What Makes Mentorships Work

Here is a great post excerpted from First Round:

“When First Round launched its Mentorship Program in 2016, we didn’t know what to expect. We’d heard from a number of people in our community that mentorship remained an elusive, missing piece in their careers. Younger people said it was intimidating and difficult to find a mentor. Their older counterparts said they weren’t sure if their advice truly mattered. But everyone said they believed in mentorship’s transformative power. So we set out to fix it.

The task went to Whitnie Low Narcisse, who leads all of First Round’s advisory programs and more. After putting out a call for both mentees (at First Round companies) and mentors selected from tech’s most talented operators, she was overwhelmed by the response on both sides (eventually accepting exactly 50/50 female and male mentees). Then it was up to her to diagnose why mentorship usually goes sideways and design something different:

To address informality, she required mentor-mentee pairs to meet every other week for one quarter (leaving the option open for them to continue), totaling 6 meetings.

To improve content of conversations, she charged mentees with developing thoughtful agendas for their meetings and sharing them with their mentors in advance.

To kindle rapport, she assigned mentees to mentors based on their interests and areas of expertise.

To measure effectiveness, she ran surveys and polled not only what mentees learned, but how they were applying it in their everyday work.

The feedback was effusively positive, with high demand for another round. Since then, she’s run two more, each one larger and more popular than the last — totaling 100 matches across all three (with a fourth launching this month). Observing this, and hoping to get even better, we wanted to understand what distinguished the most successful mentor-mentee pairs from the pack. What did they have in common? Many people said the experience had changed their careers. What was that secret sauce? We all wondered.

To be continued …