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How to Launch an Employee Mentoring Program
A professionally-run employee mentoring program is fast becoming the latest must-have offering for companies that are serious about attracting the job market’s best talent. Not only is a mentoring program an attractive “perk” for securing the interest of career-minded job candidates, but it can also provide additional benefits to the companies that develop one, including:
- Higher Employee Retention Rates
- Increased Engagement
- Quicker Adoption of the Business’s Strategic Plan and Culture
- Improved Company Morale
- The Identification of Upwardly Mobile Talent for Better Succession Planning
This is all terrific stuff. But what if your business doesn’t already have a mentoring program, or worse, has one that isn’t delivering the bounty of rewards listed above?
Take a look at the 8-steps below that lay out how to implement a successful employee mentoring program at your organization.
1. Understand what mentoring is and isn’t
One thing mentoring is not is a replacement for training and development programs you may already have in place. Training is typically about conveying rote skills and company-specific proprietary procedures that are required for the broader employee population to be versed in. Mentoring is different. It’s an interpersonal, informal vehicle for professional development for the individual. It doesn’t rely on lesson plans and evaluative assessments. It’s about discovering and building upon an employee’s innate strengths and tapping into their greater worth to the company.
The Association of Talent Development defines mentoring as:
“Mentoring is a reciprocal and collaborative at-will relationship with the purpose of the mentee’s growth, learning, and career development. Often the mentor and mentee are internal to an organization, and there is an emphasis on organizational goals, culture, and advice on professional development. Mentors often act as role models for their mentees and provide guidance to help them reach their career goals. Mentoring can be formal or informal. In an informal environment, mentees set goals, but they are usually not measurable and the relationships are unstructured. For a formal mentoring relationship, there are actionable and measurable goals defined and set with determined requirements.”
2. Mentoring is aligned with your organization’s objectives
It’s important to identify the appropriate metrics, goals and business objectives that will be positively affected by your mentoring program. Focus your mentoring goals around the needs of your stakeholders: the mentor, the mentee and the business itself. It’s important to have positive takeaways for each of these participants, otherwise, your program is likely to fail.
What are these takeaways? Generally, the mentee is looking for an opportunity to learn new skills and provide meaningful impact on company objectives. The mentor wants an opportunity to learn from a younger worker, to understand their skills and culture, while imparting their own wisdom from years of on-the-job experience. And the company wants the opportunity to retain, nurture and prime the next generation of senior business leaders. Successful programs deliver on each of these sets of needs.
3. Secure Management’s Buy-In
Most successful programs secure buy-in from senior management first, and then proceed to seek input from other stakeholders within the company – to make sure their objectives and concerns are met. Forming a committee made up of members from various key departments is useful when formulating the plan. Educate them about mentoring objectives and be candid about the scheduling commitment a workable plan will take – assuring them that all participants benefit in the end.
The goal is to drive enthusiasm and support for your program and identify potential ambassadors and champions who will rally behind the plan’s ultimate deployment.
4. Request and integrate feedback
At its heart, mentoring is a collaborative and fluid process. Your program will need to be flexible and able to evolve as you determine what’s working and what’s not. Sponsors, stakeholders, and supporting company resources will all have a vested interest in making the program a success. They’re likely to have some ideas of their own which will serve to shape your program.
For this purpose, be sure you have a feedback mechanism in place before the plan is rolled out.
And be aware:
- You are likely to be presented with perspectives, obstacles, and solutions you may not have considered. Some may be critical. Others supportive. Be open to adopting them.
- Being a team player ensures you’ll have the respect and support of these various stakeholders when the time comes to launch your program.
5. Address these Questions as you Structure Your Program
- Who is the target population?
- What are the requirements for mentors?
- What are the requirements for mentees?
- How will participants be recruited (open invitation, private invitation)?
- What criteria will be used to pair mentors and mentees?
- What sorts of resources, guidance and/or training will be provided?
- What is the intended duration of mentorship?
- How will communications be handled?
- When will the program launch, and how will this be executed?
- How will success be measured?
- Who will oversee the program?
Once you’ve answered these important questions you can draft an outline for your program’s launch.
6. Recruiting and Training Program Participants
Start with identifying your mentors. It’s important to know how many mentors your program will have before determining how many mentees it can sustain.
Once you have a sense of your participant numbers follow these guidelines to roll out your program:
- Give advance notice of enrollment start and end dates, and then remind people closer to the launch.
- Provide a long enough window for enrollment… everyone gets lots of e-mail. Allow for messages getting buried, lost, or even ignored. Understand that even the best-intentioned individuals may procrastinate.
- Stick to your timeline; Open and close enrollment as announced. Too much leniency can undermine getting your program officially launched.
MENTOR TRAINING = MENTOR READINESS & CONFIDENCE
Even the best and most seasoned employees need mentor training so they can effectively empower others. Companies often hesitate to initiate mentoring programs because they fear their managers aren’t equipped to be mentors.
With mentor training, companies can ensure that mentors are ready, confident and motivated to empower employee development. It’s worth building into your budget the training services of a professional mentoring agency so that all your mentors start on the same page.
7. Matching Program Participants
Creating effective mentor/mentee matches can be a time-intensive, laborious effort. Your mission is to review participant profiles, consider their preferences and create compatible pairings. This takes a keen knowledge of the populace, a solid understanding of interpersonal dynamics and organizational savvy.
Software platforms, based on sound matching criteria can help facilitate mentoring programs. With the right technology and expertise, creating engaging, impactful mentoring relationships can be as easy as clicking your mouse.
When should you consider mentoring software? The general rule of thumb is: if you’re matching more than 75 people, you’ll want to use automation. However you choose to create your pairs, once they’re made, introduce mentors to mentees and let mentoring begin!
8. Measure, Monitor and Improve
Throughout the course of the mentoring cycle, you’re going to want to:
- Check-in with participants on a regular basis to gauge relationship satisfaction
- Chart how much time being spent in mentoring-related activities
- Identify trends and issues, list areas for improvement
- Gather specific feedback about your program’s communication and structure
Be sure to publicize areas of efficacy and success, as well as the areas for improvement. This will ensure that every aspect of your program improves. Keep what works, and re-think what doesn’t.
With a little research, collaboration, planning and stewardship, you’re going to have a successful program, and make significant impacts to your people, and your organization.
Todd Greer is an Enterprise Customer Success Coach with MentorcliQ, collaborating with global organizations to build mentoring programs and strategies that engage and transform their cultures. Todd’s career spans multiple continents, demographics, and industries, centered in education, training, behavioral performance coaching, and corporate culture stewardship.