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Organisations in Southern Africa are increasingly looking to the implementation of mentorship as a proactive strategy to develop and retain talent. This has ensured that accelerated leadership development has not only been recognised as a key business priority, but also as an opportunity for business to reflect the demographics of the country at senior management level and in other key positions.

Even with the priority and the opportunity it creates to accelerate leadership development, many unanswered questions and valid concerns still stifle the commitment to the process. Some organizations support an informal approach (despite the lack of proof of progress or success), while others battle to ensure the sustainability of the initiative. Others are profiting from "developing home grown talent", "mining human gold" and "growing their own timber". Let us look at some of the best practices from these progressive organisations:

Top management support for the initiative is essential

The programme should be endorsed, funded and visibly supported by the CEO and senior members of the management team. By making time available for mentor relationships they too can experience the joys of mentoring and being part of this wonderful growth experience.

Clarify the purpose of the mentor programme

Ask why do we do this? Link the programme to succession planning, identify those critical positions for which talented individuals should be prepared and developed.

Remember the more specific the goal, the easier it is to design the programme and the better the chance for the organisation to benefit from its investment.

Create small pockets of success

Identify a small group of protégés who will be mentored over a shorter period e.g. 6-9 months. Initially assign one protégé to a mentor as this will ensure learning and development which builds commitment for more challenging initiatives. Success breeds success!

Encourage mentors to volunteer

Mentors should not be coerced into a development relationship. Mentors should be selected who are role models because of their job performance and commitment to this development initiative. They should also have the necessary expertise, career maturity, business acumen and credibility in the organisation.

Promote a process through which protégés apply for participation

Their selection should be transparent. The criteria should be administratively sound and politically defendable. The most important criteria, however, are the applicant's potential for further growth and development, the willingness to invest in and manage their own development, to learn from their mentors and their commitment to the mentorship concept.

Invest in an aggressive internal marketing campaign

One cannot expect talented employees to embrace this initiative if the programme itself does not have a high profile in the organisation. The campaign should clarify the purpose of the mentorship programme, the criteria for selection as well as address the concerns of all employees e.g. unsuccessful participants (who have applied) should not feel that they have no future in the organisation.

Build the capacity of both the mentor and protégé

The mentor should understand his or her role in the process as well as developing the skills to manage the challenges of such a relationship. The protégé is responsible for his or her growth and development and should learn the core skills that will assist them in being proactive regarding development opportunities in the organisation.

Orientate line managers and coaches

These key role players have a massive contribution towards the success of a mentorship initiative. It is vital that line managers of protégé's, as well as coaches, understand their roles as well as how they contribute to the success of such an initiative.

Democratise the matching of mentors and protégés

A "forced marriage" between mentor and protégé does not facilitate a trust relationship. Allow protégés to select or identify the mentors they are prepared to partner and with whom they are willing to enter into a mentor relationship. We recommend a short process that will facilitate a practical matching process for the protégé but also the mentor. (A mentor should not have more than one or two protégés!)

Promote opportunities for the mentors/protégés to invest in their relationship

The mentor and protégé should address concerns, clarify roles, deal with expectations and contract the relationship. Issues for contracting include how often, where, and when to meet, confidentiality in the relationship, honesty in feedback as well as measurements for success. Research shows that mentor relationships that are properly structured provide better opportunities for a meaningful relationship.

Document the progress of the different mentorship relationships

A standardised feedback form which will provide the necessary proof of progress and development initiatives which have been implemented, should be established for the protégés.

Invest in a mentorship maintenance day

There must be opportunities for both the mentors and protégés to evaluate the success of the process. Such periodic reviews will not only ensure continuous learning, but also provides opportunities for the protégé to sustain his or her development plan.

Evaluate the success of the mentorship programme

Revisit the initial "Why did you invest in this programme". The measurements for success, competence ratings, promotions, accomplishments, retention of talent, client feedback, business generated and money saved should be clearly defined.

The above demystifies the mentoring initiative and should provide some guidelines for the implementation of mentorship within organisations. The benefit of being proactive in addressing the premature departure of young professionals, the stagnation of solid performers with potential and establishing a pool of qualified people to fill senior management and other critical posts, is embraced through the mentorship concept. Never before has there been a better time, and more compelling reasons to focus on the development of your people!

Please view the foregoing guidelines within the context of your own organisation. The planning and implementation of mentorship requires an understanding of the strategic focus of the business, the commitment of the stakeholders, the culture of the business and the purpose for the process. All of the above could influence the content and outline of mentorship within your organisation.

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