Strategic Mentoring

Laura Lynch Photo
Products & Services Manager

3 minutes

During a webinar on strategic mentoring presented for CUES in September, Tony Kirschner, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. and partner at Davies Park Executive Search, a CUES strategic partner, pointed to these issues which most organizations face at one time or another: retention, engagement and succession planning. While these may be seen as HR issues, they’re more organizational in nature to Kirschner.

“When we talk about HR issues and HR programs, sustainability is always the key. And what we have seen, and I think this is systemic across all industries, is sometimes if you have programs that are driven by HR, it’s hard to sustain them. You may get some early wins and you may get some turn around in whatever metrics you’re trying to look at, but it’s hard, over time, to actually drive that into culture, unless you figure out a plan around sustainability,” said Kirschner. “One of the things we found is that mentoring is a really good way to make it organic, because it doesn’t become an HR program—it becomes an organizational program.

“One thing that we haven’t found in talking with thousands of executives, and something I’ve never seen in 25 years of doing this, is a top-performing executive in any level in any sector who wasn’t mentored and who wasn’t also in some way giving back and acting later in his or her career as a mentor,” said Kirschner.

In credit unions, mentoring frequently happens when senior executives take a less experienced staff member under their wing. In this case, the goal is likely a general one: to professionally develop less experienced staff members and advance their career at the credit union.

Mentoring to address organizational issues is more structured and strategic than the informal mentoring that may already be happening at most credit unions.

Strategic mentoring begins by tying a mentoring program to HR or organizational issues. For example, if a CU’s employee engagement is a persistent issue, the CU can implement mentoring aimed at specifically improving employee engagement metrics. Strategic mentoring is a way to start talking about organizational issues and to begin approaching them organically with staff.

The monetary investment to set up a mentoring program is small. But the time investment is large—and it is key to the success of the program. It involves work. Sometimes the mentor has to prepare work that the protégé must complete. If participants want to grow, they have to do the work, which typically involves a project. “If there’s no accountability, if they can just dial it in, you know where that will go in terms of you program quality,” Kirschner said.

Kirschner suggested weekly meetings for three to four months as a starting point, depending on the type of issues being addressed in the mentoring program. “For a formal mentoring program, you want to have a very clear definition [and boundaries] around the beginning [of the relationship], expectations during and [at the] end [of the formal mentorship]. It is a process that you go through and then it ends. This doesn’t mean the relationships won’t extend, but ... you want to give some structure and closure, framework and shared accountability to it,” he said.

He laid out these key considerations for developing a structured mentoring program:

  • Who qualifies?  Mentoring doesn't cost any money, but it does cost time so participants should be chosen with care.
  • Single or multiple mentoring relationships?  Although mentoring is typically 1:1, there are opportunities for group mentoring or one person mentoring several people individually.
  • Internal or external mentors?  This relates to the size of your organization; if you don't have enough senior staff willing to do it, you can find external mentors. The problem here can be confidentiality and sustainability.
  • Management versus frontline staff?  One of the more obvious places this connects is succession planning. When you have a formal succession plan program, there is a risk of people expecting promotions, so the way the program is communicated and implemented is key to prevent confusion.

Further, both the mentor and mentee will benefit from the relationship in a good mentoring program. Kirschner said, "It's a reciprocal relationship. If the mentor doesn't get something out of the relationship, if they don't learn something new from the younger cohort, it won't be something they want to continue and it won't be as satisfying and it won't be as effective."

Laura Lynch is CUES' products & services manager.

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