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Written by: Debby Carreau

It is a time-honored tradition in the business world for those who have prospered in a role to share the secrets of that success with new and promising employees. Indeed, many companies actively support that approach through mentorship initiatives where mentors graduate from a formal training program. In order to make the most of such an arrangement, a certain set of criteria applies. When these elements fail, the relationship between the teacher and the mentee becomes problematic.

Here are five signs that your company’s mentorship program has stopped working.

#1. The Mentee is Not Invested

Mentorships are only truly successful if there is a sufficient period for the relationship to develop. Formal mentoring associations usually include check-in schedules, but if the two parties are not able to spend sufficient time together, there is no way for the mentor to fully know their partner and understand of all the variables in play during any given situation. If meetings are so few that the mentee spends most of the time working their way through a long list of questions, it does not make for a pleasant interaction.

While it was the company that paired them up, both parties should come to feel like they are trusted friends; there just also happens to be a professional dimension to this relationship. However, friendships never truly blossom if there is too much time and distance. If a mentee is not making the effort to connect, chances are that she is not finding the counsel useful and does not know how to politely end the relationship. This can be an especially uncomfortable situation if mentees feel like the instruction actually damages their career.

For a mentorship program to truly succeed, it is necessary for the parties involved to periodically reevaluate the relationship. If the mentee makes little or no effort to define the relationship or is not feeling positive about the pairing, it will accomplish little.

#2. The Mentor is Not Invested

While a company may ask someone to act as a mentor, they really need to view the assignment as something productive. If the mentee seems like someone with promise who could prosper under the mentor’s guidance, then the task will be a pleasure. If there is ultimately no connection, the relationship will seem less like guidance and more like instruction. Ideally, mentors should genuinely like their partners and want them to succeed. Feeling connected to that success only heightens the feeling. Without that benefit, it becomes unrewarding—and this negatively taints the experience for both parties.

Mentors should also possess background applicable to their partner’s position. For example, the mentee is in a technical role that constantly changes. The mentor might have established himself in this area previously, but without ongoing learning, that knowledge is outdated, making the advice similarly obsolete.

#3. The Relationship Lacks Proper Intent

Mentorships help new workers prosper in their positions and provide them with the best advice on how to deal with certain situations. However, if it becomes clear to either party that the relationship is straying from that intention, this defeats the original purpose. Perhaps the mentor has an ulterior motive that taints the quality of the advice they are offering? If that is ever the case, the relationship is not only pointless, but also damaging to the mentee and the organization.

#4. The Mentor Has No More Advice to Offer

Even in the most ideal pairing, there can come a time where a mentor simply runs out of helpful advice to provide. Their partner’s position or goals may now stand beyond the mentor’s experience, necessitating a change. This is another instance where re-evaluation is valuable. If the mentoring experience becomes a veteran simply regurgitating stories about “what I did to get here,” it is a waste of both individual’s time. Pair the mentee up with someone else more suited to their position and goals.

#5. The Mentee is not willing to Establish Their Own Identity

As valuable as mentorship is, some mentees may overestimate that worth. The advice offered by the mentor educates and encourages the mentee so that they eventually tackle decisions using their own accumulated knowledge. If the pupil is merely doing everything the mentor says, without learning and understanding the reasoning behind that guidance, it serves little purpose. Indeed it can even stunt the individual’s professional growth. Mentors draw on personal experience to offer instruction, but ultimately, the pupil must make the final decision.

The best mentoring relationships will continue to evolve into more equal affiliations, in which both people are bringing their professional experiences and expertise to the table. However, certain elements need to be in place for a mentorship program to fulfill its purpose. Good advice is critically important, but no one can get it right 100 percent of the time. While mentors’ experiences give them a more developed perspective, they are not infallible. Only their students can understand all the nuances of the situations they face, and it is their responsibility to take what they have learned and apply it on their own.


Debby Carreau is the CEO & Founder of Inspired HR who were voted Canada's Top HR Consultancy in 2015 by HRM.  Debby is the author of The Mentor Myth launching in April 2016 and has been recognized as one of Canada's Most Powerful Women for the past 3 years.  See Debby in person at this year's CPHR Alberta Conference!