Almost two years ago to the day, I convinced two of my sorority sisters to start a Mentorship Program with me.
The purpose of the program was to connect members of my sorority’s active chapter with alumna, like myself, to provide support and guidance for their career development. The partnership was supposed to last only one semester (4 months) but unfortunately, we didn’t even make it past two.
How could an idea that burned so bright it my mind fail to catch fire with the audience I intended it for? Where did I go wrong?
Here’s what I learned from our failed attempt at creating a Mentorship Program.
It must be simple
Just like any relationship, simplicity is key.
We were so excited to create a program that people would love that we put in WAY too much.
We created questionnaires to find out what content people wanted, we created monthly themes with presentations that we wanted participants to join remotely. We spent A LOT (and I mean a lot) of time trying to curate the best content for our monthly themes.
At the end of the day, we didn’t need to put in all that work. We had created the matches, we had connected them, and it was now time for us to let them figure it out.
Had we done it over again, I would have spent less time on creating presentations and more time on linking content from experts which would have been more beneficial to the participants and less headache for us.
Establish clear parameters
Some of the early feedback we received was that participants did not anticipate the time commitment the program would require.
When we recruited participants for the program (both mentors and mentees), we hadn’t mapped out what we were expecting of them. We did not prepare our participants for the time commitment the program would entail, nor did we properly estimate the amount of time it would require of us, as the organizers.
This created animosity on our side and indifference on the participants side. Not a good combo.
Before designing a program (or beginning a mentoring relationship), it is best to start with what you wish to accomplish. Had we started with this, we would have set clear expectations of our participants and understood how much it was going to require of us.
Finding a mentor should be organic
One of the biggest mistakes we made was matching mentors and mentees ourselves.
Since we designed the program so that the organizers would match the mentor and mentee, this meant that we had to create 21 matches. That meant 42 surveys to go through.
I took it upon myself to go through each individual survey to gather some basic information about each mentee including, their year in school, which school they attended, their major, their dream job and what kind of help they were looking for. On the mentor end, I gathered their job experience and what they were interested in. From this information, I created the matches.
Matching people based on very high level information is difficult. Like any relationship, people either click or they don’t. Setting up people blindly felt like I was setting people up on a blind date. Way too much pressure for everyone involved.
In order to be successful, mentorship must be organic. Both parties need to feel like the match is beneficial and that this is someone they want to spend their precious time with.
Commitment is key
This is ultimately what ended the program. For a successful mentorship relationship and program, it needs to benefit both parties (and not just the participants).
Between the three of us, we can say that some participant’s lack of commitment to the program was what made it fail, but we would be disregarding our part in the destruction.
The easiest way to put it is that we lost that loving feeling.
When people’s commitment started to falter, we decided that our effort was no longer worth putting into the program. This wasn’t fair to the other matches who had shown a strong commitment to the program and to each other.
If we could go back, I wouldn’t have let a few people’s commitment issues dissuade me from investing my time in something I knew was beneficial to the people involved.
Commitment is vital to a successful mentorship relationship and both parties need to be on the same page about what this commitment means.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
So as I sit here and reflect on what we accomplished (and didn’t), I’m proud. Proud that I invested time in creating something I was passionate about starting. And even though the program did not continue as I had originally intended, I learned that failure isn’t the end, it’s just another beginning.