting the mentoring or coaching programme off the ground?

No - here's how to achieve the result you want (manager input) without hours of fruitless discussion:

  • Set aside a time - an hour or so, maybe over a lunchtime -when you will make a presentation regarding the proposed mentoring programme and seek input on its

  • Circulate details to all the managers and supervisors affected, offering them the opportunity to come and contribute to the discussion. If people are spread around the country, offer to set up a conference call for them to hook into (call you phone operator for details).

  • About 7-12% of the people you circulate will actually agree to join in the meeting. Of that, about two thirds will actually attend.

  • Those who don't attend will appreciate the offer being made, and will acknowledge that a consultation process has occurred, even if they didn't personally participate.

  • The smaller numbers will make for a more manageable, focused meeting. Who knows, you might end up with some evangelists for the programme!

2. Educate

Take time to explain to everyone impacted, that your mentoring or coaching programme is not being introduced because of any perceived management weaknesses on the part
of managers and supervisors.

Make the distinctions between mentoring, coaching, managing and supervising very clear.

Even if your managers are already aware of the distinctions, they will appreciate you making the distinctions clear to their employees. It's hard for a manager to say to her employees: "Please understand you have not been allocated a mentor because I'm doing a poor job." It sounds better coming from you.

3. Involve

The protégé's managers are your key to measuring the impact and effectiveness of your mentoring or coaching programme. The mentors and protégés themselves are too close to the process to be objective. You can't personally appraise every mentoring or coaching relationship yourself. So why not ask the managers help in setting up a simple, non-time consuming mechanism to monitor how well protégés are developing in their mentoring relationship? You can use the consultative meeting outlined above to discuss the best ways for this to happen. For example:

By using a 'control group' - some employees who are being mentored, and some who are not, and getting the manager to help you measure the difference in progress between the two, you'll not only involve the manager, you'll get her strong approval for the programme, as she sees the differences between the two groups. (You are going to have a very successful programme, right? So this part can't go wrong...)

J. Leslie McKeown, is the President & CEO of Yellowbrick, providers of employee development solutions for organisations of all sizes, particularly in the areas of retention, induction and mentoring and coaching. In addition to being the author of 'The Complete Guide to Induction and Re-Induction', 'The Complete Guide to Mentoring and Coaching', and the ‘Deliver The Promise Retention MasterClass, Les travels widely, speaking and consulting on issues of employee development and corporate strategy.

For more information, visit their website at


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