How to Start a Mentorship Program at Work

Mentoring programs can benefit your business in a number or ways, including the transfer of knowledge from seasoned employees to newer employees of the company. Here are some tips to consider when you begin creating a mentorship program in your business.
mentor and an apprentice on a video call

A mentorship program can be a huge benefit to your business, both in terms of transferring important knowledge from seasoned employees to newer employees of the company and in boosting employee retention. 

Here is information on starting a mentorship program and reaping the many rewards that may come with a successful company mentoring program. 

What is a mentoring program in the workplace?

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 career enrichment, as well as 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. 

How can a mentoring program benefit your business? 

In addition to the beneficial results already described, key benefits of mentoring programs also include: 

  • Important leadership and organizational knowledge can be passed throughout the company 
  • A recognition by employees that the company is committed to promoting long-term learning and development 
  • Institutional continuity in a business landscape of constant change 
  • A potentially useful recruitment and retention tool 

Generally speaking, a mentorship program has the potential to generate enthusiasm, a sense of organizational tradition, and the ongoing perpetuation of key values that help a business continue to grow. 

Perhaps just as importantly, in the virtual world that many of us share today, mentoring via Zoom and other interactive digital tools can help businesses achieve the above-mentioned goals in unprecedented ways. But while it may be impossible to predict exactly how a virtual mentorship program works, all signs point to this process as key to the effective transfer of knowledge--and the promotion of future leaders in the post-coronavirus work environment. 

How to start a mentorship program at work 

Getting started on a mentorship program involves a commitment of time, resources, and the right individuals. 

Determine what you want to achieve 

As with any company initiative, it's important to identify what you want to get from a mentoring program. Asking fundamental questions is an essential first step:

  • What goals do we want to accomplish with our mentoring program?
  • How can we structure the mentoring program to accomplish our desired results?
  • What guidelines should we follow for structuring the program?
  • What specific mentoring benefits do we want to provide?
  • Do we want to highlight the program as a key recruitment tool?
  • In the end, what will a successful company mentoring 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 

Even with clear-cut mentor program benefits, it may not be easy to get people involved at first. After all, taking on the roles of both mentor and mentee involves time, patience, and a willingness for both parties to be fully engaged.

Your job is to clarify and highlight the benefits of this program. The best place to start is with prospective mentors. If, as is often the case, you choose to enlist mentors from among your seasoned internal staff, consider offering these individuals time off to devote to the program, and/or a bonus in compensation for going above and beyond their "normal" job responsibilities. 

You can also appeal to potential mentors by citing the experience and knowledge they can contribute and share with others. This is an implicit recognition of the invaluable contributions these individuals have made to the organization, while offering them a new challenge to explore. 

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 their knowledge and past experiences. 

As for mentees, the program has a better chance of gaining "buy-in" if you conduct some preliminary research into what a participant is looking for in a mentoring relationship. Interview the potential mentee and focus on his or her expectations, their 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: 

  • Each individual's professional background
  • Their levels of competency in areas they know and want to know more about
  • Their proven capacity for learning and development
  • Preferred styles of learning and training (for 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 and making an intentional mentor – mentee match can increase the likelihood of success.

Create mentoring program training materials

Mentees can 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. Such best practices can include:

  • Interactive mentor training sessions
  • Chat tools 
  • Online collaboration technology (such as a project management online platform or video conferencing software)
  • Formal meetings where both parties can meet in person or in a digital space
  • Agreed-upon elements of each mentoring session (where it will take place, what will happen during the session, expectations of both parties, etc.)

Mentees may also be "assigned" workshop materials that focus on key learning activities designed to enhance the mentoring experience.

Monitor the program's forward momentum

The best mentoring 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, have the people involved take surveys that ask for their perspectives on knowledge transfer, advancement, understanding of topics discussed, and overall satisfaction with the program. Also, engage in conversations with each party (but specifically mentees), to assess how well the program is meeting their needs and expectations. Invite both parties to offer suggestions and tips that can enhance the experience--both for these individuals and the company's mentoring program in general.

A mentoring program can offer a wealth of benefits--and opportunities--for both the seasoned employee, newer employees, and the entire company. Implementing such a program does require a certain amount of time and resources, but the return on investment you can expect (transfer of knowledge, deeper employee engagement, a boost in morale and productivity) often more than justifies an organizational commitment to this method of training and development.

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