Top Seven Things to Consider When Building a Mentor Program
With National Intern Day upon us, it’s a good time to discuss one important aspect of any successful internship program: mentoring.
Mentoring has changed in recent years as a new generation of employees has entered the workforce. Mentorship is no longer just a nice thing to offer employees but an increasingly important way to attract and retain top talent. Employees want development opportunities and companies that take this to heart are that much more poised to compete in a tight hiring market.
In my experience as a learning program manager, a formal mentorship program can have a positive influence on employee engagement, which in turn can improve employee retention, aid recruitment efforts and even increase company performance. A good mentorship program touches all aspects of business, positively affecting company culture, productivity, innovation and, eventually, the bottom line.
Here are seven things to keep in mind when building—or enhancing—a mentorship program.
1. Make sure the mentor program aligns with the company mission
When creating and implementing a mentorship program, it’s a good idea to keep the organization’s mission, vision and goals top-of-mind. The strategy of a strong mentorship program should be to develop the behavior in program participants that produces the results the company is working toward. All mentorship activities should support this strategy.
For instance, if the company’s mission is to “design the most innovative and reliable mobile devices that have ever existed,” the mentorship program and action plans should include activities that allow mentees to take part in innovative thinking, creativity, attention to detail and calculated risk-taking. This way, the company is mentoring employees to be even more successful at contributing to the core business.
2. Plan the mentor program around company culture
In today’s world, company culture isn’t just a buzzword; it is imperative for attracting and retaining the right team members. Business leaders should think about the culture they are trying to create and make sure their mentorship program supports that goal.
To nurture a culture of transparency, for example, the mentorship program should reflect transparency through essentials like open discussions, shared experiences and open-door environments.
3. Identify internal mentors
Mentorship programs succeed and fail by the people who participate in them. It can be helpful to identify, early on, which employees bear the characteristics, skills and abilities the business would like to cultivate in the rest of the team. It’s a good idea to start by taking into consideration the unique needs and personalities of those who will receive the mentoring and which potential mentors might make a good match for them. Then leaders can approach these team members to gauge their interest in mentoring.
4. Select a mentorship model
There are various mentorship models to choose from and it’s important to select the right one for the company, its culture and each individual mentor/mentee relationship. When choosing a mentorship model, it’s useful to take into consideration organizational goals, as well as time and ability constraints of the mentors and mentees who are participating. It’s also advisable to take care to make sure mentorship models are assigned to participants in an equal fashion so that everyone benefits from a program that is as effective as possible for their needs.
Mentorship models can be formal, such as one-on-one meetings that happen at prescribed intervals over a certain period of time (sometimes for up to a year) or they can be done more informally, such as in a group setting or for a very brief period.
5. Create a support system for mentors and mentees
It is important to provide the mentor/mentee relationships with the support and resources they need to be successful. Companies can start with creating an “agreement and rules of engagement” document. This document outlines how and when the participants will come together, what types of activities they will tackle and the responsibility each will bear for making the relationship work. Successful mentor programs have clear agreements on how participants will work together to increase effectiveness and position the program for maximum success. This document should also be revisited annually and updated to align and evolve with the company.
Make sure to check in regularly with participants and even offer some incentives for both the mentor and the mentee (a lunch celebration, for example) for meeting their mentoring goals. Whatever the reward system you choose, it’s important to make sure it is applied equally to all participants.
6. Start with a small group of mentor program participants
It is always a good idea to beta test any new program before introducing it on a company-wide scale. One approach is to utilize a small group of mentors/mentees for a brief period (perhaps one month or one quarter) to test for initial adjustments and increase the program’s opportunity for success.
7. Don’t forget to evaluate the mentor program
Whether the company is beta testing in a small group or the mentorship program is already up and running, it’s a good idea to perform evaluations regularly—quarterly or at least annually. The evaluation piece cannot be over-emphasized. Regular evaluation ensures that the program is working to produce the results the company envisioned and gives everyone an opportunity to adjust anything that isn’t working.
One approach to consider comes from renowned business training expert Donald Kirkpatrick. He recommends four levels of evaluation in order to gain a full assessment of a program, including:
- Reaction: Ask participants for their quick feedback on the program. What was their overall impression of their experience? This can be done via email or a simple multiple-choice survey.
- Learning: Ask questions that assess what the participant learned. For instance, “what was a theme of your mentorship relationship? What was the most impactful lesson you walked away with?” This can also be done via email or in a more open-ended survey.
- Behavioral: The evaluators observe the participants to identify changes in their work and behavior.
- Results: Did the program produce the expected results? Circle back to the company mission and decide how close the company is to achieving the goals laid out in the beginning. Did sales increase? By how much? Did customer satisfaction ratings increase? Did employee retention improve?
An HR solutions provider can help with questions or to provide guidance in creating a successful mentorship program.
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