How To Help Your Mentee Determine Mentoring Goals

When you are starting out in the mentoring relationship, it is important for the mentee to have a sense of purpose for the time you will spend together.

If you have been asked by someone to be their mentor, or you are in a structured mentoring program, your mentee will need some guidance about how you could help them. However, it is important that the mentee determines their own goals. Don’t fall into the trap of suggesting goals if your mentee is really unsure.

For the first few weeks in a mentoring relationship, you don’t want to get too obsessed with goal-setting – you can use the first couple of times you make contact with your mentee to get to know one another and perhaps allow their goal to emerge. After a few meetings with your mentee they should be ready to define their purpose for the mentoring relationship (if they haven't done this already).

When thinking about goals a good beginning for mentors would be to ask this question:
  • What would you like to achieve from this mentoring relationship? (e.g. planning my career moves for the next 3 years, making a move to another part of my current organisation, developing self confidence in making presentations, mastering job interviews, building confidence)

Examples of mentee goals Here are some examples of goals that mentees might have:
  • Be able to discuss and gain greater clarity about career and development issues, in an open and off-line environment
  • Understand organisational politics and behavior, and be better able to handle them
  • Expand the quality and scope of one’s professional network
  • Learn about a particular area of the industry/profession
  • Have input and support for dealing with difficult workplace issues
  • Understand what it takes to be on the leadership track
  • Manage work-life balance better

Different Types of Goals
Notice that in the examples above, many are what could be described as ‘learning goals’ rather than ‘outcome goals’. This is very appropriate for a mentoring relationship.

Perhaps your mentee wants to learn about your area of work, or learn about how organisational politics really work.

It is generally thought that ‘approach goals’ (something I want) contribute more positively to intrinsic motivation than ‘avoidance goals’ (something I don’t want). So it is helpful to articulate goals in the positive. For example, rather than “I want to stop getting into arguments with my colleagues at work”, try “I would like to develop good working relationships with my team-mates at work”.

Top Tips for Goal Setting
1. Help them choose something Important to THEM – make it relevant and really aspirational. If they can’t rate it at least a 7 out of 10 on importance, then chances are they won’t have the staying power to achieve it. Try to help them distinguish between their own goals and those imposed upon them by others. They will be much more motivated by goals that are important to them.

Goals can be a bit fuzzy and emerge slowly – in the early conversations with your mentee they may not know exactly what their goals are, but they may have a general idea. That is perfect! You want to leave some room for exploration with your mentee. It is very common for goals to evolve from initial thoughts and for different goals which they are much more motivated by, to take their place.

3. Goals can change – in the course of a few months it is natural for goals to shift as their circumstances change and as it becomes clearer what they want.

4. Make it developmental – these goals lead to greater personal or professional growth and fulfillment. Focus on building capability, rather than achieving particular short-term outcomes.

5. Review them often - review goals regularly, not just for progress, but for relevance and the level of their commitment.

Make Your Mentoring Conversations More Than a Friendly Chat
It can be tempting for mentoring conversations to be overtaken by social dialogue, if you and your mentee are comfortable with and like one another. If a majority of your conversations are like this, your mentee may be wasting a valuable opportunity to learn.

Make sure, too, that the urgent doesn’t push out the important. It is inevitable that some mentoring meetings may be devoted to issues that are critical right now. But don’t let your mentee lose sight of their purpose for the relationship – each conversation you have with your mentee should be moving them a bit closer to that.

Helping Your Mentee to Articulate Goals
Mentees often have trouble articulating goals. They can be so accustomed to being asked to make their work goals specific and measurable, that they somehow feel not good enough if their goal is a bit fuzzy. The best thing you can do is to help them relax and ask them questions. The goals will quietly emerge if you listen well, you are genuinely curious and you hold back from trying to pin them down too early.

Great Questions Mentors Can Ask About Goals
To help articulate goals for the mentoring relationship:
1. How do you think I can help you?
2. What would you like to be able to say at the end of our mentoring time together?
3. Where would you like to see yourself in three to five years?
4. What is your vision for how things might be different or better for you?
5. What is getting in your way of success/happiness/ accomplishment?
6. What would you like to achieve in the next year? 7. Why did you ask me to mentor you/apply to be in this mentoring program? What were you hoping for?
8. What makes you succeed? Where have you succeeded? How and where could you repeat these successes?
9. Who do you want to become? (e.g. a better manager, a more accomplished leader, a great team-mate)
10. What might be useful or important for you to learn right now?

To Test Goals For Importance / Relevance / Commitment:
1. Why is that goal something you want?
2. What is important about it to you?
3. Why this goal now?
4. What would happen if you achieved that goal?
5. What would happen if you didn’t achieve that goal?
6. Who else might benefit?
7. What unintended consequences might there be if you achieved this goal?
8. How much do you want this? (On a scale of one to ten, it should rate seven or above)
9. If you couldn’t accomplish that goal, how would you feel?
10. If you did accomplish that goal, how would you feel?