How to Build a Mentoring Program That Works

In a tight marketplace where companies are competing to secure top talent, can any organization afford to squander the talent that’s already onboard? The answer is undoubtedly no, but how can companies ensure that the best and the brightest on the team stick around? Managers are often ill-equipped for career conversations and may be unable to provide the feedback and resources that people need to feel both challenged and secure in their positions. A healthy and strong¬†mentoring¬†relationship may save careers and keep your talent focused on the growth you need to move your organization forward, and they need to stick with your company for the long haul.

The Effects of Missing Mentorship

Part of the human experience is the relationships we build with other people. It’s often easy for us to prioritize these relationships in our personal lives, but professionally it is just as important, as we will all spend about a third of our lives at work. According to Forbes, mentors at an employee’s current company can be a valuable source of information including the dynamics of the business, politics in the organization, and actionable feedback that directly relates to the needs of the individual. The mentor relationship is also distinct from other developmental relationships in that they tend to be longer-lasting than a teacher or coach and the nature of the listening and influencing contributes to the long-term growth of the mentee.

According to a study by the University of Georgia on the effects of mentorship, a number of positive benefits were identified. First, mentored individuals were more likely to have a positive view of the activities engaged in with a mentor, including job activities, and more likely to develop a psychological attachment to the relationship’s context, including the workplace. Mentors can improve their mentee’s overall well-being by challenging negative self-views and help them navigate relationships and interpersonal problems at work. Mentees are exposed to opportunities, ideas and experiences which can help enhance their goal-setting and realization, learning and skill development. Networking opportunities formed from mentoring relationships help in terms of better salaries, more promotions and a greater variety of job opportunities for the protege.

In other words, individuals will have access to a greater potential for career success and satisfaction and the organization benefits from team members who are more committed to the company, more motivated to succeed and increase skills, and better able to set goals and then achieve them. There is a considerable amount for everyone to lose when these relationships are not present or ineffective.

Building A Better Mentoring Program

The need for constructive mentoring programs is evident. The key, then, is to create a plan that is effective so the organization and individuals can get the most from these endeavors. The first step is to take the time to define your program. Why are you starting a mentoring program? What will success look like for both the mentor and the protege, as well as for the organization as a whole? Once the purpose of the initiative is better understood, defining the remaining aspects will be clearer.

The next step is to choose the participants. Ideally, all employees should be included or at least given the opportunity to participate. The mentoring program should be a wide career development path, rather than a more exclusive opportunity such as leadership development. Having a wide range of participants will allow you to more appropriately match partners by career level, as mentors should be at least one level higher than their mentees. Matches should also be made based on what the individuals are seeking, such as networking, skill development and long-term goals.

Once the relationships have been established, boundaries, objectives and timelines should be clearly identified. Relaxed mentorships may work well in personal situations, but for business goals, a clear plan will achieve better results. Each pair or group should begin by establishing goals for the relationship to ensure that each has the knowledge and interest to benefit from the match. Defined endpoints will help motivate progress toward goals, and milestones should be included to ensure progress is measured. At the end of each term, relationships should be evaluated to determine whether they should continue or whether it’s time to shuffle the participants for different experiences. Ground rules and boundaries that are established by each pair will also prevent misunderstandings and ensure that each partner’s responsibilities and contributions are understood.

Lastly, and most importantly, training, tools and resources are critical to the success of any mentorship program. Few people are natural-born mentors and some individuals need help making the most of what mentors have to share. From effective communication strategies and relationship-building techniques to specific training for mentors-to-be, the more each partner is equipped with in terms of relationship skills, the better the results. Plus, any skills-based activities should be accompanied by teaching tools such as training materials. Mentors should also be trained on how to advise their proteges on career and life goals and where to turn for additional resources for planning and growth. 

Conserving Resources

Organizations that do not develop effective mentoring programs have a high cost to pay, namely in terms of lost resources. As talented and high potential individuals stall in the organization, the result is often burnout or disengagement and eventual departure from the company. Mentor programs are designed to rescue these individuals, to re-engage them with their position and the company, and to keep people continually on a path of learning and growth. The results include employees who are more confident and committed, a greater sense of camaraderie throughout the organization, and all the benefits that come from an engaged workforce.

Whether you have yet to design and implement a corporate mentoring program, or you want to ensure that your current approach positions your organization, and your employees, for success, we’re here to help. Contact us if you have questions or to schedule a conversation about your approach to mentoring.