The Right Ways to Create a Mentorship Program

A mentorship program has almost no down side for a business. It’s a great way to motivate employees, work toward company goals, and build bench strength. A mentorship program needn't cost much, either.

mentor program

The biggest reason to create a mentorship program, though: Your best and brightest are already seeking mentors on their own. If you don’t fill that need, they’ll look elsewhere.

With a little planning, you can harness the power of mentorship in house. Here are some tips for doing that.

Establish the Goal of Your Mentorship Program

Maybe you’re looking to improve employee retention or perhaps you need to grow the next generation of leaders. Or it’s possible you’re looking for ways to smooth on-boarding for new employees.

Each goal, however, requires different execution. That’s why it’s important to determine what you’re trying to accomplish first. What do you want mentees to be able to do at the end of the program? How will you measure the long-term success of the program itself?

For your program to be effective, you must figure this out before you start planning.

Formalize Expectations

At minimum, require a commitment to both the length of the relationship and frequency of meetings. Most companies set length of mentorship somewhere between six and 18 months. Contact should be at least monthly, though every other week is better.

Just as you have goals for the overall program, the mentee must have goals as well. Many will involve industry knowledge or skills, but occasionally organizations will also allow goals such as “improving work-life balance.”

Some companies require confidentiality agreements and/or create detailed contracts that both sides sign. That’s probably not necessary for all businesses, but mentors and mentees do need to know what’s expected.

Find Passionate Mentors

An ideal mentor is a committed teacher. She’s a skilled listener and savvy analyst. She’s a problem solver—not in the immediate sense, but someone who is able to guide mentees down paths that lead them to their own solutions. People skills and enthusiasm are a must.

That doesn’t mean you should overlook the staff grumps. Underneath that crusty layer, many curmudgeons have the substance you need in a mentor, while cheerleaders can be all enthusiasm with little to back it up.

It’s never a good idea to force managers to mentor. It’s fine to encourage those who are wary of making a time commitment or who don’t believe they have the skills. Don’t get in the business of arranging marriages, though.

You’ll also need an organizational champion for the overall program lest it wither from lack of support.

Find the Right Mentor Match

The mentor’s chief roles are advisor, supporter, and confidante. It’s not a transactional relationship—it's a personal one. A certain level of trust is necessary, and if the comfort isn’t there, the trust isn’t likely to be either.

While a Hogwarts sorting hat would be the ideal tool, there are other ways for pairing mentors and mentees, including apps on sites ranging from LinkedIn to stand-alone companies such as Chronus. Other companies compile questionnaires that cover goals on the mentee end and skills on the mentor side and look for matches. The weakness of that method is that it overlooks personal chemistry.

Still other companies set up “speed dating” events where potentials mentors and mentees have a chance to meet briefly. Each selects their top matches after the event and are paired based in part on their picks.

Put Money into the Mentorship Program

Meeting during office hours is fine as far as it goes, but to build a true relationship, it doesn’t go far enough. At the very least, spring for the occasional off-campus coffee or lunch. Some companies budget for dinners a few times a year or weekend outings. These not only build the relationship, but also show both the mentor and the mentee the company is committed.

Workshops, field trips, and guest speakers are other options if many of your mentor-mentee pairs are working on similar goals.

Veteran employees get the opportunity to nurture the next generation, while younger hires benefit from the wisdom of those who have come before them. Sometimes, the student even becomes the teacher, with the mentee bringing the mentor up-to-date on new technology and developments. Youthful enthusiasm can be contagious, too! If done right, a mentorship program offers vast benefits to both sides.

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