13 steps for success
Just like the association itself, a mentoring program within an association is only as strong as the people coordinating it. A good mentoring program will have engaged, committed mentors and mentees, and it will be headed by a program manager whose ability to organize and passion to help association members grow professionally is top-notch.
Mentoring program managers need to be well-connected within the association, as well as, ideally, within the local industry community. They must be good communicators and organizers with strong project management skills. Strong organization skills and an ability to respond to multiple parties in a timely manner are especially important for mentoring programs that span your organization’s chapters or multiple geographic centers.
A mentoring program manager doesn’t have to manage a program alone, but should always have a firm grasp of its operations.
A good program manager will know what data or anecdotes to place before program decision-makers to sustain its funding and internal importance.
High performing mentoring programs have clearly defined success criteria and expectations for both mentors and mentees.
An effective mentoring program manager will handle the following responsibilities:
- Promote the concept of mentoring and ensure commitment from the company or association – especially from program champions and sponsors. It’s easy to be excited about a new mentoring program when it first begins, but maintaining the buy-in of your board of directors, your sponsors and other internal stakeholders is imperative to sustaining it. A good program manager will know what data or anecdotes to place before program decision-makers to sustain its funding and internal importance.
- Define the objectives and success criteria for the program. What does our association want to accomplish through a mentoring program? What do we want participants to be able to do, or have, once they finish the formal program? How will this mentoring program support other association goals? Program managers should be able to comprehensively answer these questions.
- Oversee all aspects of implementation and quality management. A program manager doesn’t have to implement and manage a program alone, but they should have a firm grasp of its operations at all times.
- Create policies and procedures for participant success. What parameters for mentors, mentees and association staff must be implemented for a mentoring program to achieve the objectives and success criteria previously defined? Another way to think of “policies and procedures” is to ask yourself, “What structures or tools do we need to create to ensure our mentors and mentees enjoy this program?” Structures could be rules stating how often participants will meet with each other or a defined way for participants to contact association staff about requests or grievances. Tools could be printed discussion guides for mentor/mentee meetings, an online hub of resources or a directory of all program participants.
- Ensure information gathered as part of the mentoring program is secure. Since mentoring programs can foster deep relationships between participants, such programs often create a cache of data and notes that are more personal than a standard membership profile. An effective mentoring program manager will ensure this data is securely stored and that anyone who has access to it is trained in how to handle it confidentially.
- Give honest and constructive feedback to mentees and mentors. Mentoring program managers will know (or quickly learn) how to help participants get the most from their mentoring experience. They will also know how to handle complaints tactfully, should any arise.
- Manage expectations of all stakeholders. A good program manager will set reasonable expectations for participation in a mentoring program from the outset. Should a problem occur because a party doesn’t fulfill expectations, or because the association is not meeting the expectations of a participant, the program manager will have access to the people or resources that can quickly correct the problem.
- Provide appropriate resources to support participants. While mentors will bring most resources needed to the mentoring program through their personal experience and professional knowledge, your association should supplement what mentors bring to the table with printed or online materials, plus resources to refer mentees to within your industry.
- Evaluate and measure program engagement. The program manager will coordinate channels to collect formal as well as informal feedback from mentors, mentees and sponsors of the mentoring program for the improvement of the program.
- Keep all stakeholders well-informed. This is probably obvious, but an effective mentoring program manager will keep all participants well-informed about program happenings, deadlines and resources in plenty of time for participants to react.
- Maintain financial control over the program. Because financial structures differ by association, a mentoring program manager might have full control over their program (in addition to managing other association departments), or might be required to work with other staff or a board of directors to collect and spend funds. To run a mentoring program effectively, the program manager should at least have an equal voice in program financial decisions as your board of directors or other decision makers.
- Set up and maintain accurate administrative records. Keeping participants engaged starts with having the right information about them. See our article about maintaining clean data for a more in-depth look at keeping accurate member records.
- Ensure that there is a succession plan for the program so it continues without interruption when the program leader moves on. Life happens: spouses get a promotion in another state; children come along; professional interests change; can’t-miss job opportunities present themselves. Good mentoring program managers will train a colleague in the necessities and traditions of the association’s mentoring program, or keep copious notes about how to run it smoothly in their absence.
Administering a mentoring program can be time-consuming and demanding. However, helping professionals connect in meaningful ways that enrich their careers can be rewarding.
What qualifications or skills for a mentoring program manager would you add to this list?
Kelly Clark is a manager for online marketing with Naylor Association Solutions.