Eight Things to Look for in a Mentoring Champion
The success or failure of a formal mentoring program depends on one role: the program’s champion. Dr. Sherry Hartnett explains what a mentoring champion does, and how to pick the best person for the job.
So your company has decided to start a mentoring program. That’s great. A well-designed, well-executed, scalable mentoring program can help you attract and retain talent, improve employee satisfaction, drive organizational performance, build a deep bench, and more. Now…who’s going to lead it?
“Don't rush this decision. A mentoring champion is the foundation on which all else is built. The person you choose will make or break your program.”
Dr. Sherry Hartnett
“In a nutshell, a mentoring champion leads the effort to organize, oversee, and administrate your program from the ground up,” says Dr. Hartnett, coauthor along with Bert Thornton of the new book High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives. “They set goals with senior leaders and create materials and resources. They recruit, match, and train mentors and mentees. And through it all, they continually promote, nurture, and improve the mentoring program to ensure results.”
Dr. Hartnett, who is founding director of the University of West Florida’s Executive Mentor Program, also serves as its champion. Based on her observations and personal experience, she has identified eight “must-have” qualities to look for when choosing a champion of your own:
1. A champion must have the time and the desire to lead your program.
A major reason why many mentoring programs fail is because they’re thrown together and led by overextended people who may not have wanted the responsibility in the first place. Ideally, Dr. Hartnett suggests hiring a full-time program champion, because it takes time and focus to create, maintain, and continually improve a robust mentoring program.
“Alternatively, you might select a division or department leader to be the program champion,” she says. “With their team’s support, the workload can be divided and prioritized among multiple people.”
2. They need business experience.
Whether your program champion is an external hire or is recruited from within the organization, they should have business experience and credentials. In many ways, a mentoring champion performs the same functions as any other department head, especially if they have a support staff. This person will also be required to liaise and collaborate with other leaders in the organization, and they’ll need to be familiar with your organization’s structure, procedures, and strategic goals.
3. A champion should have a broad, diverse network.
Your champion will be in charge of recruiting mentors and mentees, as well as heavily involved in matching these pairs. The more connections they have within and outside of your company, the better!
“Before I became program champion of the Executive Mentor Program at UWF, I enjoyed a 20-year career in marketing and had made hundreds of connections,” shares Dr. Hartnett. “So when I needed to approach business leaders to become mentors, my database was full of skilled people to call upon.”
4. A champion should be a good judge of character.
In a large corporation, it would be difficult for one person to know every mentor and mentee, especially if they are coming from 20 or 30 different departments. Therefore, the program champion should be a good judge of character, someone who quickly and easily establishes rapport with others.
“Even in a smaller company, there will probably be some participants your champion won’t know well, so having good intuition about others is a plus,” notes Dr. Hartnett.
“Having good intuition and being able to easily establish rapport with others is a plus.”
Dr. Sherry Hartnett
5. A champion must be a connector.
Your champion will need to “connect the dots” between people and opportunities, and bring them together in a meaningful way. Dr. Hartnett observes that most “connector” personalities in this role are affable, energetic, optimistic, willing to take chances, and enjoy collaborating.
“Successful champions also understand that connecting is different from networking,” she adds. “Where networking is often regarded as a means to an end, connecting is driven by a genuine interest in other people. Connectors want to better support and assist others, while making a difference in their lives and careers.”
6. A champion is also a doer.
This ability to influence and connect people must be balanced with the ability to get things done. A sociable “big idea” person who has trouble executing will not serve your company well in this role. The champion must emphasize results and accountability. They need to be able to see the big picture, accept challenges, and get straight to the point.
“Look for leaders who are tenacious and who possess enough willpower to drive not only themselves, but the whole group, toward goals,” adds Dr. Hartnett. “A big part of their role is building, not maintaining the status quo.”
7. They should be able to think strategically.
A successful champion must have a long-term perspective. They need to be able to visualize where your program is going while executing each step of the plan with determination and precision—all while communicating their vision to others.
8. A champion needs the full support of the organization’s leaders.
To create a thriving mentoring program, you’ll need buy-in from your organization’s top stakeholders (e.g., board of directors, senior management team, or C-suite). Therefore, your champion must be someone who has the full, unwavering support of these people, and who can convince them that a mentoring program is aligned with your organization’s business objectives and strategic goals.
“Your champion will be in charge of garnering initial support from leaders, yes—but they’ll also need to regularly report in, share stories and metrics, and ensure that organizational and financial support for the program continue to be a priority,” says Dr. Hartnett.