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Why Every Organisation Needs a 'Head of Mentoring'

March 16, 2022
Nicola Cronin

You’d be stretched to find somebody who doesn’t recognise that mentoring is valuable.

The importance of mentoring has been widely documented; from celebrity autobiographies to business books, we’re reminded of the benefits mentoring can have for personal and career development.

These benefits don’t only apply to the individuals involved, but to the businesses they work in too. Positively impacting employee engagement, retention, diverse representation in leadership, company culture and more, mentoring is a powerful practice for organisations.

Yet time and time again we see mentoring not being given the dedicated time, resources, and ownership it needs to provide this impact at scale within businesses.

This article will outline the business need for a Head of Mentoring role, and demonstrate the immediate value this person could deliver within their organisation.

But first to expand on the 3 observations that inspired this idea:

1. There’s no obvious home for mentoring in an organisation

Nobody is quite sure where mentoring sits within a business.

For something so people-centric, with the potential to impact every team and department, it surprisingly lacks clear ownership. In many organisations, mentoring is recognised as a part of their Learning & Development strategy. For others, mentoring sits within their HR functions. More commonly, mentoring is playing a key role in Diversity and Inclusion.

While these are the departments most often managing mentoring, it typically forms an additional part of a role – something someone takes up alongside their day job.

2. Mentoring rarely has a dedicated budget

Due to this lack of clear ownership, an issue that the program managers face, is their lack of budget. We’ve found in 80-90% of cases, L&D teams won’t have a budget specifically for mentoring.

If for example, a Learning & Development professional is managing their organisation’s mentoring program, they will likely have a L&D budget for schemes covering a wide scope. Mentoring can naturally fit into this scope, but rarely has its own dedicated budget. Depending on other objectives and goals, it can get de-prioritised, or runs on such a low budget that it’s near impossible to scale.

This issue of budget also varies across departments. If Finance decides to run their own internal mentoring initiative to share knowledge between generations, they might have a different budget allocation to a different department, leading mentoring to become even more siloed and inconsistent across a business.

3. It is happening, but it can’t scale (because of 1 and 2)

It’s important to acknowledge that mentoring is not new for the majority of businesses, and is often already taking place in some form. So it’s not that mentoring can’t happen without this Head of Mentoring role we're suggesting, but it is that it can’t scale.

Without dedicated ownership, resources or budget, program managers will struggle to roll mentoring out as a widespread initiative across the organisation. This results in small, tailored programs which only run for a short period of time, and only benefit an exclusive group. For the same reasons, these programs struggle to deliver impactful results and metrics, which prevent wider roll-out. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle.

If organisations want to feel the true value and ROI of mentoring across the entire business, they need to stop expecting someone in the HR team to manage it on the side. They need to create a role for a Head of Mentoring.

From working with many organisations at Guider, we've spoken to a number of people currently managing mentoring within their business, frustrated with not being able to do as much as they’d like to. This is a common theme:

“I’m the only person responsible for a 200 person mentoring scheme, which I run manually alongside the rest of my job. We have hundreds more employees who would benefit from mentoring, but there’s only one of me and I’m at full capacity”.

If that resonates with you, I hope this piece inspires some thoughtful conversations in your organisation…

Leading a mentoring program

The Head of Mentoring Role

The Head of Mentoring owns mentoring across an entire organisation, including:

  • Developing, delivering and scaling specific program
  • Managing mentoring budget
  • Creating a good mentor and mentee experience
  • Developing innovative mentoring strategies to drive growth
  • Forming mentoring partnerships
  • Driving a culture of mentoring at an organisational level

Of course, other people are still involved with mentoring and the running of specific programs, but the Head of Mentoring facilitates and unites these across the organisation.

This role goes beyond simply the running of programs (although that’s a huge job in itself), and looks at mentoring as an innovative business growth strategy.

