Training

Making a Meaningful Mentoring Agreement

Successful mentoring relationships start with a clear agreement about goals, procedures, and limitations, says mentoring expert Lois Zachary.

Too often mentors and mentees start off without doing enough preparationand end up with an unsatisfactory experience, she says. Zachary, author of The Mentor’s Guide and the recently published The Mentee’s Guide to Mentoring, provides guidelines for setting the groundwork for great mentoring.

Preparing for a mentoring relationship

Zachary suggests seven steps in an initial conversation between potential mentor and mentee.

1. Take time to get to know each other. To start out, share career journeys.

2. Talk about mentoring. Talk about individuals who have had a profound impact on your development and learning. Discuss previous mentoring experiences.

3. Share your goals for the process. What does each participant hope to achieve from the relationship?


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4. Determine what each partner needs and expects. Be honest about what you need, says Zachary. A brain to pick? Someone who can help you get your arms around a problem? Someone to give you a kick in the pants?

5. Candidly share personal assumptions. As an example of mismatched assumptions, Zachary offers the following example: The mentee assumes that his or her mentor will be a sounding board, help with day-to-day challenges, provide quick answers to questions, and introduce him or her to his or her network. Meanwhile, the mentor assumes that his or her role is to be a guide, asking questions that help the mentee find answers. Unless the two talk their assumptions through, they will be at cross purposes.

6. Share limitations. Each of us has limitations, whether personal, time related, work related, or physical, says Zachary. It’s best to share them early on.

7. Discuss personal styles. For example, you may have data from Myers Briggs or other instruments that indicate your need for structure or your resistance to "touchy-feely."

Create a Specific Agreement

After an initial discussion, you are ready to prepare a formal agreement, Zachary says. Here are her required ingredients for such agreements:

  • Well-defined goals (What does each participant want to accomplish?)
  • Success criteria and measurement (How will we know if we have succeeded?)
  • Accountability assurances (How do we ensure that we do what we say we are going to do?)
  • Ground rules (What are the norms and guidelines we will follow? Who will be responsible for what?)
  • Confidentiality safeguards (What do we need to do to protect the confidentiality of this relationship?)
  • Boundaries and hot buttons (What are the not-to-exceed limits? What hot buttons exist?)
  • Protocols for addressing stumbling blocks (What process should we have in place to deal with any stumbling blocks we encounter?)
  • Consensual mentoring agreement (What do we need to include to ensure that this agreement works for us?)
  • Mentoring work plan (What are the steps for achieving our goals?)

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