Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mentor Matching: Valentine's Day Edition

The process of mentor matching is often enough likened to dating that I thought I’d have some fun with it this Valentine’s Day.


The truth is that some mentor/mentee matches do not work. And in the case of mismatch, it’s important to catch it as soon as possible.

There’s not necessarily an easy way for a program admin to determine if a relationship is on the rocks or not until it’s too late. Most of it boils down to checking in with your mentors and mentees regularly and paying attention for warning signs.

Here are some signs that things may be going very, very well – or, alternatively, going very, very badly.

Mentor Matching Gone Wrong!

1. Mismatch. The matching process may go wrong for one of many reasons. Many times, however, I’ve found that higher mismatch rates occur either when a) the mentee is not clear about what they want to achieve in a mentoring partnership or b) program admins are doing the matching on paper and by hand, especially with larger groups. That’s a lot of information to keep track of.

2. No chemistry and/or respect. People sometimes feel uncomfortable on a first date for reasons they’re not able to pinpoint at the time. But if they have a lot in common, they might agree to a second date - because surely with all they have in common, something will develop.

The same thing can happen with mentor/mentee matches. A lack of chemistry can be manageable. You may not have had chemistry with all of your college professors, but chances are you still learned from them. And as with some of those first dates, the awkwardness and discomfort passes, and something great develops.

So be sure to remember that the #1 criteria for matching mentors and mentees should be development. If that lack of interpersonal chemistry keeps the development from taking place, the partnership won’t succeed.

Also - you should definitely watch for a lack of respect. If one half of a relationship doesn’t have respect for the other, no partnership can be built upon it.

3. The fights. Of course, if the basis of the mentoring partnership is not respect, you can be assured that little to no learning and development will occur. There may not be actual “fights”, but there will probably be a lot of passivity – or passive aggression – when it comes to the learning plan and partnership goals. We’re not talking about “disagreements” or differences of opinion here – people are people, and many times they can disagree with each other in a way that results in a good sharing of ideas.

Take care, here – they may come to you or another program admin to help them resolve their problem(s). Don’t brush off their concerns – if you expect them to invest in their partnership, you need to invest in them.

On the other hand, even if they don’t come to you,
you still must be alert for signs of this occurring.

4. The breakup. If you aren’t alert, the breakup will probably happen without you noticing. Activity will simply stop. The mentoring pair won’t meet. They won’t set goals. They’ll give up on each other.

Mentoring Matching Gone Right!

1. Match. Great matches can be made with matching software or without. For optimal matches, just make sure that the criteria and the process is as simple as possible. Complicating the process doesn’t result in “deeper connections” (a la E-Harmony) – at least when it comes to mentor matching, and especially without software to keep track of everything. It just makes more work and frustration for you, and a greater likelihood of causing mismatches. So whether you want to play Cupid and find people their one match, or allow them to browse profiles online and match themselves, just remember: keep things simple.

2. Chemistry and/or respect. Going back to the first date metaphor – while “sparks” may certainly be preferred, the one absolutely necessary thing is respect. If the mentor/mentee pair respect each other – even when there may be trouble – anything can still be fixed.

3. Growing/learning together. It’s an old adage that teachers learn just as much from their students as the students learn from them. Good mentoring partnerships are driven by the mentee – and the mentee’s learning needs. But in most cases, being exposed to a new perspective in the organization can cause the mentor to learn as well.

4. The (optional) breakup. During the separation/redefinition phase of a good mentoring partnership, the breakup occurs only because the formal program has come to an end. The mentor/mentee may choose to remain in the same relationship informally, not relating the mentee’s development back to organizational goals – meaning no breakup at all! Even if they choose not to stay on as mentor/mentee informally, a successful mentoring partnership ends on good, mutually beneficial terms.

Now, true, mentors and mentees dating can be an issue, and I advise all you program administrators to set down rules and guidelines ahead of time to deal with the possibility of mentor/mentee romances.

In the meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day!

For more information on how Insala can assist you with mentor matching, take a look at our mentoring solutions.

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