Setting up a mentoring scheme

Section subject: How to use an eight-step process to set up a comprehensive and effective mentoring scheme.


There are many things to consider when setting up a mentoring scheme. First and foremost are the objectives for your scheme.

Alongside these questions you will also need to consider what benefits you would like it to produce and the nature of the scheme itself. For example, is it focused on the needs of individuals or on the objectives of the organisation? It is also necessary to think about how these two aims might be integrated.

This section looks at a step-by-step approach to setting up a mentoring scheme. It will give you the opportunity to reflect on your own context and consider what kind of scheme would best develop your workforce and your organisation.

Learning objectives

This section will help you to:

Your scheme requirements

At this stage it’s all about planning. A little time for thought and reflection at this point will allow you to set up the scheme that is most effective for your purposes.

So, what do you need to consider?

Point 1

Aims and objectives need to be thought through clearly so that your scheme can be designed to achieve them. A good tip is to focus on particular aspects of performance that need to be improved. Previous evidence of underperformance, such as inspection reports or personal development plans, could be useful.

Point 2

Using smart objectives (Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timescale) is advisable because any evaluation can be focused on outcomes that you have previously set. For example, ‘A mentoring co-ordinator will be established in every department’ is easily measurable, whereas, ‘teachers’ personal well-being will be enhanced’ is not.

Point 3

Think big, start small. Whilst it may be tempting to bring the benefits of your scheme to all staff, it may be wiser to embark on a pilot scheme to test your model first. Resources may need to be targeted and areas of work will need to be prioritised.

Point 4

A formal selection process could seem off-putting to some potential mentors, but on the other hand it should make sure that you get the people with the right skill set. For example, you could set a minimum specification in terms of qualification and years in post. The level of resource available will govern the extent of your scheme and levels of expertise. If there is a low level of resource you may need to use volunteers and train them.

Point 5

There are obvious advantages to a formal matching process as it increases the chances of compatible people being matched. Whether you include matches across areas of differing expertise is an issue. For example, a construction teacher may not immediately see the advantage of being mentored by a literacy teacher.

Point 6

Voluntary or compulsory? This really is a management call. You could keep the scheme voluntary and hope that other people join when news of its success spreads. Alternatively, you could make it compulsory. The advantage of this is that you can target your programme in areas of real need and instigate change.

Point 7

Opting in and out is, again, a difficult call. Pressures of work, family difficulties and change of job roles can all require an opt-out position. You need to consider flexibility for the participants against utilising your resource. You might want to consider an agreement to commit for a specific time period and/or so many sessions.

Point 8

Having an arbiter or supervisor for difficulties within the scheme is an essential part of any mentoring scheme. Mentoring is not always a smooth path to follow as it is essentially a process of change, so there will be conflicts that need to be resolved. Your choice of personnel will be crucial.

Point 9

A contract gives a sound foundation for the mentoring agenda. Both parties are clear about purpose, duration and limits of discourse and what can and cannot be talked about. The actual mentoring topics may still extend beyond the contract but the contract provides the foundation of trust between mentee and mentor.

Point 10

Payment by the organisation means that they have analysed the benefits to be accrued through mentoring and offset the cost against other human resource activities. It may also mean that they expect the mentoring programme to be aligned with organisational objectives. In the field of teaching and learning this shouldn’t be a problem because all resources are ultimately channelled towards improving the learner’s experience and performance.

Point 11

A formal programme for mentees and mentors will multiply the beneficial effects of mentoring and provide a wider audience for resolving difficulties. It should also provide a forum for the development of a self-reflecting learning community.

Point 12

A mentor training programme is pretty much essential if you wish to provide an equitable experience for mentees across the organisation.

Point 13

Any mixing up of mentoring with performance appraisal is undesirable. The mentee/mentor relationship is based on trust. Confidentiality of discussions is important. Only in this safe, non-judgemental environment will reflection and change occur.

Point 14

Your evaluation process will have to be linked to your initial objectives, although you should consider a multipoint evaluation by all stakeholders, mentees, mentors, management representatives and learners. Your scheme might be achieving things beyond your initial aims. You may also need to monitor any improvements in teaching and learning that might be directly related to the mentoring scheme.

