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  • Catherine Hodgson


Updated: Apr 15, 2023

When it comes to mentoring, I’m often asked about best practices in a formal mentoring relationship. Having being involved in developing and running mentoring programs since 2009, I have tested many variables, spoken to mentors and mentees on the programs, consulted to mentoring programs, and experienced the program first-hand by being both a mentor and a mentee. These are the things that have proven to be the best practices time and time again:

1. Six to twelve months: There is no ideal length of time for mentoring, however, I have found that in most cases, 12 months seems to be a good length of time for a mentoring relationship. Sounds long, but it goes so quickly! It’s also less than you think as it equates to only about 10 meetings a year. Less than this often results in not going deep enough or skirting other issues. It usually takes two or three meetings to build rapport, trust, set a purpose and build some goals. However, if you feel more comfortable committing to 6 months initially, that is fine too. If both parties agree, you can always extend your mentoring relationship.

2. One and a half to two hours face-to-face or one hour virtually: There is also no ideal length of time for a meeting. However, for a face to face, in-person meeting, allow one to two hours with some leeway, should you require a little more. However, this also depends on the time that the mentor has available. At the beginning of the meeting, check in with each other to see what time you both need to wrap up.

For virtual meetings on Zoom, Teams, etc, the meetings will be shorter. Book one hour meetings and if you are both finding that they are easy to do, then you can extend to 90 minutes. Longer than this and you will lose concentration. Ensure there are no distractions or interruptions! Confidentiality should be spoken about at the beginning of the meeting to ensure that you both feel comfortable to share in a safe space.

3. Initial meeting - the Chemistry Meeting: Your first meeting should be about an hour. Use this to discuss your mentoring needs, mentoring strengths, your values, your aspirations, what you are passionate about, what keeps you up at night, what you expect from your mentoring relationship, etc. We call this the “chemistry meeting” as it’s really a meeting to see if there is chemistry as well as if you can work together in a mentoring relationship. This is also the time to set ground rules for your mentoring journey. Your mentoring relationship is based on trust and respect – if you don’t have these two ingredients or are not prepared to build the trust and rapport, then don’t go ahead with it. At the end of this session you should be able to decide whether you want to go ahead with your relationship. This meeting can be in-person or virtual.

4. Meet regularly to maintain momentum: Set the date for your next meeting while you are together – in fact you can set up all your dates at the beginning of your mentoring relationship, if that’s easier. Best practice is to meet monthly. However, you may decide to meet more frequently in the beginning (every 2 - 3 weeks) and then stretch it out to every 6 weeks later in your mentoring journey. If you leave your meetings for 8 weeks or more apart from each other, you will start to lose momentum and your relationship can easily fall apart. Even if one is travelling, plan to meet virtually so that a connection is made regularly.

5. Where do you meet? That’s up to you and your mentor, however, I would recommend a place that is quiet and confidential. The mentor usually chooses the place to meet, so that may be at their office, which can be a bit intimidating for some mentees. A neutral space is best, maybe a meeting room in your offices or a hotel.

What about a coffee shop? This can be a bit noisy and tables are quite close together, so your confidentiality can be compromised. Discuss where you both feel comfortable to meet in your first meeting. If, however, you don’t feel that the meeting place is right, then speak up and say so. It’s your meeting, too!

6. Keep the discussion confidential: All meetings are to be completely confidential and nothing to be discussed outside of the meeting unless both agree that it can be shared. Best practice is to do a confidentiality reminder at the beginning and end of each session.

7. Get some training: We assume that we know what we are doing because we mentor people in our organization on a daily basis. However, believe me, mentoring someone out of your organization is a completely different ball game. Only after I had a mentee and had been in the relationship for a few months, did I realize that I actually knew nothing about mentoring and needed training. Our meetings were becoming “coffee and muffin meetings” without a structure! Hence began my seven-year journey of developing mentoring material for the mentoring program and ensuring there was a structure around meetings. Attend a Mentoring Masterclass, read mentoring articles and watch videos – it will all help for you to become a more confident mentor and mentee. Plus, I found that a lot of these materials I could then use in my own business, for mentoring my own staff and sharpening my leadership skills… win-win!

8. Mentees drive the relationship: Yes, the mentee needs to set up the meeting, prep and send the agenda to their mentor a few days before the meeting (just in case your mentor needs to prepare anything for the meeting). It is best to spend time on the agenda, reflect what happened since your last meeting and add things to it throughout the month as things come up, then refine it a few days before. The mentee should spend at least an hour prepping for their meeting. A few questions to reflect on: What actions did I achieve on my action list from the last session? What has happened between the last session and this session? What are some issues that I can bring to my mentor and discuss with them? Am I working towards the goals that I set with my mentor? It’s also a good idea for the mentee to send summary notes to his mentor after the meeting should his mentor require these.

9. Build and review your relationship: It is really important to spend time to build rapport with each other and develop a trusting relationship. If you do not spend the time doing this then you won't be able to get to the depth of conversation required for your mentoring sessions. Spend the first few sessions really getting to know each other. Be open, honest, authentic and willing to be vulnerable. Every three months, check in with each other and review your relationship. You can ask: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate our relationship? What can I do to improve our relationship? This is what I will commit to do...This is what I would prefer you to do...

10. Set a purpose for your mentoring and set goals: This is really important as you need something by which to measure the success of your mentoring engagement. Write your goals down! Try to get to at least 3 goals that you can work on. Then review them frequently. Remember that goals are flexible and can be changed along the way.

11. Asking for feedback is essential: Check in with each other every second month to ensure that you are both getting something out of the mentoring sessions. It’s no use if you are both not getting anything out of it. Be honest and open with each other. Best practice is that at the end of each session, both of you give feedback and what you got out of it. I like using "The 4 I's" as a wrap up (from David Clutterbuck). Ask: What ISSUES have surfaced or still remain? What INSIGHTS have you had? What IDEAS are you taking away? What INTENTIONS do you have as a result of today?

12. Closure: Your mentoring journey will eventually come to a close. End it with a final session where you can both reflect on what you have received and learnt from your mentoring relationship. Celebrate it with each other, for example you can go out for breakfast or lunch or a drink. Reflect on both of your learnings and discuss how you want to stay in contact (if you do). What goals have you still not achieved and discuss how the mentee can go forward in achieving these goals? Remember to also appreciate each other - thank each other for what they have contributed to your mentoring experience - and be genuine! A relationship that is not ended properly is unfinished business and does not feel like a satisfactory experience.

Your mentoring relationship should be a rewarding and enriching experience for both of you. Use these best practices and you should not go wrong. This is a guideline and can be adapted to suit your style and what works best for both you and your mentor or mentee.

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