Mentoring is not a math exercise!

The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted a failed mentoring program at PayPal based on matching mentors and mentees using an algorithm. Based on their business model and the emerging world of analytics this foray made sense for their operational platform. As a former CEO in the insurance industry I too believe in data and analytics but not in the mentoring space! To their credit they have admitted they missed the mark and are more focused now on the “human connection” needed in successful mentoring relationships.

The article also went on to outline a survey that indicated uneven relationships in the mentoring process and most employees feeling that mentoring was not a formal positive tool in their organizations.

Good mentors both “organic” and “assigned” are a key resource to the success of their protegees in current assignments as well as providing the “wisdom, scar tissue and map reading” all emerging talent need as they grow in organizations – big and small. We all work in dynamic cultures that provide the need for objective sage advice that cannot be found in the formal infrastructure of companies.

As you look to build a mentoring program or restart an abandoned process I offer the following suggestions:

¬ Start small – you will be surprised how tough it is to find the right talent that can mentor effectively.

¬ Don’t be driven by title but by mentor talent and desire when selecting your team

¬ Recognize the mentors with tangible rewards

¬ Protégés should understand this is not a promotion track but the ability to add to their toolkit

¬ Protegees should be chosen to create a “future state” of talent resources that will allow the organization to succeed in the
future. Be mindful of diversity, geographic spread and company need.

¬ The program is not pass/fail – it is a development program that provides results over years not quarters.

¬ The program should be transparent to organization. Those chosen should feel excited and a responsibility to take advantage of
this tool. As you have found out the mentor talent base is scarce – make sure the protegee understands the “benefit” they are
getting. Those not chosen should want ( and deserve ) an explanation as to why “not now” and a clear path to how they
get in program.

¬ C Suite involvement in sponsorship and actual mentoring is vital

Collectively individual successful mentoring creates a stronger organization both in the short term and over a longer competitive landscape. It is part of the “secret sauce” that allow companies to beat the competition, delight the customer and reward the shareholder.

The author spent 40 years in the insurance industry culminating his career as a CEO of a Fortune 500 organization. He currently spends his time as a C Suite Executive Coach, Board member, world traveler and frustrated golfer. He can be contacted at