In research for ‘How to make partner and still have a life’, my co-author Jo and I, discovered one of the drivers of making partner successfully was to have a formal (or informal ) mentoring process helping career development. In smaller firms a mentor may simply help your team to improve productivity. This post is adapted from one originally featured in AccountingWeb. In your firm you may hope that using mentors will help with staff retention, development and employee engagement. You might also consider providing potential partners with a mentor. This article considers the first 4 things you need to think about before embarking on your own firm’s mentoring scheme.

People helping each up  - like a mentoring scheme in a professional firm.

1. Why start a mentoring scheme?

Before you start any kind of mentoring initiative you need to fully understand the purpose and intended effect of the initiative. For example, are you thinking about introducing a scheme in your firm to help with:

  • Retention of talent
  • Improving productivity or employee engagement (your mentors might feel really engaged)
  • Development of staff, at whatever level is relevant to you and them
  • Creating new partner(s) to help with succession planning

Whether its just you, or you and partners, it can be difficult to  get the scheme up and running, get mentors to support mentees, keep the scheme going long term (and it is a long term thing); unless you’re clear about the ‘reason why’

2. Research

Before you start mentoring staff, you need to fully understand what is in it for both the mentors and the mentees, and get their buy-in to mentoring.

  • What do your prospective mentees want from such a scheme?
  • How do they see it running?
  • Do they want to be allocated a mentor, or be able to choose their own one? There may not even be any choice if you’re doing it all internally.
  • What sorts of help do they want from their mentor?
  • What barriers can both prospective mentors and mentees see or envisage that might impede the success of a mentoring within your firm?
  • What can you learn from successful mentoring initiatives in other firms?

3. What’s the incentive

Being a good mentor takes time, and when your firm’s focus is on increasing utilisation, mentoring can slip down the priority list. If your firm is serious about using mentoring to nurture and keep talent, then you can’t afford to let mentoring time to be relegated to the ‘when we are not so busy list’. In fact  promising somebody mentoring and then not fully delivering can be worse than not starting in the first place.

Perhaps you need to agree to a ‘budget’ or ‘target’ number of mentoring hours for mentors, this will help keep mentoring on the priority list, even when the firm is running at full capacity.

4. Do you need an informal or formal scheme?

You’ve only got a small firm, so you may think the answer is obvious.; but do consider it. A formal scheme may take more time to run and administer, but should give better results than an informal scheme. It’s more likely that you consider your firm to be too small for a formal scheme; running an informal scheme may be better for your firm in the short and/or long term. It may even be that your intended targets don’t even want a mentor.

Part 2 (published next week) looks at the last 5 things for firms to think about before starting a mentoring scheme.

Written by Heather Townsend helps professionals and firms become the Go-To-Expert. If you want to grow your firm, and get more from your team, download Leading your team to new heights: Five essentials that every professional should be doing , click for your copy.

Photo used under creative commons licence. For more information, click here.