Internal mentoring programs: too often a missed opportunity

Internal mentoring programs: too often a missed opportunity

10 February 2021
Gerrit Sarens
Gerrit Sarens
  • I know many corporates where they have implemented, or at least tried to implement an internal mentoring program. In essence, it refers to a system where typically higher management is matched to lower management to support them.

    If you dig deeper into these kind of programs' actual effectiveness, it is often quite disappointing.

  • Five reasons why the impact of internal mentoring programs is often low

    1. No clear vision on what they want to achieve with this mentoring program. Typically, they set up a program to have a program without really knowing why.
    2. No clear process and methodology. How does an internal mentoring journey look like? How is mentoring done? Typically, managers start as a mentor without knowing how they should do this.
    3. Miscasting of mentors. Not every manager with a decent track record is, by definition, a good mentor. It requires a specific value and skills set.
    4. No total commitment of the mentors. It’s imposed on people. Managers take a mentor role because they have to do it, not because they are fully motivated. This makes it another task on the long to-do list. After a couple of obligatory sessions, it dies a silent death.
    5. Confidentiality: An internal mentor remains a colleague, so it is often perceived as not 100% safe to share everything with him/her.
  • I was part of the so-called high potentials program, so I got an internal mentor. I was excited to start the mentoring, but after one session, I was so disappointed. First, the mentor they had given me did not have a lot of time for me, and secondly, during our first session, he only talked about himself and how successful he has been.

    1st line manager in a Belgian insurance company
  • Suddenly HR gave me the title of mentor because all C-suite members had to take up this role ... but honestly, I had no clue how I could be a good mentor, and that was frustrating.

    C-level manager in an international corporate
  • Five important conditions to make internal mentoring work

    1. Define clearly what you want to achieve with internal mentoring.
    2. Set-up a solid process and methodology (how to do it).
    3. Select the right mentors (who).
    4. Support these mentors in their mentor role (mentor-the-mentor)
    5. Define the rules of the game to guarantee as much as possible the confidentiality.
  • Ambits has built a lot of experience and knowledge on the success factors of mentoring. We are in a privileged position to help you run an effective internal mentoring program. Do not hesitate to reach out to us.

Struggles of a manager

Managers are

  • not or inadequately trained in this role


    • lack self-confidence
    • don’t know how to go from being a colleague to being a boss
    • need to loosen up on the command & control leadership style
    • must let go of the (technical) expert status
    • cannot give or accept constructive feedback
    • feel pressure to perform as manager
    • have difficulty building relationships
    • want to be liked by everyone or want to be the ‘bad boss’
    • play the hero
  • are struggling


    • stay too involved in operations
    • have trouble prioritizing
    • cannot delegate
    • fear conflict situations
    • disconnect from the team
    • deal with flawed strategic thinking
    • do not relate to higher management
    • lack clear communication skills
    • remain not self-aware
    • avoid difficult conversations
    • miss political antennas
    • ...
  • capable of more


    • need mental preparation as successor
    • need to be able to lead big changes ahead
    • need to learn to be emotionally resilient and in control
    • need to learn to make big decisions fast without all the information
    • must become persuasive presenters
    • need to learn how to cultivate their own personal brand
    • need to learn how to lead by example
    • manage by trust, not by fear
    • need to overly develop empathy
    • ...
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