Mentoring Agreements and Coaching Plans
Establishing Ground Rules for a Successful Partnership
Mac is struggling. He's three months into his mentoring program with Jenna, a senior VP in marketing, but he still isn't clear about what progress he has made. What's more, his goals are shifting with every session. He also feels that Jenna sees the process as a waste of her time.
The two things that Mac needs above all else are a mentoring agreement and a coaching plan.
Finding a mentor who can make a difference to your career isn't as simple as approaching a colleague and asking for help. To be effective, a mentoring relationship needs to be properly structured, so that both the mentor and you, the mentee (the person receiving mentoring), understand the requirements of the process.
In this article, we explore how you can set the ground rules for effective mentoring, and how to put a goal-centered coaching plan into effect.
What Is a Mentoring Agreement?
A mentoring agreement is a formal document that clearly sets out the structure of the relationship between you and your mentor, and the roles and responsibilities of both parties.
Mentoring can fail if there are any misunderstandings between mentor and mentee about their needs or expectations. So, having a written agreement of this kind before mentoring begins is important. Also, you'll likely need the terms of the relationship clearly laid out for your manager to see, if a third party is involved.
You and your mentor should treat this type of agreement as a contract, and you should both sign the document. Many organizations ask line managers to sign it, too, because this shows that they have understood the commitments and resources involved.
The Mentor and Mentee's First Meeting
When you're hoping to establish a relationship with a mentor, the first person to speak with about it is your line manager, to seek his or her approval. In most organizations, you'll likely then contact your HR department and your proposed mentor, but check your company's policies and processes to be sure.
If everybody concerned is happy to proceed, you and your mentor should hold at least one meeting before formal mentoring begins. This meeting has three main goals:
- Getting to know one another. Building rapport and finding common ground will help your relationship to flourish. This should be informal: it's easier to bond over a coffee than when you're sitting either side of a desk in a senior manager's office, for example.
- Establishing what the relationship will achieve. Make your goals clear, for this particular arrangement and for your career in general. This gives your mentor "the big picture." This is also a good time for you to discuss your learning styles and communication preferences, so that you can get the most from future meetings.
- Defining the mentoring agreement. You can discuss the details thoroughly and draw up the mentoring agreement together, including your "ground rules" for the process.
What to Include in a Mentoring Agreement
A mentoring agreement needs to be clear about the roles of both mentor and mentee. It should establish that the benefits (such as a happier and more focused "you") outweigh the costs (such as spending time in meetings) for both you and your mentor, and for your respective teams.
An effective agreement covers the following areas:
1. Expectations and Goals
Discuss your expectations and the outcomes that you would both like to see, and identify any possible problems in attaining them. Agree on a common purpose for the mentoring, and set measurable goals – this is essential for success. These goals should align with your personal development plan, if you have one.
Remember, your mentor will likely have his or her own goals for the process, too, and will share these with you. After all, mentoring can build a mentor's leadership and communication skills, for example, and increase his own engagement and job satisfaction.
2. Timing and Location of Meetings
Make an agreement with your mentor about where, how often, and for how long you will meet. You may benefit from more frequent sessions at the beginning of the process. The meetings should take place in a private, informal space with minimal distractions or chances of interruption.
Having easy and open channels of communication between meetings can be vital in any mentoring or coaching process. So, discuss how and when to make contact, and how quickly you can expect a response.
For example, you might agree to use instant messaging for urgent queries or changes to arrangements, and to reply to a message within the hour. In addition, you may decide to email once a week to report on progress or to make suggestions for further reading, with no response required until the next meeting.
3. Length of the Relationship
It's useful to agree a fixed period for your mentoring relationship, as this will help both of you to maintain a focus on your goals. But, of course, either you or your mentor can extend the timeframe if you need to.
4. Honesty and Confidentiality
An effective mentoring relationship is built on open and honest communication, and it requires both you and your mentor to commit to frank but respectful exchanges of feedback. Equally, you should both agree not to disclose anything that you discuss together unless you agree that it's appropriate to do so.
Sessions can easily stray into personal issues that are irrelevant or inappropriate to share, and that wastes time. So, it's useful to agree in advance what you're both prepared to discuss beyond the specifics of the mentoring agreement.
5. Line Manager's Role
The mentoring agreement should include an undertaking to keep your line manager informed about the progress of the arrangement, and your likely commitments. You both need to ensure that you take note of any feedback and adjust meeting topics and times accordingly.
MindTools Club members can download a Mentoring Agreement Template in interactive PDF format.
What Is a Coaching Plan?
Once you and your mentor have signed your mentoring agreement, your next step is to develop a coaching plan. This is a formalized set of activities for fulfilling the terms of the agreement.
Many coaching plan templates are available, and most organizations with formal mentoring programs will have their own. Mind Tools Club members can download our Coaching Plan Template in interactive PDF format.
All coaching plans have two key sections in common: mentee responsibilities and mentor responsibilities.
The first section is yours to develop. It should fall into three main parts:
- Development areas. These are the specific parts of your job that you want to improve or develop. For example, a customer service manager might identify Dealing With Unhappy Customers as an area that she needs to work on.
- Employee activities. You can suggest specific activities on which your mentor can give feedback. Again, for a customer service manager, that could involve arranging for the mentor to listen to recorded customer calls and to prepare feedback on them.
- Measures of success. You propose clear indicators of success for the coaching arrangement. An example could be, "Increasing the satisfactory resolution of customer complaints by 20 percent over a month." Your mentor can review and comment on these measurements, but you should be responsible for suggesting them.
This section outlines what your mentor needs to do in response to the activities that you've identified. The mentor's responsibilities involve:
- Reviewing the mentoring tasks and activities that you have completed in a given period. For example, listening to recorded calls or reviewing a project management stage.
- Preparing balanced feedback related to your activities in advance of each meeting, and recording it in the coaching plan.
- Suggesting further development ideas. The mentor proposes ideas that can help you to extend your skills. She should highlight any barriers that she sees, and any previously unidentified areas of need. For example, weaknesses in dealing with customer complaints might indicate a more general problem with a lack of assertiveness.
How to Use a Coaching Plan
Your coaching plan needs to be a live document, that both you and your mentor can refer to, add to, and use to record the agreements that you make. This should include further development activities and new goals or objectives that arise during the process.
The best coaching plans are flexible, and allow for changes of direction and emphasis that result from the disoveries you make along the way.
Successful mentoring programs are well structured, with clear ground rules and effective provision for development activities and feedback.
The mentoring agreement is a signed document that sets out the objectives for the process, and describes the means by which you and your mentor will achieve them.
It features clear guidelines for the process as a whole, and includes timelines, means of communicating, and behavior.
Coaching plans cover the details of the process as it develops, setting specific tasks between meetings and allowing for feedback and revised goal-setting where necessary.