Here’s how:

1. Driving innovation

A crucial part of the Head of Mentoring’s role is aligning with the wider business objectives and vision, and harnessing mentoring as an innovative tool to drive growth and success.

So often mentoring is reduced to an HR function because it’s all about people, yet a mentoring culture has the power to affect productivity, retention, loyalty – even revenue. The Head of Mentoring can develop external partnerships with networks, or cross-company programs with other organisations – facilitating strategic relationships which benefit not only employees, but the business as a whole.

Across most organisations, mentoring program managers are responsible for:

  • Program development
  • Program promotion
  • Participant recruitment and training
  • Metric tracking
  • Proving impact / ROI

This alone is a huge amount of work, but it’s predominantly operational work: planning, logistics, ensuring the mentoring relationships are happening etc. What the Head of Mentoring does, is take this role beyond logistics. Elevating the need for mentoring at a senior level, understanding what the business needs, and coming up with innovative ways of using mentoring to get there.

2. Dedicated Ownership

The Head of Mentoring solves the lack of ownership issues.

Mentoring should not be seen as merely a function of Learning and Development, but as a cultural staple of a business. The effects of mentoring are felt far beyond a set team or department, and the way it operates in a company should reflect that.

We have spoken with current program managers about the desire to “do more” with mentoring in their organisation, yet they lack the capacity, authority, or budget. Paired with the fact this is typically being done alongside their day to day role, it’s no surprise they can’t take mentoring to the next level. Having a full-time Head of Mentoring removes the ambiguity from where mentoring ‘sits’, and provides the individual with the power to scale mentoring more widely.

For current Program Managers who can relate to these challenges, make a note of the mentoring growth opportunities you’ve identified but weren’t able to act on, or the business areas mentoring could add more value if you only had more capacity. When put together, this will showcase an abundance of missed opportunity and highlight the need for this role.

Another common reason mentoring fails to scale is not having leadership buy in. The Head of Mentoring, particularly being a senior role, addresses this issue. As with many things in business, behaviour filters down from the top. Mentoring programs are successful when senior leaders are advocating for and involved in them. Part of the necessity for a Head of Mentoring is to ensure this advocacy exists across the highest levels of the business. Where a HR Manager responsible for a graduate program might not be able to approach C-Suite, the Head of Mentoring can.

3. Breaking down silos

Typically, mentoring is very siloed, with multiple departments running their own programs with no clear way to share the learnings or impact across the wider business.

Suzie King, the mentoring program manager at M&S, said: “before using Guider, we used to have a very ad-hoc mentoring system – somebody would ask their line manager for a mentor, and a mentor would be found, but you were still in your siloed area”.

The Head of Mentoring exists to ensure the benefits of mentoring are being felt throughout the business across all groups, and therefore works to unite the organisation’s mentoring efforts.

This works on two levels:

  • Employees equally benefit from mentoring, creating a more inclusive work environment
  • There’s a consistent structure in place to run a program, meaning more mentoring can happen more easily

For any department, team, network, or group wanting a mentoring program – they now have a dedicated person to go to. This not only prevents silos forming, but also means there are set processes and strategies in place for how mentoring is done across the organisation. Rather than it taking a department 6 weeks of work from scratch, a program could be launched in a matter of days.

The Head of Mentoring creates this process for running a program to be scalable and repeatable, meaning that mentoring can impact more areas across the business.

The Missing Piece 🧩

If businesses want to scale mentoring successfully, and make it an integral part of their company – it cannot be done on the side of a full time role. Organisations are actually losing out on the full possibilities of mentoring by not creating a dedicated role for it.

A Head of Mentoring is therefore essential for any business who wants to truly see the value of mentoring across the whole organisation, not just among small groups. It solves the issues of lack of ownership, lack of budget, and siloed workforces, while creating innovative growth opportunities beyond an HR function.

So what next?

At Guider we always want to talk mentoring. Hear from some of the businesses we currently support here, and get in touch with the team.

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