The effect of organisational context on mentoring success: What you need to know.
How does organisational context affect mentoring?
Mentoring is an invaluable tool for individual and business growth, but the effectiveness of mentoring programs can be significantly influenced by the organisational context in which they are implemented. To maximise the impact of mentoring, it’s important to understand how the organisational context affects it.
The culture of the organisation is a key factor that can influence the success of mentoring programs. As Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes note, “You can expose cultural assumptions and practices, and set to work aligning organisational elements with one another, and with your strategy” (Johnson et al., Mindtools). An organisation that has a culture of coaching and mentoring is more likely to embrace a mentoring program, and the intervention is more likely to be successful due to its inherent openness to it. Senior leaders who have been engaged as a mentor are also more likely to support mentoring programs and gain buy-in from the rest of the businesses. Mentoring is more likely to be successful in organisations that have a culture of openness, where both mentors and mentees have a sense of psychological security, resulting in better development outcomes.
To get a more in-depth understanding of how the organisation’s culture can affect mentoring, we can use the ‘cultural web’ analysis developed by Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes. This analysis examines and exposes the stories, rituals and routines, symbols, organisational structure, control systems, and power structures within an organisation. By using it, “you can expose cultural assumptions and practices, and set to work aligning organisational elements with one another, and with your strategy” (Johnson et al., Mindtools).
Within companies that have a culture of openness, mentoring is also more likely to be successful. If both mentors and mentees have a sense of psychological security, better relationships will be formed, and openness will result in better development outcomes. On the other hand, if an organisation’s culture is not supportive of mentoring, it may be challenging to get the necessary buy-in and resources to make a mentoring programme successful.
Another critical component of a successful mentoring program is scoping and resourcing it appropriately. Leaders within the business need to understand this explicitly, and the potential return on investment is important to get buy-in. “If insufficient funding, external resource and time are allocated to a program, at best it is likely to be ineffective, at worst case damaging to the profession as a whole” (Johnson et al., Mindtools). Organisations that have had a poor experience with a mentoring program are unlikely to try another attempt at mentoring in the future.
The way an organisation is structured can have an impact on the nature and success of a mentoring program. For example, larger businesses tend to have more formal matrix structures and hierarchies, which may make mentees uncomfortable seeking guidance from more experienced staff. On the other hand, flatter structures can present problems if there is not a clear differentiation in terms of experience and leadership between mentor and mentee. Smaller organisations may also struggle if they do not have enough experienced staff to start a program and may have to look outside the organisation for help.
Diversity is another often overlooked issue when it comes to the success of mentoring programs. Organisations that are diverse and inclusive are more likely to succeed in this respect. As Nancy Kline notes, “We learn so much from people who are not like us” (Kline, Time to Think). Mentors who come from different backgrounds collectively have more experience to offer than might be relatable to the mentees in the organisation. To maximise the impact of a mentoring program, it may be necessary to bring in mentors from different backgrounds to have a good matching process.
As with any new development within a business, overt and continued support can affect the success of mentoring. It is important from the outset that an organisation promotes the program and management at all levels support and promote it to their teams. “The more the organisation gets behind the intervention as a whole, the more likely it is to succeed” (Johnson et al., Mindtools).
Finally, communication within the organisation needs to be good to ensure a successful program. businesses that already have open lines and utilise feedback are more likely to have employees open to constructive feedback and understand the importance of open communication. As Nancy Kline notes, “The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first” (Kline, Time to Think).
In conclusion, it is important to understand that the success of a mentoring program is largely dependent on the organisational context in which it is implemented. The culture, resources, structure, diversity, support, and communication within the business can significantly impact the effectiveness of the mentoring program.
Organisations that have a culture of coaching and mentoring, are more likely to engage in a scheme of mentoring and it is also more likely that the intervention will be successful due to the inherent openness to it. The way an organisation is structured can sometimes have an impact on the nature and success of a mentoring program. Flatter structures can also present problems if there is not a clear differentiation in terms of experience and leadership between mentor and mentee. Organisations that are diverse and inclusive are more likely to succeed in this respect.
It is important to be aware of all these factors when considering a mentoring program, as depending on the organisational context it may not be appropriate, or in fact, the most effective intervention in all situations. Mentoring is good at affecting some changes, but not all, so at the outset, clear expectations should be set of what is possible with this type of intervention.
Overall, the success of a mentoring program depends on careful consideration of the organisational context and addressing these factors can help ensure a successful mentoring program.
For more information on mentoring, please see my previous article on the basics of mentoring.