Guest post by Laura Brook, Director of Community Development at OneFPA.org and member of TheCR Network.
Last year, I was at our annual conference catching up with a colleague who used to work with me at the Financial Planning Association (FPA). I shared with her that we were about to launch a mentoring program where our members could mentor fellow financial planners.
Her response was a snorted “Good luck.” My eyebrows went up in surprise. She told me that she had tried to launch a similar program five years before without success. I asked about her experience, saying that I hadn’t even realized that she had worked on this. She explained that members responded positively to the program in theory, but when it came down to them actually signing up to take part in the program, not so much. As a result, the initiative never got off the ground.
Oh boy. This was a long-time staff person, very well networked with chapter leaders and very well liked. Her story didn’t exactly boost my confidence in our chances.
Well, it’s now a year later and the program is serving our members well. As the person in charge of community development, this was a natural extension for me to take on. Our communities are often fertile ground for these types of connections. Participants want to help each other succeed. And from a community management standpoint, it can be a great point of engagement. So in this regard, it can become a true win-win.
Let me outline the program and then give you the dirt on the good, the bad and the ugly for how things have gone.
How It Works
- It is a six-month, coach-supported program.
- Membership is required for both mentors and mentees, and there is no cost to participate.
- Matching is done online through HigherLogic’s MentorMatch module (envision a simplified version of Match.com for those of us who have experienced the online dating scene).
- Mentees are limited to one mentor at a time.
- Mentees are expected to set the agenda and drive the relationship. Mentors just need to be responsive to their requests. Go here to read more about roles and responsibilities.
- Each MentorMatch round includes an FPA-facilitated kick-off call, check-in call, and wrap-up call. Kick-off and wrap-up calls are held jointly. Check-ins are separate—one group call for mentees and one group call for mentors.
- Mentees are required to fill out and share with their mentor five mentoring worksheets before their first call. This is to help mentees get clarity on what they want/need out of their mentoring relationship.
- In the first call, mentors follow an initial discovery call checklist to get the relationship started on the right foot. From that point on, mentees are the ones to set the agenda.
- Mentees and mentors generally meet once per month via phone or Skype, although some relationships are in-person.
- Mentees complete an exit interview to rate their mentors and the program overall.
Ok, so that is the overview. Now let’s talk about the negatives first so that we can end things on a positive note.
The Bad/The Ugly: What our challenges have been to date
- Even with a good online program where people self-enroll, it is still a time-consuming program to manage.
- People have a tendency to enroll as a mentee … and then just sit there, even after being prompted to search for a mentor. As a result, most matches have been facilitated by FPA, adding to the management burden. The irony is that award-winning financial planners go unchosen because people are too intimidated to ask to be their mentees.
- There are enough steps that people sometimes struggle with the process. As an insider, it seems really simple—enroll, search for a mentor, choose the one you like, and send them an invitation to mentor you. They then have to accept the invitation for mentors/mentees to be formally linked. Most have been fine, but our technologically less-savvy members have been challenged at times.
- Add in a chapter network of nearly 100 locations, some of which already have local mentoring programs, and things get really interesting. We are currently strategizing around how best to blend our national and chapter efforts.
- We have gotten some (thankfully pretty limited) feedback that mentees don’t always do their homework or prep for calls as well as they should. We have had conversations on whether charging a nominal fee for the program would help to address this, but have elected to keep it free for now since the program is still young. Ultimately, we want to make sure that our mentors’ time is respected and well used.
The Good: What has been going well
- First and foremost, our members love it. We have had a couple hundred people go through the program to date and 98 percent of the feedback has been glowing.
- The limited-time horizon helps ease mentor commitment concerns. Nine hours over six months (three hours on FPA calls and six with the mentee) helps define the program in a way that feels doable.
- The facilitated calls and initial discovery checklist helps mentors feel supported. (Even very experienced professionals can find it daunting to be a mentor!)
- The mentoring worksheets help give the mentees direction and focus.
- I have been surprised by how many of our mentors have said that they learn a lot from their mentees. These young planners are often fresh out of school and possess skill sets that are very different than our seasoned planners’ competencies.
- It engages tough-to-serve demographics—students, young professionals, and those who are mature members or already retired.
- Our profession needs it. Financial planning is young—it began only 45 years ago—and the career path for those who want to become planners can be challenging.
So far it’s been a fun ride. The program is proving to be a quadruple win—good for our mentees, our mentors, the organization, and the profession, which makes dealing with a little bit of bad/ugly worth it in the end.
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