To match or not
Typically, in-house programs feature some degree of matching of mentors and mentees. (Indeed, this is one of the hallmarks differentiating in-house, structured mentoring programs from informal mentoring relationships individuals enter into on their own.) Because the quality of the bond between the mentor and mentee is one of the most important factors influencing the success of a mentoring relationship, it’s important to choose match criteria carefully and to take great care in implementing matches.
Involving mentors and mentees
Keep in mind that the matching process can include participant involvement. Indeed, allowing mentor and mentee input into the match process can help participants feel ownership and commitment to the pairing. Allowing participants at least some say in the match process has been found to be beneficial. In practice, the decision of whether to allow participant involvement in the match process often comes down to whether the organization has a culture of participation.
If you do allow participant input, you’ll have to figure out the extent of the input and ways of facilitating it. For example, you can facilitate participant involvement in the matching by:
• holding events for potential mentors and mentees to meet and get to know each other;
• having potential participants identify various persons they’d be interested in working with based on profile information you provide them;
• providing mentees with a pre-selected list of possible mentors and then letting the mentee interview them to choose;
• providing mentors with a pre-selected short list of possible mentees and letting the mentor interview them and choose.
Random assignment is also an option, though it is not recommended. Another thing to avoid is pairing mentees with mentors whom they directly report to within the organization, because mentees may not feel comfortable opening up to someone they report to.
Similarities vs differences
Another fundamental decision related to matching mentors and mentees is whether to match based on mentor/mentee similarities or differences (and whether the similarities/differences are subjective or objective). It’s worth noting that the research shows that perceptions of being similar are often more important than objective indicators of similarity. As well, there’s evidence that matches based on similarity enhance rapport but matches based on dissimilarity support learning within the relationship. Your decision regarding which approach to take will – once again – be driven by your program goals and purposes.
Chemistry vs compatibility
The success of a mentoring relationship depends on there being a good bond between the mentor and mentee. Some people believe that to have a close bond there has to be “chemistry” between the mentor and mentee. That’s not the case. Chemistry is an initial connection or attraction, which can actually stand in the way of objectivity and can therefore undermine the success of a mentoring relationship. What’s needed is compatibility, which implies harmony and mutual respect.