Mentorship is a powerful tool to facilitate knowledge exchange, collaboration and community – but how do you go about developing and implementing it? Laura McDermott, Director of Academic Experience and Innovation at IE Business School, Adjunct Professor of Innovation and Design at IE University, and Alexandra Zografou, Manager of the MVDM Mentor Program at IE, share the highly successful IE experience.
Circular Knowledge Models: Designing mentor programs for impact, by Laura McDermott and Alexandra Zografou.
Mentorship programs, if designed well, have a great, untapped potential far beyond professional networking building. In a world characterized by disruption and challenges on social, environmental and governance levels, there is an urgent need for 21st century talent to think holistically. By designing spaces that cultivate knowledge and perspective exchange, we create the opportunity for greater levels of collaboration and inclusion.
In our last article published in the December issue of Global Voice magazine, we looked at the history of mentorship and how it can – and has – been leveraged as a powerful tool to facilitate knowledge exchange, collaboration and community in organisations and in higher education. In this article we explore how the use of Human Centered Design and specifically Design Thinking can be used as the backbone to create impactful mentorship programs, far beyond surface-level networking.
Circular models of knowledge-exchange for 21st Century leadership
Unlike a traditional educational experience that relies on a linear structure of students enrolling, studying a degree and then graduating, the Mentor Program developed at IE creates a circular model of knowledge sharing and growth for both students and alumni, mentees and mentors.
As an institution that is home to more than 165 different student nationalities, IE creates a compelling space for diversity of thought and experience. When we talk about the present moment, the IEBS Mentor Program (formerly HST Mentor) provides ample support and space for individuals to grow and learn from others. It creates a constructive space where people from different backgrounds can come together and actively engage and question topics like the purpose of teamwork, the changing employment landscape, the differences between local and global cultures, future disruptive trends, and sustainable models of development. We would like to share with you how this mentorship model was developed, the challenges that surfaced and ways in which to transform your idea of a mentorship initiative into an effective, successful and continuously improving bringer of value.
Overview of the IE Business School Mentor Program
The IE Business School Mentor Program (formerly HST Mentor) was designed in late 2018 with the idea of connecting incoming students with previous generations, giving the latter the opportunity to contribute to the first’s learning experience, and overall strengthening the sense of community among them.
The first Mentor Program was implemented in the Master in Customer Experience and Innovation (MCXI). From 2018 to 2019, the core academic design team started testing the concept through a ten-month pilot program with a few alumni who graduated from the program in July 2018.
During the pilot phase, six internal stakeholders actively participated in the project (not including the student mentees). Just three years later, the Mentor Program counts on 55+ internal stakeholders participating to varying degrees in the project, from academic and marketing teams to mentor faculties and program coordinators.
Since the beginning, the academic design team at IE has tracked the satisfaction levels of the students with the Mentor Program, and has received extraordinarily positive feedback. Several expanded and personal accounts from the experience of mentees, mentors and mentees-turned-mentors were published on the online IE magazine “Rewire” as well as being broadcasted through IE social media channels.
I’ve always believed in the power of a strong community. Getting closer to the university, faculty members, and current students makes us all stronger. Secondly, when I started my program, I was a bit lost in terms of professional paths I could take after the course. Talking about that with former students helped me understand things a bit better. Lastly, being in contact with students and preparing for our meetings serves as a refresher training session for me. It’s a long-lasting learning process and I love it! – Erika Dias, MCXI Mentee-turned-mentor 
Using human-centered design to empathise with participants’ needs
Launched in 2018, the design research and development of the program actually began in 2017 using Design Thinking and Applied Behavioural Design. To begin, several months of quantitative and qualitative research including interviews, observations, forms, data analysis was undertaken to enable the design team to empathise with the needs of the students from the MCXI program during their learning journey. This was similarly done with the alumni of the MCXI, in order to understand what value they could not only apport, but also derive from a Mentor Program.
