One of the keys to a successful mentoring program is having a clear strategy that covers every aspect of the whole mentoring process. The strategy is basically a plan that shows how the mentoring will be done right from initiating the program to the end of it. It defines the overall approach to be used, length of the program, areas of focus and how problems and/or conflicts will be handled, if they arise.
You can map out the strategy by first breaking the mentoring process into stages or phases with goals for each stage and methods to be used at each stage. For instance a two-year work-place mentoring program in a technical environment can be broken into four 6-month periods during which specific skill areas are explored thoroughly. The first two periods may involve face to face interaction where mentor and mentee do tasks together or spend a lot of time together in discussion. The third period may involve field/site visits for the mentee to observe practically how things are done, and the last period may involve assigning new tasks for the mentee to complete independently and give weekly reports.
Strategies may also vary from simple to complex depending on the nature of the mentoring process. For example the strategy for mentoring a teenage girl on general life skills may be as simple as meeting once a week to discuss specific areas of concern and answer her questions. The weekly discussion points can be pre-determined or can be raised spontaneously as you go. On the other hand, the strategy for mentoring college undergraduates may include things like experimental projects, library research, counseling sessions and so on, which are more detailed and written down.
A good mentoring strategy should have the following elements:
- Clear goals to be achieved by the time the program ends. It could be a single goal or more than one, depending on the needs of the mentee(s). Having clear goals will help both mentor and mentee to focus and not deviate into other matters that may not be of any use to the mentoring process. Goals also provide a benchmark against which to evaluate the success or otherwise of the mentoring process.
- Methods to be used and when, e.g. discussion groups, site visits, research, etc.
- Time scales. Although some mentoring relationships can go on for life, most formal mentoring is done within a specified period of time during which certain goals must be met. Putting time scales also allows for reviews or evaluations to be done at the end of the period so that a decision can be made whether to ‘release’ or extend.
- Clear roles/responsibilities for both mentor and mentee. This enables mutual respect, which is important in any kind of relationship. Each party knows what is expected of them and this reduces the chances of misunderstandings.