Even if your company hires highly qualified individuals, there is always more for employees to learn as well as opportunities for growth. Establishing a formal mentoring program can benefit both mentees and mentors; mentees feel supported and valued by someone who can help them reach their goals, and mentors are able to develop stronger leadership skills and leverage the experience they have gained throughout their careers.

One of the great things about mentoring programs is that they leverage the strengths of existing employees; the company does not need to bring outside professionals in or send employees out to take a class. Individuals who are in leadership positions or who have been with the company for many years have a lot of knowledge and experience to offer. They have encountered a wide array of situations, overcome their own challenges, and grown in their careers. This insight can help others who are just starting out to be more successful. The company doesn’t have to invest a lot of money in a training program – employees can engage in invaluable learning for free by partnering with a mentor.

Why Do You Need a Mentoring Program?

Mentoring programs can serve a variety of purposes. They can be an effective way of integrating new employees into the company, acclimating them to the organization, and boosting retention. Mentees can turn to their mentor for guidance with challenges they’re facing as a new employee or in a new role. Mentors can provide constructive feedback and resources to empower the mentee to not only enhance their performance but reach goals they have set for themselves. A mentor can also help them to see their potential and what opportunities they may want to set their sights on for the future.

Another purpose mentoring programs can serve is to develop new leaders. Employees who want to advance in their careers but aren’t sure how to go about doing so can benefit from learning from colleagues already in these types of roles. Programs could also be tailored to specific groups such as women or minorities who may be underrepresented in leadership positions. Mentoring can equip them with the confidence, support, and guidance to go after a higher-level role.

What Should a Mentoring Program Look Like?

There should be a clear structure for your program, whether it is formal or informal. Even casual mentoring should have a purpose, goal, and general format. Once your company decides that it is going to put a mentoring program in place, you must decide how it will function and what the mentor/mentee relationship will look like.

  • Purpose: Why are you starting the program? Is it to increase employee satisfaction and retention? Build future leaders? Help new employees acclimate? Know what you are trying to achieve so you can create a clear path to get there. Don’t just start a program because you think it sounds like a good idea but don’t have a vision for what it will achieve.

  • Participants: Will this be a mandatory program or optional? Will it be invite-only, or will employees have the opportunity to sign up if they’re interested? How will you select mentors? It can be a good idea to gauge the level of interest, both from a mentee and a mentor perspective. You want to ensure that you have enough individuals to serve as mentors and that they are receptive to the idea.

  • Matching: Some companies automatically pair off mentees and mentors. Others give mentees the option of selecting someone they’re interested in working with, or whom they think they would be a good fit. Matching pairs up can be challenging, so it’s beneficial to find out what each person wants to get out of the experience, what they are hoping to accomplish, and what their preferred style of interaction is.

  • Timeline: Decide how long the program will last. Will mentors and mentees meet once a week for several weeks? With they meet a set number of times on their own schedule? Will it be one-and-done? This could vary depending on what the purpose of your program is and what you are looking to achieve; some goals can be met more quickly than others.

  • Results: How will you measure the success of your program? What factors will decide whether or not it was effective? You should have some way of tracking results and if the program is working or needs some adjustments. You don’t want employees to feel that mentoring is a waste of their time and they’re not gaining anything from the experience.

Establishing expectations for both parties is also key. It should not be one person doing all of the work; both the mentor and the mentee should be equal contributors. Make sure that they understand their part in the program, and how they are expected to contribute. Bringing together the whole group to discuss the purpose and benefits of the program can be beneficial so that they know how their hard work can pay off and what they can gain from participating.

If there is a lot of interest from employees who want to receive mentoring, but there are not a significant number of quality mentors to go around, the company may want to create small groups rather than assign one-on-one pairings. There could be one or two mentors to several mentees. Just be cautious about mixing too many different personalities together, or people who do not have similar goals. This can detract from the value of the program and the effectiveness of meetings.

What Makes a Good Mentor?

Along with deciding how the program will operate, you need to figure out who will be making it run. If your company has a lot of new employees or individuals who are looking to advance in their careers, do you have enough experienced employees to support them – and who are interested in being part of the program? Not everyone is cut out to be a mentor.
A good mentor wants to give back and help others. They realize that this is an opportunity for them to grow in their career as well and show that they are an effective leader and can develop others. Mentors should not only be willing to help their coworkers, but they should have the knowledge and experience to do so. You don’t want to pair someone who may be struggling themselves, or have too much on their plate already, to mentor a new hire.

Once a group of mentors has been identified, they should go through training so that they know what is expected of them, what some best practices are for supporting mentees, and how to create an effective process. Ensure that they too feel supported and have somewhere to turn if they need help getting things going in the right direction or overcoming obstacles.

What Makes a Good Mentee?

Mentees should have a willingness to learn. They are more likely to be invested and want to come up with solutions and implement changes if there is some intrinsic motivation. They should be open to feedback and not feel as though they are being personally attacked or criticized. Good mentees are motivated to succeed and continue learning and growing. Mentees should have a positive attitude and not be afraid to ask questions or ask for help.

Employees who are participating as mentees should understand the expectations placed on them as well. It is not up to their mentor to do all of the work. Their mentor is there to guide them in creating a plan and changes that they must work to put in place. They should bring ideas to the table and have thoughtful discussions that leverage both of their strengths. Ultimately it is up to the mentee to maximize the resources and support they receive to achieve their goals; no one can do the work for them.

How to Manage a Successful Mentoring Program

Once you have worked out the details and implemented your program, you’ll want to monitor progress to see how things are going. Check-in with mentors and mentees after they have met once or twice. Is the relationship mutually beneficial? Are they able to work well together? If one person (or both people) are not feeling a connection, you may need to do some rearranging.

You want mentors and mentees to feel comfortable with one another. Mentees should feel safe discussing challenges, setting goals for the future, and receiving constructive feedback. Mentors should feel confident in giving feedback and knowing how to help mentees overcome obstacles and advance toward their goals. They need to work together, and every pairing might not be a great fit on the first try. This is why it can be beneficial to have employee input on the matching process. Even if they do not have a specific person in mind, they can provide insight into what types of people they work well with and can learn from.

If the program will last for a few weeks or several sessions, set up checkpoints. These will be times when mentors and mentees check in to report on how things are going. They can provide an update on their progress, what they have accomplished so far, and where they want to be by the next checkpoint or the end of the program. This will help to keep everyone more accountable and progress toward established goals.

Once the mentoring experience concludes, gather feedback. Here are a few questions to consider asking each person:

  • What went well and what didn’t?

  • Is there anything they would go back and do differently?

  • Was the program too long? Too short? Just right?

  • What did they gain from the experience?

  • Would they recommend the program to others?

  • Would they be willing to be a mentor again (or in the future if they were a mentee)?

This can enable the company to put meaningful changes in place and create a more robust and effective program to benefit its employees. The program may change over time depending on its purpose and what strategies are successful. Also, mentoring programs at two companies may look completely different, so just because an employee participated in a program with their former employer does not mean they will not benefit from a mentoring program with their current employer.

Mentoring programs can be an enticing reason for potential employees to want to join a company. When companies invest in their employees and opportunities to help them be more successful and advance in their careers, employees often feel more valued and respected. They feel like what they do makes a difference and their employer appreciates them. Mentoring can bring about positive culture changes, improved employee satisfaction, and retention, and increased performance by simply optimizing resources that already exist.