Mentorship is a cornerstone of the JuntoExperience, and we take it seriously. Leaders and their companies put their faith in the hands of seasoned professionals to accelerate their learning curve, make better decisions, and reduce mistakes. That's not too different from the hopes and expectations that most people have when they enter into a mentoring relationship, especially through a program.
So we continue to marvel at how many mentorship "programs" really aren't. They lack structure, process, standards, oversight, accountability, or strategy. Is it because few people have experience being a part of an organized mentorship program and, therefore, they don't know how to build one? Or perhaps because we believe that much of mentorship - like most relationships in life - is a result of the right "chemistry" between people that no one can really forecast or create? Or do we take mentorship lightly because it's so hard to think of how to do it right?
According to Wikipedia, mentorship:
is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. The mentor may be older or younger, but have a certain area of expertise. It is a learning and development partnership between someone with vast experience and someone who wants to learn.
This sounds serious. After all, consider the words - Personal. Developmental. Relationship. Guide. Experienced. Knowledgeable. Expertise. Learning. Partnership. Wants.
As a result, we take mentorship seriously at Junto. We've spent dozens of hours designing our mentorship program, trying to find effective approaches that would create positive results in the short-term and consistent outcomes over time. It's a significant part of our nine-month curriculum and, after two successful cohorts, we've realized that much of the learning that occurs for JuntoApprentices is due to the strength of that mentorship program. For JuntoIII, our current cohort, we have 30 Mentors who are deeply involved in one of the following ways.
- CEO JuntoMentor: a seasoned CEO is matched up to be the mentor for the CEO of the JuntoCompany, for the purpose of leadership development. We want their monthly conversations to cover responsibilities of a typical startup CEO: people, culture, vision, strategy, communications, financial stability, etc.
- JuntoMentor Team: a group of five seasoned entrepreneurs, CEOs, and executives are matched up with each JuntoCompany enrolled for the purpose of management development. This group meets monthly with the leadership team of the JuntoCompany, operating as a de facto advisory board that has the industry, market, and functional experience that the leadership team needs.
So what do we do with our mentorship program that makes it an effective learning vehicle?
- We invest a lot of time. We meet and interview everyone who wants to be a JuntoMentor. We spend hours matching mentors with our apprentice companies (11 hours for JuntoIII, to be exact). Someone from our team attends every two-hour Mentor Team meeting, which will total 45-50 meetings over the next nine months. We hold monthly conference calls with the entire mentor group to learn how they and the JuntoApprentices are doing, how we can help support them, and whether our program is working.
- We have high standards. We only accept seasoned professionals who have operating experience as entrepreneurs, CEOs, and executives, and can commit to the nine-month program. We don't accept mentors who have spent most of their career as academics, consultants, or self-proclaimed "experts". The JuntoApprentices are running companies and leading teams so the JuntoMentors must have deep experience doing the same to be able to relate to them.
- We have a process. To help ensure consistent results across companies (and as we grow and expand), we've designed a specific method for our mentoring. It includes preparation with each JuntoCompany before the mentor meetings, how we structure the agenda for each one, how we moderate the meetings, and what we do after each one.
- We're in the room. As mentioned, we attend every Mentor Team meeting and the initial CEO Mentor meetings. We facilitate them so the agenda gets covered, take copious notes so everyone can focus on being present and interactive, and ensure all the mentors contribute. The by-product of this is that we "see" the mentoring in action; we actually know what the companies are learning and how well the mentors are performing.
- We have rules of engagement. In addition to standards for our mentors, we have standards for our meetings. We start and end on time, regardless of who is or isn't present. We ask that cell phones are silenced and put away. We follow the agenda. We focus on clarifying questions and shared experiences, and don't allow advice-giving.
- We build in accountability. At the end of each meeting, we pass out evaluations to get quantitative ratings, qualitative commentary, and action items. At the start of the next meeting, we ask the apprentices to report on whether they accomplished their action items from last time and, if not, why. And as mentioned above, we hold monthly conference calls with the JuntoMentors to have them share their experiences with each other and how well they believe their mentor team is performing.
- We're always improving. We get feedback regularly from the Mentors and the Apprentices, and we refine the program based on their thoughts and experiences. We love it when JuntoAlumni tell us that they wished the program was as strong when they went through it as it today. But it's only that strong because they - and the Mentors - told us where and how to get better.
There you have it - a taste of our "secret sauce" in making our mentorship program a compelling part of the JuntoCurriculum. But don't take our word for it.
JuntoAlumni have told us the mentorship program is one of the strongest parts of the curriculum. Furthermore, we have over 90% retention of Mentors, which is no small feat considering how many other options and offers they have to mentor, and how much of a time commitment our program requires.
We believe that the biggest reason for all this is because we take mentorship so seriously. And, as a result, so do they.