Although mentorship is primarily focused on the development of the mentees, it can also assist the development of the mentor. During the process, the mentor can grow on a personal level, while the mentee receives advice, support, and knowledge from the mentor . More specifically, mentors can master leadership skills, while mentees can benefit from socioemotional support .
Studying previously published works on the subject, we found suggestions that a mentorship program should be participant-specific and designed to match the needs, interests, and objectives of both parties . At IE, we considered the use of Human Centered Design the most appropriate for uncovering and better understanding the needs of both mentors and mentees. After gathering observations and behavioural insights from the design research in the first year, a number of months were spent architecting a Mentor Program that would meet the needs of both parties.
Pilot, Test, Iterate, Develop
While the Master in CX and Innovation was the first to pilot and develop the Mentor Program, there have since been several other degrees from Bachelor and Master level launching their own Mentor Programs. In each case, the academic design team supports the Academic Directors of the degree in designing a model for the pilot version of the Mentor Program. This acts as a “minimal viable product” to test out if the timing, formatting and framing of the program makes sense for that particular Bachelor/Master.
After testing out a pilot of the Mentor Program for an average of nine months, feedback is gathered from mentors and mentees, which is then incorporated into the formal design of the Mentor Program the following year. Although the pilot phase is where the highest volume of researching, testing and experimentation is conducted, this iterative growth mindset is carried throughout the evolution of each individual Mentor Program.
Over time and with each iteration of the Mentor program, feedback is collected systematically and experiments are made for new activities and opportunities, all with the goal of ensuring that the program and its mentors stay in touch with the needs of the participants.
Design models that anticipate and prevent the common challenges in Mentor Programs
To date, we count on seven different iterations of our Mentor Program across three different Bachelors and Masters, with more lined up for the coming years. Throughout these iterations we have taken a human centered approach in analysing not only the students and their satisfaction as mentees, but also the mentors. The mentors are the front-facing ambassadors of this program, who have direct contact with the mentees and greatly influence the mentee’s experience during their learning experience. Some ways we anticipated and counteracted challenges related to the quality of interactions between mentors and mentees were as follows:
- From the start, outline clear expectations and desired outcomes for the mentees and mentors. For example, among our desired outcomes were:
- Students (mentees) Feel Supported: It is an opportunity for students to share any ideas or qualms with alumni. Since mentors have been through the experience before, they can empathize and provide encouragement and support, or simply offer an ear to listen.
- Mentors (alumni) develop their portfolio and employability: Mentors develop their portfolio and professional experience, while continuing to be an active part of the IE community. Through the use of Human-Centered Design, mentors strengthen their professional skills and leadership.
- Application Processes: a slightly longer online application process creates a first filter of “self-selection” and means that only those who are genuinely interested apply.
- Onboarding: In the onboarding process, user-friendly guidebooks and communications have been designed in a way to reinforce the key messages.
- Tracking: Monthly and/or quarterly reports in which mentors document their learnings, observations and conclusions also assist in building a sense of ownership and reflection among mentors.
Considering mentors have such an impactful role in the learning experience, we need to ensure that they are not only accountable, but also have the qualities necessary for the role. This is important to highlight since, in our experience, an excellent professional does not necessarily equate to an excellent mentor or coach. By creating the above activities, we are able to ensure that a strong quality of mentor-mentee relationship prevails.
It is our belief that human-centered design is key to creating an engaging Mentor Program and that the skills that can be cultivated in these spaces will be essential for future leaders. As we look ahead, we believe that companies and institutions will play an important part in designing these opportunities and should invest in human-centered principles to drive true, meaningful real impact for all stakeholders involved.
- Link up with Laura McDermott and Alexandra Zografou on LinkedIn
- Read a related article: Mentorship as a disruptive tool for cultivating 21st century leaders
- Discover the BBA and Entrepreneurship Mentors’ program pages at IE
- Study at IE Business School.
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