Mentoring benefits are fairly straightforward. A seasoned employee embarks on a mentoring relationship with a less tenured employee, with the ideal result being a tangible positive effect on both the workplace and the career enrichment and engagement of the parties involved. These effects can include broader workplace knowledge, skills, and increased awareness of company culture on the part of the mentee, and a sense of satisfaction and "giving back" on the mentor's part. This is why mentoring continues to be such an effective resource in business. Done right, it's a win-win proposition for everyone involved.
But getting a mentorship program off the ground requires time, energy, and a willingness to overcome various obstacles along the way. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you begin creating a program in your business:
Determine what you want to achieve. As with any company initiative, it's important to identify what you want to get from a mentorship program. Don't be afraid to ask fundamental questions, such as:
- What do we hope to gain from implementing this program?
- What mentoring benefits do we want to provide?
- Are we aiming for increased employee engagement and productivity?
- Do we want to highlight this program as a recruitment tool?
- What will a successful mentorship program look like in our business?
Stipulating anticipated milestones can help you measure the effects of the program, once it's up and running.
Make mentoring opportunities attractive to both parties. Don't expect individuals to flock to your proposed mentorship program. Being a mentor and a mentee takes time, patience, and a willingness for both parties to be fully engaged. Your job is to provide clear-cut benefits, starting with your prospective mentors. If you wish to enlist mentors from among your internal staff, consider offering time off to devote to the program and/or a bonus in compensation for going above and beyond their “regular” job responsibilities.
You can also appeal to potential mentors by citing the experience and knowledge they can contribute and share with others. "Engaging more senior staff as trainers and mentors can help pass along critical knowledge and culture throughout your company," while also bridging the gap "between different generations of staff." Your best long-time employees may feel honored to participate as mentors and share the fruits of their experience.
As for mentees, the program has a better chance of getting off the ground if you do some preliminary research into what a participant is looking for in a mentoring relationship. Conduct an interview that focuses on the mentee's expectations, his or her strengths and weaknesses, and the level of commitment they intend to bring to the table. Having this information in hand will make the matching process much easier and more rewarding.
Address the question of matching. Some mentors will get along better with certain mentees than others, and vice versa. To tilt the odds of success in your favor, look carefully at the varying backgrounds, competencies, learning, and training styles of both parties. Some programs allow participants to select their own mentors, while others rely on an algorithmic system to ascertain the best possible match. Either way, getting to know the people involved beforehand can increase the likelihood of success.
Create mentorship program training materials. Mentees will learn a great deal simply by interacting one-on-one with their mentors. But you can supplement this experience with relevant online mentoring materials and other "best practices" they can refer to.
Monitor the program's forward momentum. The best mentorship programs come with built-in metrics by which progress can be assessed. Such metrics can include specific milestones to achieve within individual mentorship action plans, as well as the frequency and longevity of mentor-mentee meetings. As the program gets underway, "regularly analyze results through surveys and one-on-one conversations with participants," advises digital media consultant John Boitnott. Encourage mentees to "tell you what needs to be changed to make the program better," Boitnott adds, and they will respond favorably when "they see that you care about what they're getting out of the program."
A mentorship program can also include a formal process signifying an end to the mentor/mentee connection, if the relationship is finite. Invite both mentor and mentee to look back on the experience and offer comments on its various strengths and drawbacks. Including a "next-step" program for the mentee is also useful for ensuring that what he or she has learned stays with them throughout their career with your organization.