Managing Corporate Mentoring Programs: Use Meeting Time Wisely

February is National Time Management Month. Just as managing time is important in your personal life and day-to-day job activities, the key to a successful mentoring program is timing as well. It's also the number one challenge facing mentoring pairs across all cultures. Use our guidelines below to manage your program. Remember, commitment makes it work.

Managing Meeting Time: Mentors and Mentorees

Determine how often you'll meet, for how long, and where.

How Often & How Long

Face-to-face meetings should last between 60 and 90 minutes, and you should meet weekly (especially when you're first matched) to every other week. If you're a long-term planner, map out a meeting schedule for three to six months. Otherwise, bring your calendars to each meeting and then schedule the next one at the close of your meeting. Mentors should also prepare a brief, but targeted, meeting agenda, which includes topics for discussion. This will help the meeting stay on track.

Where

Meetings should take place OUTSIDE the mentor's and mentoree's offices. Meet in a location with minimal traffic and interruptions (that means no cell phones or pagers). However, we do recommend meeting on company premises, such as a conference room. The setting is still "structured" and business-oriented, yet you eliminate other office distractions like e-mail, phone calls, and people dropping by your desk.

If you want to meet outside the company, we recommend breakfast or lunch. Evenings can be a little less professional, and people tend to be tired. And if you're convinced that you "have no time," remember you need to take a lunch break-the mentoring meeting won't add to your "work schedule."

When You Can't Meet Face-to-Face

If you can't meet face-to-face, schedule weekly phone calls for 30 minutes or biweekly calls for 60-90 minutes. Don't let phone calls turn into "mentoring moments" instead of mentoring sessions. Have an agenda that you each receive (and review) by fax or e-mail ahead of time. E-mail is NOT an effective tool for mentoring. Use it to send agendas and confirm appointments-that's it!

Managing Meeting Time: Program Managers and Mentoring Pairs

Every month, program managers should touch base (in person or by phone) with each individual in the match. Take 15-20 minutes, depending on the conversation. Here are some questions to ask mentors and mentorees:

  • Are you following the guidelines you and your mentor/mentoree agreed upon, such as meeting time?
  • Are there any issues with your mentor or mentoree?
  • What's been the most beneficial aspect of your relationship so far?
  • What's been the least beneficial aspect of your relationship so far?
  • On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being "fabulous," how would you rate your mentoring relationship and why?

The key is preemptive maintenance. Identify potential problems and deal with them proactively rather than letting them escalate.

Traditionally, managers will have 20 pairs per program. If managers spend 15-20 minutes per person in each pair, the program manager should carve out eight hours per month (two hours per week) for these "check-in" conversations. These conversations are most critical for matches that have been together for 90 days or less.

In addition to monthly check ins, program managers meet quarterly with all mentors for an hour and quarterly with all mentorees for an hour. The purpose is to get a sense of the group as a whole: concerns, challenges, triumphs. An added benefit is that mentors (and mentorees) learn from each other by sharing experiences and discussing their relationships.

Final Thoughts on Mentoring Programs and Time Management

Timing is a challenge for all of us. It takes commitment to make mentoring programs work. 

Here's a good rule of thumb: if you call to cancel a mentoring-related appointment, always have a good reason. And remember-simply having a good reason is not a good enough reason to cancel. Before you cancel, think about the consequences. Work hard at figuring out a way to make the time now, and everyone benefits in the end.

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