Magazine article Talent Development

Begin with the End in Mind: The Goal-Driven Mentoring Relationship: Setting SMART Mentoring Goals Ensures a Successful Learning Experience for Mentors and Mentees

Magazine article Talent Development

Begin with the End in Mind: The Goal-Driven Mentoring Relationship: Setting SMART Mentoring Goals Ensures a Successful Learning Experience for Mentors and Mentees

Article excerpt


Clarifying and articulating learning goals is indispensable to the success of a mentoring relationship. While some mentees come to a mentoring relationship with well-defined goals, it is more the exception than the rule. Most mentees come with a general idea about what they want to learn. That idea becomes the starting point for a mentor's assistance in the goal-setting process.

Moving from starter to SMARTer

"Starter goals" are the initial goals a mentee brings into a mentoring relationship. They are usually not fully developed at this point and need work to turn them into SMART mentoring goals. If they are too broad, neither the mentor nor mentee will be satisfied with the learning process, the learning outcome, or the mentoring relationship. If they are not mutually agreed upon, the mentor and mentee may be working at cross purposes to try to achieve them.

As the mentee and mentor work together to articulate and prioritize SMART goals, the focus of the work together becomes clearer. During their second mentoring meeting, CJ asked her mentee, Roberta, what she saw as the biggest challenges facing her at work.

Roberta was caught off guard by CJ's question. She was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by just about everything at work. It was hard to differentiate the biggest challenges from among the many she faced:

"I work at facilitating and motivating change in my department because I think it is vital to our success in achieving customer service excellence. However, many of my employees are lukewarm when it comes to change, and it is hard to feel like I am making any real progress. Our organization's culture is not as customer-focused as it should be, and there is a long history of resistance to change. I really get impatient with these folks and have had a difficult time getting people on board, especially accepting the new policies and practices that need to be implemented. Right now, no one but me seems committed to launching the effort. Part of my problem is in handling difficult people, which has always been a challenge for me. I often feel intimidated when an abrasive person confronts me. I don't seem to be able to find the right thing to say, and I don't speak up when I know I should. I am on overload and stressed. And to make matter worse, I don't get out of the office until after 7p.m. most evenings."

CJ was more than a little curious about the issues underlying Roberta's situation. CJ knew her work was cut out for her. In reflecting in his mentoring journal after their session, CJ wrote:

"It is easy to see that Roberta's goals are all over the map. They meander and lack coherence, and there are many different possible goal pathways. Some seem to focus on the culture of the organization. Some focus on her inability to motivate and inspire. Still others focus around conflict aversion and skills managing difficult people. It doesn't surprise me that like many other new managers, she is doing too much herself. It doesn't appear to me that she is delegating sufficiently. And, she is certainly overwhelmed and out of balance. There is a lot for us to tackle together. It is probably going to take another conversation to get to the root cause of these issues before we can identify goals."

After their next session, they agreed to identify two goals: one that would achieve quick results so as to build Roberta's confidence, and one that would make a significant impact on her success, even if it would take more time to achieve.

The goal-setting conversation

SMART goals are specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and timely. Even though many variations on the exact words used for this acronym have emerged over time, they define the focus of the learning, eliminate ambiguity, and establish measures of success and a timeframe for completion.

The conversation between mentoring partners that leads to formulating a SMART goal is critical to ensuring positive results. …

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