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You want to make the most of the know-how in your organisation? Mentoring is a great way to transmit skills, know-how and culture through key levels of the organisation. A senior colleague (mentor) is matched to a junior colleague (mentee) and the agenda is driven not by task achievement but rather by personal and professional development. Whilst external coaches bring highly honed coaching skills, an outsider perspective and the safety of a temporary confidential relationship, internal mentors bring their in company experience, knowledge about “what works around here” and positional power to offer unique benefits to the mentees. When mentors can offer this service within their working day, they offer very cost-effective leadership development in the organisation.

Many companies have acknowledged or unacknowledged mentoring programmes, but to get the most out of this activity, it really pays to approach it strategically. Here I outline 3 key considerations in setting up an effective mentoring programme.

Mentoring Skills

When Mentoring is informal, mentors often think they’re doing a good job when they are giving their mentees the benefit of their vast experience; telling hair raising heroic war stories and then saying, “what you should do now is..…” This might be helpful, but more may be achieved when a mentor is a good listener, can ask the questions that get the mentee really thinking and can set challenges where the mentee learns by doing. Senior leaders can often be a little isolated from the lower levels of the organisation and so underestimate the power distance that may exist between mentor and mentee, and they can fail to recognise how a mentoring conversation differs from their regular business encounters.

This is where a preparatory workshop for mentors can be really helpful. As well as setting some expectations for things like the purpose of mentoring, confidentiality and time commitments, mentors can get to think about how to achieve the right balance of talking/listening, support/challenge, feedback/acceptance.


I watched a rerun of a Sex in the City recently in which Charlotte hires her replacement at the gallery, choosing someone because she is just like herself at an earlier age. It’s a big risk in informal mentoring that mentors chose mini-me proteges and then proceed to make them even more so. On the positive side, it’s easier for like-minded people to find rapport, and transmission of values and culture can be effective, but there are risks of a mono-culture producing stagnation, the opportunity cost of missing out on diversity in perspectives and skills, and at worst discrimination. Selecting who gets to be mentored and matching the pairs optimally is a skill. Options include matching strengths, targeting a missing skill or working style, working across disciplines, gender, nationality or supporting a specific task.

Organisation Development

Mentoring programmes can produce some unexpected organisational benefits. When mentor-mentee pairs are matched across functions, silo thinking can be challenged and improved cross-functional co-operation often follows. In addition to improved communication of company purpose, strategy and culture from mentor to mentee, mentors also report an improved understanding of the workings of the organisation and the perspectives of their colleagues. Increased contact improves succession planning (but do watch out for confidentiality issues, it’s important to agree ground rules and stick to them). Once you feel confident in your mentoring programme, perhaps it’s time to think about mentoring cross-company, either to gain insights from other industries or to support the local community.


At Creative Vectors coaching we help organisations design and implement mentoring programmes and offer ongoing support. Or for a truly outsider perspective, why not consider external one-to-one or team coaching?

What’s your experience of mentoring? Get in touch for a no-obligation discussion.