How to Create a Firm Mentoring Program That Is Efficient, Effective, and Motivational [Q&A]

by JD Supra Perspectives

...consider the importance of how you manage, educate, inspire and motivate your professional staff as this is critical to the success of your firm.

If you are reading this, you probably fit into one of two categories: the proverbial “Haves” and the “Have-Nots”. In other words, you either have a mentoring program (and that program might be working well or leaves something to be desired) or you are interested in creating/developing one at your firm.

In the following Firm Leadership Q&A, Lisa Tierney and Andy George explain how to avoid common pitfalls that other professional services firms have experienced and how to make your current program more efficient and effective:

Q: My firm is interested in developing a well-structured formal mentoring program, but we have no idea how to proceed. Is there a proven methodology that we can follow to make sure we do it right?

There are 5 stages of any formal mentoring program, each with a deeper level of investment, and each getting closer to a true ROI. It’s important to get each one right, and to understand where your firm is in the process:

Concept – Valuing formal mentoring. This is the stage at which leadership seriously considers a creation (or recreation) of a mentoring program as well as the impact it will have on the firm. It is acknowledged that assistance is needed to develop appropriate and attainable goals, as well as discover the best mechanism/s to bring success to the initiative.

Creation – Getting the structure right. At this stage, best practices are used to ensure proper alignment with the firm’s goals as set forth in the concept stage. At this stage, the emphasis is on the structure of the program; this will ensure a sustainable program for your firm.

Pilot – Calibrating with participants. By the time you arrive at the Pilot stage, you’ve already got buy-in from leadership, decided on the program goals and objectives, and created a road map to get there. The pilot should then be rolled out to a group of participants that are enthusiastic enough to provide useful feedback after the initial launch (this is so that any mistakes in the communication plan or rollout can be remedied before the larger audience is included.)

In an approach that uses software and tracking capabilities, data can be carefully monitored each month and recommendations can be made about changes before a rollout to the larger group takes place. This ensures that the program goals are being achieved and full benefits are achieved.

Scaling – Getting the message right. Once the structure is in place that supports participation, accountability, and transparency, and any initial misunderstandings or stumbling blocks are removed, it’s time to scale the program. Effective communication around the roll-out of the program has proven to be critical at this stage.

Managing – Making sure it happens. At this stage, you begin to maximize your investment  into the program as you effectively track activity metrics, hold participants accountable and provide the necessary support for the program. If you have thoughtfully executed each stage of the process, you should soon be celebrating the success of the program:  participation will be high, the program will be well-regarded throughout the firm, and hard evidence reflecting bottom-line impact can be shared.

Q: How should Mentees be paired with Mentors and for how long?

There are many disparate opinions among experts about the most effective way to match participants. Ultimately the program goals should, to a great extent, drive the matching priorities. In other words, what are you really trying to achieve with this program? Are you trying to integrate two groups of professionals after a merger? Are you trying to dial-in several international offices to the experience of your US operations? Are you trying to help younger professionals navigate a firm that likes to stay on top and relevant? The answers to these questions will determine whether traditional junior/senior pairings, cross-functional or cross-department pairings, or diversity-rich pairings are used.

It is wise to give strong consideration to the personal communication style and social preferences of the participants that will be matched. Aligning these characteristics can support that a “common ground” exists from the onset of the mentoring relationship. As a result, more frequent and meaningful communication is likely to take place, leading to higher levels of engagement and satisfaction program wide. This can be accomplished in several ways depending on the time and resources that can be expended (in some cases, a personal phone interview can be conducted to help determine a good personality fit).  There are also software systems that have been developed to help increase the mentoring connection that have a built-in personality profiling system, which can quickly and accurately explore personality and uncover essential elements of preference in relating socially (i.e. communication style, cultural preferences, etc.) . Mentoring software has been developed that can streamline the pairing process and generate meaningful reports to assist HR professionals and firm administrators to manage and analyze their mentoring program.

