One of strongest shifts in the HR world today is from thinking of employees as a resource to be motivated through ratings and pay-for-performance to recognizing employee development as a continuous process that is crucial to organizational success. This new paradigm is driving a number of meaningful changes in the HR world – a shift away from annual performance reviews to “continuous conversations,” a focus on diversity and inclusion to build on individual strengths, and encouragement of immediate feedback through programs such as spot awards.
This shift also propelled the development of our Mentoring solution. Talking to industry thought leaders and our customers, we realized that although managers play a crucial role in employees’ careers, mentors, coaches, and fellows also have a significant influence on employee development. Given the nature of employee-manager relations, there are areas of development that employees are uncomfortable discussing with their managers – such as a desire to change roles, or work for a different team, or improving on a weakness. A neutral third party who only has the employee’s development in mind is crucial in such situations. I have personally benefited from having a mentor guide me through my transition from being a management consultant to a product manager.
Given the importance of a mentor and coach in today’s organization, we started developing a vision for a modern mentoring support solution. We partnered with some of our key customers and engaged our research team to dig deeper. A picture emerged of what mentoring looks like in today’s organizations. A few key takeaways from those months of research were formulated:
- Many companies, though not all, have a programmatic approach to mentoring, in which various programs are created for specific mentoring needs
- Mentoring programs are mostly unsupervised, where mentors and mentees find each other. But in some cases, they are supervised by a mentoring program manager or administrator who does matchmaking and retains oversight of the program
- In case of supervised mentoring, matching mentors to mentees manually can be time consuming
- Small programs, with an invited cohort of mentors and mentees, are popular where the focus is on specific skills and competencies
- Most customers told us their key business challenge is enabling mentees to find the right mentor
- Once a mentor-mentee relationship has been established, organizations struggle to track the collaboration between them and the effectiveness of the relationship
Armed with these key takeaways, we started designing our solution for mentoring. We prioritized developing support for program-based mentoring experiences, to be followed by support for the “open marketplace” type experience. We identified three distinct personas that guided the solution design.
- Mentoring Admin or Program Manager: This persona is responsible for administering a specific mentoring program or set of programs. They are responsible for setting up the program, configuring various program parameters, and inviting mentor and mentee populations. In case of a supervised program, they are also responsible for matching invited mentors with mentees
- Mentors: This persona is not just limited to a formal mentor but rather anyone who is responsible for developing another individual within an organization such as a coach, a counselor, or an onboarding buddy
- Mentees: Like mentors, we viewed mentees broadly as any individual who is looking for guidance in developing their career
With these personas in mind, we developed solutions tailored to them. We designed a mentoring program setup wizard that guides a program manager through the program creation process without the need to go through extensive training and configuration. In fact, our key principle during the design was to eliminate any configuration need and really think of the wizard as a “coach” to the admin, helping him/her through the setup process. We believe we achieved an elegant admin experience that makes allows organizations to easily and quickly set up mentoring programs. Similarly, we developed mentor and mentee experiences that are lightweight and enable effective matching.
Fig 1: Program Set-up Wizard
The matching algorithm
The true secret to our mentoring solution is a unique matching algorithm that provides effective mentor recommendations to mentees, as well as performs an automatic match of mentors to mentees for supervised matching programs. The matching algorithm takes into account three basic factors to match mentors with mentees
- Mentee preference for a mentor: The algorithm will try to provide the preferred mentor that the mentee has selected during the sign up process
- Other mentee and mentor preferences: If the preferred mentor is unavailable the algorithm will try to find a match based upon other preferences indicated by both mentor and mentees
- Profile details: Failing to find a match using indicated preferences, our algorithm will look into the mentee’s employee profile and try to find a match based upon a subset of profile data. This is where an integrated system like ours is effective as we can rely on the existing profile information to inform the match, while a standalone mentoring system will have to rely on users to complete a separate profile
We are confident that the algorithm will be able to recommend and match mentors with mentees in most circumstances. For a supervised setting, admins will have the ability to override the algorithmic match and assign a different mentor manually. We also provide helpful guidance in the form of a match score and indicating preference areas that matched. In future we look forward to introducing machine learning to further improve our matching algorithm.
Fig 2: Supervised matching screen, indicating matches and the match quality
As of Q4 2016, we have already released a robust set of features. But we are not done yet. There is more to come, including “open marketplace” mentoring where a mentor/mentee can find each other without an admin creating a program. Other improvements include better collaboration tools, surveys throughout the relationship, dashboards, and reporting. We look forward to supporting our customers in delivering meaningful and effective mentoring experiences.