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Purpose, direction and goals in the mentoring relationship


Published: 16 December 2022

Version: January 2022

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It is important for mentors and mentees to develop a sense of purpose in the mentoring relationship. The setting direction stage in the relationship involves setting goals, giving the relationship a sense of purpose, and working out what the short-term, medium-term, and long-term direction might be. Purpose and direction provide a focus for the mentoring relationship. They also provide momentum, leading to change and transition. Goals provide a specific focus to the mentoring relationship and conversation.

Establishing purpose and direction within the relationship is where the mentor and mentee gain clarity about what each aims to achieve from the relationship and how to navigate their time together. It can take several meetings to establish a clear sense of purpose and direction and, of course, this may change as the relationship progresses and matures.

Often, the greater the degree of rapport, purpose and direction, the greater the degree of commitment and satisfaction is attained by both the mentor and mentee.

A useful framework for a mentoring conversation focused on goals is the GROW Model, created by Sir John Whitmore (1992) Coaching for Performance. Whitmore’s model is one of the most frequently used tools to facilitate a mentoring and/or coaching conversation.

The GROW Model

The GROW Model consists of the following elements:

  • Goal: provides a focus for the conversation; provides clarity on what the mentee wants to achieve from the mentoring relationship and the individual session(s).
  • Reality: helping the mentee to understand their current situation.
  • Options: the discovery of ideas, ‘brainstorming’
  • Will: commitment and action; the way forward.

Whitmore (1992, 102-103) describes three different categories of goals: goals for the mentoring session, goals for the issue or challenge presented including the end goal and performance goal. Determining what a mentee wants to gain from a particular session is a helpful starting point. Example questions may include:

  • What would you like to get out of this time together?
  • We have 45 minutes together, where would you like to have gotten to by then?
  • What would be helpful for you to take away?
  • Typically, there is also a longer-term goal, the mentee’s motivation for engaging in the mentoring relationship. This might be the end goal, which is the final objective. For example, to secure a promotion; to change career direction; to develop negotiation skills to achieve a pay award. Alternatively, it might be a performance goal which leads to the end goal. Performance goals can often be measured and tracked. For example: ‘I want to publish my research in at least three journals of a ranking of three or four stars’.

It is often suggested that, depending on the nature of the mentoring relationship, an end goal is supported by performance goals.
When mentors and mentees work together to identify the most important goals, the following questions may assist:

  • How is the goal/s meaningful (e.g. what value does it have – rewards and benefits?)
  • How specific and measurable is the goal; how specific and measurable does it need to be?
  • How realistic is the goal?
  • How flexible is the goal?
  • How is the goal supported and by who?
  • What is the desired outcome?

To establish a goal, the current situation needs to be understood; this is referred to as the ‘Reality’. Purpose and direction are crucial in any mentoring relationship. A goal will emerge from exploring purpose and direction. Exploring the current reality can provide clearer, sharper focus. When exploring the reality and assessing the current situation, the following questions may assist:

  • Where are you now in relation to your goal?
  • What have you already done towards your goal?
  • How do you feel about your current situation?
  • What are you not looking at?
  • What have you been avoiding?
  • What is your intuition telling you?
  • What has stopped you from doing more/moving towards your goal?
  • What would happen if you did nothing?

The purpose of the ’Options’ stage is to explore a range of alternative courses of action. Some might refer to this as the brain-stimulating process of gathering all the options, as it involves creativity and exploration, without the fear of judgement and without inhibition. When exploring possibilities and alternatives the following questions may assist:

  • If you were at your best, what would you do right now?
  • Imagine you're fully confident in your abilities, what could you do?
  • Imagine you had all the time you needed, what would you do?
  • Imagine having a chat with a role model/s, what would they suggest you do?
  • What would your trusted colleague suggest if they were advising you?
  • What would you suggest if you were advising a trust colleague?
  • Imagine you're an expert in this area. What ideas do you have now?
  • What else could you do; and, what else?

The purpose of the final stage of the GROW Model is to move from discussion mode into decision mode. The final stage provides an understanding of what has been learned and what can be changed to achieve the initial goals. The emphasis is on ’Will’, intention, and responsibility. This stage can involve creating a summary and plan of action for implementation of the identified steps. There are two steps, the first involves accountability set-up and the second follow-up and feedback. Accountability set-up involves defining actions, timeframes, and measures of success. Follow-up and feedback involve reviewing how things went and exploring feedback for learning. The following questions may assist:

  • What could you do as the very first step towards meeting your goal?
  • What actions need to be taken?
  • What actions do you want to take?
  • Which actions will you do?
  • Explore how the actions move the mentee towards the goal.
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to take action?
  • What stops that being a 10?
  • What 3 things could you do to support yourself and make sure this gets done?

Questions for reflection

  • How might you and your mentee/mentor structure a mentoring meeting?
  • What questions might you explore in the different stages of the mentoring meeting to establish purpose, direction and goals?
  • What are the advantages/disadvantages of a structured approach to the mentoring session and, to what extent do you adopt a structured approach?
  • How might you apply the GROW Model in your mentoring practice and conversations?