Strategies for Taking Your Mentoring Program Online

We've talked quite a bit about our online mentoring software, MentoringComplete, in past newsletters. While we realize not all our readers are using an online mentoring system, we are finding that more and more companies are considering bringing the program online. And why not? Numerous benefits exist, as we've discussed in a recent white paper "Online Mentoring Software: The 5 Main Benefits" (free to download).

The question is this: once you make the decision to invest in mentoring software, how do you seamlessly transition from a traditional mentoring program to an online system? Here are some strategies that will help before, during, and after the transition.

Before you move your mentoring program online:
Taking an existing program online requires that you provide a rationale for the change for everyone directly involved in the program--mentors, mentorees, and program managers--as well as those who support or sign off on the program, such as upper management.

So how should you position this need for change? After all, most of us tend to be creatures of habit. Why not continue with the program in its current form? You must convey to program participants that using an online system provides for better quality control, specifically in two areas:

1. It helps to create better matches by adding an objective component, thanks to the online system's "matching" algorithm. Program managers can use this objective component when factoring in what constitutes a good match, and, as a result, this will lead to greater success in matching.

2. It provides for a proactive approach in supporting pairs. How? Mentors and mentorees input their forms, updates, and feedback directly into the online system. Because all of this information is housed electronically in one place, the program manager has better oversight and can more easily monitor relationships and intervene sooner and more effectively when issues come up.

Providing a reasonable and persuasive rationale to users will help them understand an online system's value and increase their desire to use the system effectively.

Another important point to make before you transition is this: an online system does not replace the personal mentoring relationship. It simply streamlines all the processes and tasks associated with building and maintaining it. Mentors and mentorees will still meet in the same way (e.g. face to face) and on the same schedule as before.

What to keep in mind during the actual transition:
Let's assume you've seen a system you like and you're ready to implement it. What should you be aware of as you move forward?

1. Before you launch it company-wide, make sure the system works well with your organization's internal IT system. Test email capability and be sure that your IT department has allowed access to the online system's site and that it allows emails from the system to reach company inboxes.

2. Add one or two test mentors and mentorees who will go into the system, create their accounts, and ensure that everything works properly. This can help identify any quirks/bugs that may affect implementation.

3. Be prepared for user errors. These errors aren't caused by any particular component of the system, but by the users themselves (and it's common and natural when implementing any new piece of software). For example, the process for retrieving lost passwords might not be obvious to the user, and you or the vendor may get a call from the user that he or she can't access the system. Providing all users with access to a list of FAQs or troubleshooting steps can help eliminate these unnecessary calls.

At the same time, don't assume everyone will consult an FAQ document or any other resources you've sent via email or even housed within the online system's resource area. So when you answer a user's question with an explanation that could have been found in a resource, be sure to reference the resource. For example, say, "To do x, you need to do this, and if you need further help, consult the resource in the system. It should answer most of your questions."

What to keep in mind after implementation:
As we mentioned in the first section, the purpose behind an online system is to support quality matches and allow for a more efficient use of a program manager's time in managing your program. In order to know if your system is meeting these goals, you need to review the results regularly. Here are some good "benchmark" questions to ask:

  • Did you have a good success rate with your matches?
  • How does that rate compare to the rate you had prior to licensing an online system?
  • What about the quality of your ongoing follow up with pairs?
  • Was it more efficient for your program manager?
  • Was your program manager alerted of issues right away, and did he or she feel better equipped to resolve these issues?

If the overall answers are "yes," then you can ignore the inevitable complaints you'll get from the occasional user who doesn't want to fill out forms. Don't let a negative comment negate a good system that has improved the overall program. You'll always have some participants who'll complain about having to fill out forms, at least in the beginning. Once you've cycled through a few sets of matches, most "new" participants will understand that filling out forms is an expected part of the program.

Let folks know that the forms should be viewed as helpful rather than cumbersome. (In MentoringComplete, we've designed the forms so that most can be completed in under 10 minutes. If a user can't devote 10 minutes a month to a simple form, he or she may not be right for the program.)

Read about our client Enterprise Rent-a-Car's success with an online mentoring program.

Do you have a specific question regarding the transition to an online mentoring system? We're here to help. Contact us today and let's talk.

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