"Should mentors and mentorees volunteer to be in a mentoring program or should they be nominated?"
This is one of the most frequent questions I get asked. What is really being asked is this:
"Should mentors and mentorees be forced to participate?"
The answer is "No." However, there is a large gray area here.
Some programs we've done have had mentors as volunteers but mentorees participate by virtue of being a specific position within the company, i.e. key leaders, technical specialists, hi-po's, etc. Do these work? Yes, and quite well. Some programs have managers nominate employees but employees have the option of opting out. We can call this a hybrid approach, if you will. That works also.
Is volunteering always better? Not always. I've seen volunteer programs that didn't work very well as people either volunteered to have the experience put on their performance reviews or the wrong people volunteered.
So how do you determine the best approach? Each organization is different and the culture needs to be taken into consideration. Some cultures will only accept mentoring if it is totally voluntary while others insist upon controlling who goes in and who does not.
The key, I think, is to remember that mentoring is about development. Provided that the mentoree has some say/control over which areas they will develop and mentors are truly dedicated to assisting that person, I think that is the principle that should guide the decision as to how people get into the program. The real proof of success in any formal mentoring program is not how people get into the program; but how they are matched. A good match neutralizes the issue of volunteering or nominating while a bad match exacerbates this issue.
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