Scheme steps

Consider this eight-step process for setting up a mentoring scheme.

Step 1 Decide and finalise scheme objectives.
Step 2 Work out the operational details of your scheme – determine stakeholders and gatekeepers.
Step 3 Define the extent of the mentor’s role and attributes required.
Step 4 Establish a mentor training programme.
Step 5 Match mentors to mentees.
Step 6 Develop a handbook that outlines the mentoring process.
Step 7 Develop a methodology and plan for scheme monitoring and evaluation.
Step 8 Review your scheme annually.

Step 1 – scheme aims and objectives

The first step is to establish the aims and objectives of your scheme. Remember, objectives are better when they are SMART – Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timescale.

Step 2 – scheme details

After establishing your scheme aims and objectives the next step is to decide how your scheme will be led and by whom. This may take some time, as you will need to consider not only the best person or people for the task, but also how to win over other stakeholders. Who will be the key people that might see the benefits of such a scheme and resource it?

Step 3 – mentor and mentee roles

For a mentoring scheme to be successful, both mentor and mentee roles need to be defined. To identify and select suitable mentors, you’ll need to think about what you want the mentor role in your scheme to be. You’ll need to decide on how many mentors you need and how they’ll be identified. What skills, attitudes, and experience will they need?

Step 4 – mentor training

A training programme should be provided for all mentors – a minimum would be one day. It will help mentors understand what to expect and how they fit into the scheme. The training may not be confined to the beginning of their role; it may introduce them to their role and role requirements and then be part of a monitoring and review process, and so meet their needs during the programme.

Step 5 – matching mentors and mentees

Informal matching of mentors and mentees can work. For example, if there’s a recognised mentor in the mentee’s area of work and they are paired up. A more formal process requires time and effort but will certainly bring rewards later. Profiles of mentors and mentees are reviewed by outside sources like human resources or a small committee and they match those they think most appropriate. You’ll need to consider your aims, resources and other practical constraints such as the location and proximity of the mentor and mentee.

You can use matching criteria, common learning styles for example. Research shows that if the mentor and mentee have similar learning styles this helps communication and relationship building.

Step 6 – using handbooks

A handbook is a useful tool for mentors and mentees to offer guidelines for the mentoring process. Mentoring is often a remote activity and the handbook can be essential when mentors and mentees in the scheme rarely meet together. But what should your mentoring handbook contain?

Step 7 – monitor and evaluate

Despite the best efforts of the selection process it’s possible that relationships won’t develop or will become acrimonious. If this happens mentees should be able to change mentors without blame. However, you will need to be careful that mentees don’t move to a series of mentors to avoid difficult problems or decisions. If this happens you may require an arbiter.

The key question here is how will you evaluate the effectiveness of your scheme while it is in progress and who will you ask?

A focus on all participants will be useful and you may want to establish census points during the process. Alternatively an overall arbiter could take feedback from mentees and mentors alike to monitor progress. You could use a variety of methods, from focus groups to questionnaires or anonymous suggestions for improvement.

Step 8 – scheme reviews

It is essential that you carry out an annual review of your scheme so that you can improve it. The same questions you use for ongoing monitoring will apply, but you may want to focus on the extent to which you’ve achieved your initial aims and objectives. Others may also want to review whether or not your ideas for organisational development have given value for money.

Final word

In setting up a mentoring scheme it is important that a formal scheme has the backing of management. It should be seen as a redistribution of human resource development funds into an alternative yet potentially more effective form of continuing professional development.

Start on a small scale if resources are not forthcoming, prove its effectiveness and then expand. Unfortunately, in many cases mentoring is an extra role that goes above and beyond normal job requirements. In some FE colleges, advanced practitioners do have mentoring within their job descriptions but there is often a lack of formal training. In any organisation there will be people who see themselves as mentors. It is important to work with these staff to enhance their skills in workforce development. Look at the following action plan to view the eight scheme steps you recorded in this section.

You might like to reflect on the issues arising from this section and make some notes for the future.

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