A common question I get asked and one that I frequently read about in the literature is whether mentoring matches should be voluntary? The quick answer is: "Yes". But actually the problem is the question itself. What most people mean when they ask that question is: "Should matches be made voluntarily by a mentoree or mentor self-selecting their partner or should matches be made by a Mentoring Program Manager?" When this is asked, most people will immediately cite the self-select choice by as the better option. That then implies that matches made by an organization's Mentoring Program Manager do not involve choice and therefore, are not as good or, are bad. This is a false assumption borne out by my own consulting experience of over 23 years.
In all the years that I have been working with organizations in creating and maintaining successful mentoring relationships, 95% have been matches made by the Mentoring Program Manager and would, most often be viewed as "forced matches" by people who don't fully understand the process of making a match. And, on average, our clients generate a 90% success rate with that approach. Maybe if we use the term "third-party matching", we can get away from the idea of a "forced match".
A "forced match" in my mind is one where two people are arbitrarily put together with no meaningful process to ascertain compatibility and where one or both of the partners have been required to do this and don't wish to. Who would want to run this type of program? Surprisingly, a number of companies or organizations that have no concept of what mentoring is about and create programs that result in poor mentoring. This is usually not intentional but done out of a false sense of providing something good to employees which, in effect, overpromises and under delivers.
There are pros and cons to both self-selected matches and third-party matches but both need to be voluntary in the sense that pairs should wish to work together. Neither is better than the other as such and both should be considered when exploring mentoring. In fact, in many programs, pairing is done by the Mentoring Program Manager for targeted populations usually under 100: high pos, leaders, etc. while the self-selected method is used for large numbers of employees and it is not unusual for a client to use both methods in their programs.
So the next time you see the question asked as to whether matching should be voluntary, reply by asking the person whether self-selection or third-party matching is best and see where the dialogue goes. It will make for an interesting conversation.