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Mentorship Programs: What Employers Should Know Before Getting Started

by Karyn H. Rhodes | SHRM-SCP, SPHR on Jul 21, 2022 8:00:00 AM

Employee training and development initiatives not only ensure workers have the knowledge and skills needed to effectively do their jobs, but they can also improve satisfaction, morale, and retention. And one of the best ways to enhance culture is by leveraging mentorship programs. That’s why about 70% of Fortune 500 companies and a quarter of smaller companies have one. How do you structure a program to maximize its benefits? Let’s find out.

To help you understand how to start a mentoring program, here we’ll cover the steps to develop one for your workplace, how to select participants, the best way to match mentors and mentees, and setting goals and measuring results. After reading this, you’ll know the key actions to take to build the right mentorship program for your business.

What is a mentorship program?

Mentorship programs involve an advisor, or mentor, providing guidance to a mentee, sharing valuable experience, skills and knowledge. It is intended to help foster professional growth of anyone from new hires at the beginning of their career journey to middle managers who need to develop their leadership skills. It’s important to point out that a mentor is not a boss nor someone who will help an underperforming employee; rather, a mentor will provide feedback and guidance to help an employee grow and reach their full potential.

To get the most from your program, it’s a good idea to establish a process for how it will operate. We’ll get into how to do that next.

How To Start A Mentorship Program

It takes several steps to get started with mentorship programs. These include:

  • Set goals. As you think about why you want to launch a mentorship program, determine what you hope to get from it. For example, are you hoping to improve job output or satisfaction? Do you want to improve your onboarding process? Are you preparing high-potential employees for leadership? That way, you’ll have measurable criteria to gauge your program’s success and ROI.
  • Map the program. Whether it’s you, a program administrator, or advisory board, establish how the mentorship program will work such as how you will select participants and match mentors and mentees, how you’ll choose areas of support for the mentor, the format of the meetings, how long the mentorship will last, and so on.
  • Select mentors. Even though a mentorship is really intended to benefit mentees, the right mentors are essential. Once you identify who would be an ideal candidate, which we’ll talk about later in this article, secure their buy in. If they’re concerned about the time required to participate, it may help to share the benefits to them such as improving their management and communication skills.
  • Determine your matching process. We’ll get into this point in more detail in a bit but you’ll want to structure how you’ll pair employees with their mentors.
  • Share expectations. Be sure you let prospective mentees know what the purpose of the mentorship program is so that they understand what to expect. For example, they may think their participation means they’re on a path to promotion but that may not be the case; you may simply be investing in their professional growth.
  • Launch your mentorship program. To build enthusiasm, educate participants, leaders, and stakeholders about the benefits of the mentorship initiative. And offer mentorship training for those who will take part to make sure the program gets off the ground successfully that covers how to conduct meetings, provide feedback, and stay on track to the established goals.

Who are good participants?

When it comes to mentors, there are generally some key attributes to look for. These include:

  • The right experience
  • A caring attitude
  • Honesty and integrity
  • An open mind
  • Clear communication
  • Well-respected

Among mentorship programs, there are also some typical characteristics of promising mentees, such as:

  • Demonstrated motivation
  • A positive attitude
  • Willingness to learn
  • Dedicated
  • Positioned for advancement

How do we match mentors and mentees?

To realize the greatest impact from your mentorship program, it’s important to match the right participants together. You have a few choices when it comes to the matching process. Typically, organizations will use one of the following 3 approaches:

  1. You can let employees choose their own mentor. With this option, they may either be able to select a particular mentor or submit their top choices.
  2. You or your program’s administrator can match mentors and mentees
  3. You can use a survey that uses algorithms to find the best match (there are software solutions available on the market that can help with this). This may be a good approach if you’re matching a large number of mentors and mentees.

While any of these options may be right for your company, the most effective mentorship programs give mentees some degree of input or choice, even if that means you suggest a few possible mentors and let them choose.

The important thing is to make sure you’re matching participants on the right factors such as competencies, organizational knowledge, goals, and others. To accomplish this, it’s a good idea to have both mentors and mentees complete profiles that ask questions about their professional experience, what they’re hoping to gain from the program, and even their personal interests and hobbies.

How do we measure success?

As we discussed earlier, it’s important to establish goals for your program at the outset. That way, you can establish clear criteria for evaluating a mentorship to determine if it was successful. For example, if a mentorship is intended to help an employee learn or refine a new skill, you’ll want to ask the mentee at the conclusion of the program whether that happened. It can also be useful to seek external feedback from a manager, peer, or others about whether there’s been an improvement in the demonstrated skillset. You can do this as part of a 360-degree review.

In addition to measuring the progress of the mentee, to show ROI, you’ll want to track whether the program is furthering your business objectives as well. So, you may want to measure metrics such as:

  • Employee engagement
  • Satisfaction
  • Retention
  • Performance/productivity
  • Promotion rates

How to Best Start an Effective Mentorship Program

Mentorship programs can be a great way to provide employees more personalized feedback than formal training while also promoting connections and a common purpose that can positively impact your workplace culture and retention rates. The key to getting a successful program up and running is to design a program that works best for your employees and your workplace. If you’re not sure the best way to structure a mentoring initiative, it may help to talk with an external HR consultant who has experience in designing programs. To help you find the right HR partner to set up your program, read our next article on the key factors to look for in an outsourced HR provider.

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