It’s no secret that a solid mentoring program in the workplace can be a powerful development tool for both employees and companies. That’s why large, successful brands like Deloitte, KPMG, and Boeing run world-class professional mentoring programs that keep their employees happy, motivated, and engaged at work.
While many organizations talk a big game when it comes to mentoring, there are few examples of mentoring programs in the workplace that actually work. So it’s hard not to wonder, what is the secret ingredient to successful mentoring programs in corporations? How do we get it right?
You can start with our collection of six useful tips for developing a mentoring program that makes a difference.
6 Tips for Successful Mentorship Programs
Every mentoring program in the workplace is different because every workplace is different. Still, there are a few non-negotiables that are just as relevant, important, and easy to implement in all programs. We’ve picked out the top six tips to help you get started.
- Know where mentorship will take you
- Plan how you’ll get there
- Spread the good news
- Set mentors up for success
- Make careful matches
- Check your progress
1. Know where mentorship will take you
Every mentorship program should have a clearly defined purpose, both for the company and for the participants involved in the program. Because if you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there!
A good place to begin is by evaluating skills gaps in the business. Does the business need to achieve higher sales, improve their customer service delivery, or perhaps transfer key knowledge across departments and teams?
Depending on the purpose of the mentoring program, you’ll be able to set clear, measurable objectives for mentoring. Take the example of a company looking to develop leadership skills within their existing staff base. One objective of their mentoring program might be to place five senior-level managers through internal recruitment over the next 12 months.
By having a clear definition of success, you’ll be in a better position to identify who should participate in the program, who already possesses key skills or knowledge that would benefit others, and which individual needs and ambitions would align with the goals of mentoring.
2. Plan how you’ll get there
It’s around about now that you’ll want to create an employee mentoring program template. This is a tool that sets out the logistics of a mentoring program in the workplace. It can even be a simple table with details about the program, like:
- How long the program will run for
- Who will be responsible for monitoring mentor-mentee relationships
- How often mentees and mentors will meet
- How often feedback will be collected from participants
- Preferred channels of communication between mentors and mentees
- What the mentorship relationship should focus on (for example, specific projects, day-to-day performance, or a defined plan for progressing into a more senior role)
- How the mentorship relationship will be structured
When it comes to structuring mentorship relationships, mentors can be paired with an individual or a group of mentees. Team or group mentoring often works better in startup cultures, where most mentees are in a similar life and career stage. On the other hand, one-to-one mentoring is the most common as a corporate mentoring programs example.
The most widely-known type of mentoring is classic mentoring, where the mentor is more senior than the person they are mentoring. But it’s not the only option. Reverse mentoring is when the mentor is actually junior to the mentee. This is more common when a new manager or leader doesn’t have as much experience in a specific industry or company as a more junior (but often less qualified) long-standing employee.
3. Spread the good news
Unlike traditional training, mentoring programs in the workplace aren’t easy to enforce through mandatory participation. People need to choose to be involved if the program is going to be a success. But many people are hesitant to engage in a mentorship relationship.
Mentees don’t feel that mentorship is something that they need, or they fear that meetings with their mentor will be, well, awkward. On the flip side, mentors worry that the experience won’t be worth their time.
So, it’s critical that all employees understand the benefits of being both a mentor and a mentee, and that they understand how it will work. The more they understand about the expectations of the mentorship program, the less likely they are to hear crickets in their first meeting.
Set clear expectations about what mentoring can help employees to achieve. For example, a mentorship program might aim to develop leaders, but a promotion is not a guaranteed outcome of participating. Then, build excitement and buy-in by having leaders in the business talk about the importance of the program. Finally, select key people in the business to act as advocates for mentoring, spreading seeds of positivity about the program amongst their peers.
4. Set mentors up for success
Not everyone is born and bred to be the perfect mentor. Actually, because just about anybody can be selected as a mentor, many of them might not be equipped with the skills that an effective mentor needs.
It’s up to the organization to set their mentors up for success. Because successful mentors mean successful mentees, and more positive outcomes for the business, too. So, provide mentorship training that helps them to develop skills and knowledge like:
- Constructive feedback skills
- Listening and communication skills
- Inspirational leadership skills
- Knowledge about teaching tools, like role plays and journaling
- Observation skills
- Patience and enthusiasm
- Knowledge of company policies and procedures
The mentorship relationship is not owned by one person, so mentors should also recognize that mentorship is a two-way learning opportunity that can provide mutual benefits. Mentors should also be able to judge the extent of their involvement, i.e. when to take a hands-on approach and when to stand back and let their mentee make mistakes (or soar).
Micromanaging will never yield positive results for a mentee.
5. Make careful matches
Picture a blind date where friends match two people who have never met each other before because they seem to have similar personalities. Now forget about that picture. Because there’s a lot more to successfully matching mentors and mentees than just ‘personality’.
Random matching can result in a “hit and miss” situation, and the organization will be stuck doing damage control. Rather mentees should be carefully paired with mentors that meet a number of criteria, like:
- Similar interests and hobbies
- Compatible personality (often identified through the use of personality assessments)
- Generational similarities
- Experience and skills that complement the mentee’s career goals
Mentees can choose their own mentors (and vice versa), or be placed by the organization. Either way, making as much information as possible about the other participant available is key to achieving the right match. So it can be helpful to ask mentors and mentees to complete an information sheet about the criteria listed above.
6. Check your progress
Even if you followed all of the tips listed so far, mentorship programs in the workplace are rarely perfect the first time around. That’s why it’s important to gather feedback from participants on their experience, the perceived benefits, and any recommendations they might have for future improvements.
Remember those objectives you set for the program, way back in the first tip? Well now is the time to revisit those, too. Look at sales, productivity, new products, or internal hires on the closure of the program, and measure how close you came to success. By using the knowledge acquired from every program, you’ll be able to continuously improve the effectiveness of mentoring programs in the workplace.
Develop and Retain the Best Talent
Finding the best talent is great, but keeping them can be a lot harder to do. Employees today are hungry for new challenges, stimulating work, and ongoing self-growth and development.
Follow the simple tips above to leverage successful mentorship programs in the workplace as a tool for employee retention. There’s no time like right now to start implementing your mentorship program!
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