The Many Looks of Mentorship Programs

Beaulieu_mentoring programs July 11, 2022 By: Jamie Beaulieu, CAE

Associations have a lot of options available to them when it comes to deciding what format to use for their mentoring programs. But no matter what they move forward with, it’s important that the program has a foundation that makes the parameters and goals clear. Here’s a look at some possibilities.

Mentorship programs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are one-to-one, some are groups, some pair professionals at different career stages, and others involve peer groups. Mentor moments can be years-long relationships or isolated settings, intended to last a day. Additionally, programs can focus on skill building, career development, life coaching, or all the above. It’s important, however, from the origin of the relationship to outline a foundation of understanding of the needs, the parameters, and the goals. This way, all parties understand what they have committed to and the rules of engagement.

Let’s examine a few examples of programs currently in the field.

“Senior” to “Junior” Professional Mentoring

The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) has a decades-long fellowship program called the Neuroscience Scholars Program (NSP). The program is focused on increasing the number of underrepresented neuroscience researchers (UNR) into leadership positions within academia. Each year, a cohort of 18 scientists at the graduate student or post-doctoral level are selected to be fellows for the two-year program. Fellows are each matched with a senior mentor who works alongside them to ensure their success in the program and serves as a guide for career development and progression.

Each organization needs to determine their best opportunities based on how their members like to engage.

At the beginning of the program, matched pairs discuss and sign a mentoring agreement, which outlines the expectations of their relationship and the frequency of their meetings over the term of the program. Additionally, the mentee-mentor pairs connect at SfN’s Annual Meeting. Ava Onalaja, SfN’s director of advocacy and training, noted this agreement is an essential element in the success of the program as it ensures accountability by both parties.

“Regarding program impact, fellows commented that the NSP allows them to meaningfully interact with other UNR scientists and gives them strength and encouragement when they struggle,” Onalaja said. “Frequently, mentees have stated their deep appreciation for the mentoring aspect of the program. Several said they experienced a stronger sense of belonging in neuroscience and felt more empowered and confident as scientists.”

Reverse Mentoring

Flexibility and the ability to be fluid may be a need for your organization, especially when starting a new program. Diana Tavares Mertz, senior director, membership and engagement, for the American Staffing Association, said that this model has worked well for her members and has created unique opportunities for learning and growth. One unique mentoring type that has emerged is known as reverse mentoring. This is where a more seasoned mentee is mentored by a younger person in their field or industry.

"Our Mentor Match program has seen success and has supported mentees at all different career stages. We have seen peer mentoring, emerging leaders with experienced professionals, and we've also received mentor requests from executives looking for reverse mentorship from a more junior professional,” Mertz said. “These executives tend to have 20-plus years of experience and glean insight and perspective on the industry, tips on recruiting trends, and even guidance on managing younger staff. Those that have participated as mentees have loved meeting others in the industry and have appreciated a different perspective.”

Peer-to-Peer Mentoring

Peer-to-peer mentoring is another type of program that can be facilitated through an association. Groups of professionals at the same level can take part in passively facilitated discussions to provide support and learn from one another. This engagement type works well in conference settings and doesn’t need to be a sustained relationship, making the barrier for entry low, while keeping the value high.

At the American Bankers Association, we accomplish this style of mentoring with our CEO audience. During conferences or large council meetings, we hold peer exchange sessions, grouping participants by bank asset size or around specific content areas, to have discussions on business operations challenges from human capital to technology. These sessions help the bankers get a sense for how noncompeting colleagues are managing their businesses and succession planning. Staff present during these discussions can use any takeaways to develop new programs and services to meet membership needs.

John C. Maxwell said, “One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.” Associations provide the venue for their members and stakeholders to find these mentors. These venues could be at virtual or in-person conferences, through cohort-based education or leadership programs, or even on your organization’s Facebook page.

Each organization needs to determine their best opportunities based on how their members like to engage, and especially, what their specific goals are.

Anecdotally, one of the primary fallacies of association mentoring programs is trying to scale up too quickly, which typically results in an unbalanced number of mentors or mentees. My advice would be to start smaller with a strategy of how to scale the program in a sustainable way. Consider alternate mentor moments and ways to integrate them into your conferences and events. Think about how it might make sense to turn mentor moments into longer-sustained relationships. Whether you work with a professional society or a trade organization, most of your members and stakeholders have a desire to grow or give back to their industries. This makes mentoring programs a win-win.

This part two of a three-article series on mentoring. Part one discussed strategies for starting a mentoring program, while part three will look at how to support a program post-launch.

Jamie Beaulieu, CAE

Jamie Beaulieu, CAE, is senior vice president, executive education and CEO programs, at the American Bankers Association in Washington, DC.