In formal, company-sponsored mentoring programs, participants should be paired for no less than 6 months and no longer than 12 months (shorter intervals can be used for training or coaching relationships). There are good reasons for both of these recommendations. If paired for less than six months, neither party has enough time to build genuine trust and comfort with the other (nor account for seasonal stresses and other distractions, such as budget creation, holidays, firm retreats, or compensation review time, just to name a few). If paired for more than 12 months, multiple other problems arise. First, the opportunity pressures are not present for either party (use it or lose it). Secondly, a longer term commitment (say 3 years, or no clear end in sight) is potentially daunting for either party to sign-up for, and can potentially limit the ranks of volunteers on either side.

One thing to realize here is that if a great connection is made between Mentor and Mentee, that relationship will outlast the outlines of your formal mentoring program - a very positive and welcome result...

Q: Can more than one participant be paired with a mentor?

One thing that is universally true - really good mentors are in short supply. Many programs pair multiple participants with one mentor, but there are, of course, pros and cons to this:

Pros - There are frequently a limited number of “upper classmen” to choose from - therefore, a firm’s resources can be spread around a bit. The better and more enthusiastic mentors remain, the more engaged they will be.

Cons  - Leaning on a smaller group of capable and trusted mentors can reduce the likelihood that the program coordinator will reach out further to recruit or encourage participation from the quieter, underutilized segments, reducing leadership development and business diversity opportunities.

Q: Who should be responsible for driving the mentoring relationship forward?

Most successful programs point to the mentee as the responsible candidate to drive the dialogue and maintain the relationship.

This is based on the notion that the mentee is the person that most benefits from the relationship, has less responsibility within the firm (and, therefore have more time) and , therefore is expected to take the initiative in driving the mentoring relationship. While this may be a reasonable expectation, many firms have recognized the benefits of reverse-mentoring (a junior colleague helping a senior colleague to understand new trends and techniques) and therefore take measures to encourage active, engaging behavior from both parties.

Q: What are some indicators that a mentoring program is succeeding? Or failing?

The clearest indication that a program is succeeding is participation;  conversely, the clearest indication of failure is lack of participation.

The very essence of a mentoring relationship is that people communicate. Those who are charged with overseeing a mentoring program should do all they can to encourage and facilitate active and consistent communication within mentoring pairs. Every other objective can be better executed if participants have an easy way to communicate and the proper structure and incentives to do so. Most formal mentoring programs break down due to a lack of structure, accountability, and transparency. Some recommendations to avoid this are:

  • Allowing participants to use their everyday tools to communicate (email, phone, meeting requests, video-conferencing, etc.).
  • Tracking program activity through a centralized system / function (rather than relying on lunch receipts or trying to sort through billable codes).
  • Using computer-based software to easily parse data, format useful, regular reports that highlight key areas,
  • Sharing progress reporting with the management team to evaluate and tweak the program, as needed (personnel changes, seasonal workload,  etc.).
  • Communicate the value of the mentoring program firm-wide to all of your professionals about your commitment to diversity and inclusion is highly recommended to ensure the success of any internal program at professional services firms. Knowledge is power – and sharing information about your internal processes educates, enlightens – and empowers.

A final thought for those of you are committed to creating or improving a formalized program for mentoring at your firm: consider the importance of how you manage, educate, inspire and motivate your professional staff as this is critical to the success of your firm. After all, a professional services firm is only as good as its providers  and the right program in place can help you to also attract and retain the high caliber talent you need to stand out from the rest.


[Lisa Tierney, CLSC  is a certified life coach and consultant to the accounting and legal professions. TIERNEY Coaching & Consulting, Inc. offers accounting and law firms a unique combination of consulting and coaching that educates, enlightens and empowers professional services providers across the country.

Andy George  is co-founder of MentorcliQ, offering accounting and law firms a full software service to aid in creating or reimagining their formal mentoring programs, supporting them from concept to implementation and beyond. Their latest development, ProfessionalEsq  is designed with the particular needs of professional services firms in mind.]

Written by:

JD Supra Perspectives

JD Supra Perspectives on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.