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Heather Townsend

The Excedia Group


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Ten things firms need to consider before starting a mentoring scheme


Thinking of starting a mentoring scheme? Read this advice from Heather Townsend first.
In our research for 'How to make partner and still have a life', my co-author Jo and I discovered that one of the drivers of making partner successfully (or any level of seniority in a business) was having a formal or informal mentor helping your career along.
Many firms run mentoring schemes or initiatives to help with staff retention, development and engagement. Very often the learning and development team, get the pleasure of setting these schemes up. If you are in this position, thenn this article will help you with this task, as we consider the ten things that your firm needs to think about before embarking on your own firm's mentoring scheme.

The reason why

Before you start any kind of mentoring initiative you need to fully understand the purpose and intended impact of the initiative. For example, are you thinking about introducing a mentoring scheme in your firm to help with:
  • Retention of talent, or is it more specific than that?
  • Development of staff at key stages in their career?

Senior level sponsor

With the many calls on senior managers and executive's time, it can be difficult to convince them of the need to expend more of their non-chargeable time on mentoring more junior members of the firm. A senior level sponsor, from around the partnership table or board, who openly champions the scheme, can easily remove real and perceived barriers to the scheme's success.


Before you can roll out a mentoring scheme, you need to fully understand what is in it for both the mentors and the mentees, plus gain their buy-in to mentoring. For example:
  • What do your prospective mentees want from such a scheme?
  • How do they see it running?
  • Do they want to be allocated a mentor, or be able to choose their own one?
  • What sorts of help do they want from their mentor?
  • What barriers can both prospective mentors and mentees see or envisage, which may impede the success of a mentoring within the firm?What can you learn from successful mentoring initiatives in other firms?


Being a good mentor takes time – and time away from the day job. If your firm is serious about using mentoring to nurture and keep top talent, then you can't afford to let mentoring time be relegated to the 'when we are not so busy list'. It helps if senior managers have a personal objective to act as a mentor for someone in the firm more junior to them.

Write a business case

After you have done your research, ideally you should now be able to write a business case setting out:
  • The benefit to the firm – including KPIs which will be positively or negatively effected by the scheme
  • The benefit to staff of such a scheme
  • How you envisage the scheme operating
Whilst this may seem like unnecessary bureaucracy, a document such as this gives you the parameters of the project, and a useful framework for everyone involved to refer back to.

Have an 'owner' for the mentoring scheme

Inevitably someone in the firm needs to be responsible for mentoring. (Normally this pleasure tends to naturally fall to the learning and development team.) Mentees and mentors will have questions and need help from time to time. They will be a central point to direct their queries to. Plus, the owner for the scheme will need to:
  • Project manage the rollout and implementation of the scheme
  • Measure the effectiveness of the scheme
  • Be a champion for the scheme
  • Integrate the mentoring scheme into other people processes and systems which the firm has in place
Is talent management, learning & development, HR or someone else in your firm the right person to own the scheme?

Upskill the mentors

The quality of your mentors will make and break the scheme. You can't change the quality of the senior manager or partnership pool that you have available to you, but you can train them on how to be the best mentor possible. For example, any training for mentors needs to include:
  • What's expected of them and their mentees
  • A refresher on the skills of a mentor, e.g. listening, questioning, giving feedback, how to ‘coach’ their mentees
  • When is it appropriate to 'tell', and when to 'ask'?
  • What, ideally, will happen in a mentoring meeting, and how often and how long these should take?
  • What firm systems or processes they need to use in their role as a mentor.

Set expectations for the mentees

The success of your mentoring initiative will be driven by the response of the mentors and mentees to the scheme. Your scheme will fail if both populations, i.e. the mentees and mentors, don't see the benefit of the scheme.
To keep the mentees engaged with the scheme, it's important that they know what's expected of them. For example:
  • A mentor will not be able to wave a magic wand and make everything OK
  • They are, not their mentor, responsible for setting the agenda and driving the relationship
  • Their mentor will not be able to single-handedly get them into the plum assignments and help them be promoted. They have to do their part.

Integrate into existing people processes and systems

Over time, the mentoring scheme, particularly if it is a formal firm scheme, needs to be integrated into the fabric of 'how this firm operates'. For example, in your induction processes do you tell people about the mentoring scheme? Does your recruitment literature talk about the benefits of having a mentor in the firm looking after you and your career? How will the mentoring scheme dovetail in with the firm's performance and development annual cycle? This integration will take time and effort – so who in the firm will do this? The mentoring scheme owner or individual owners of the firm's people policies, processes and systems?


The last consideration for a firm thinking about starting a mentoring initiative is to consider how you will review the success of the initiative. The review will be driven by what is set out in the business case for the scheme. Things to think about, include:
  • Who and in what forum will the results of the scheme will reviewed?
  • What will you do if the scheme is not having the desired effect?
  • What will you do if the scheme does have the desired effect?
Heather Townsend, MCIPD, is the co-author of 'How to make partner and still have a life' which is published by Kogan Page in November 2012. More details about the book can be found on the book's blog: 'How to make partner and still have a life'

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Heather Townsend


Read more from Heather Townsend

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