7 Things to Consider When Building a Mentor Program in the Modern Workplace

July 18, 2017 · 6 min read


Manager, Learning & Development, TriNet

You may be reading this and thinking, “nobody at our business has time for mentoring.” You may have a mentoring program and be saying to yourself, “we have something that works just fine; we don’t need to change it.” Or you could be writing off mentoring because “we tried a mentorship program and nobody participated.”

If any of this sounds like you, read on, because mentoring has changed in recent years as a new generation of workers has come into the workforce. Mentorship is no longer just a nice thing to offer your employees—it is crucial to attracting top talent and convincing them to stick around. Employees want development opportunities now more than ever and your mentorship program must compete with other organizations that take this to heart.

In my experience as a learning program manager, a formal mentorship program can have a positive influence on employee engagement, resulting in improved employee retention, more successful recruiting and even increased company performance. A good mentorship program touches all aspects of your business. It affects your culture, productivity, innovation and, eventually, your bottom line.

I ask you to strongly consider building a mentorship program or taking a look at how you can enhance the one you have. Here are seven things to keep in mind as you do.

1. Be true to your mission

When creating and implementing your mentorship program, you’ll want to keep your organization’s mission, vision and goals top-of-mind. The strategy of your mentorship program should be to develop the behavior in your participants that produces the results your company is working toward. All mentorship activities should support this strategy.

For instance, if your company’s mission is to “design the most innovative and reliable mobile devices on the market,” your 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, you are mentoring your employee to be even more successful at contributing to your core business.

2. Plan around your company culture

In today’s world, company culture isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a must-have for attracting and retaining the right team members. Think about the culture you are trying to create and make sure your mentorship program supports that goal.

If you want to nurture a culture of transparency, for example, your mentorship program should reflect that transparency through essentials like open discussions, shared experiences and open door environments.

3. Identify your internal mentors

Your mentorship program succeeds and fails by the people who participate in it. Identify, early on, which of your employees bear the characteristics, skills and abilities you would like to cultivate in the rest of your team. Take 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 approach these team members to gauge their interest in mentoring.

A good mentor is someone who is strong in the skills necessary for success in both your industry and your company. For instance, if you own a chain of car dealerships, a great mentor may be someone who is skilled with sales, knowledgeable about the product and passionate about developing others.

4. Select a mentorship model

There are various mentorship models to choose from and it’s important to make sure whichever one you select is right for not only your organization but each individual mentor/mentee relationship. Take into consideration the goals of your organization and your mentorship program, as well as the time and ability constraints of the mentors and mentees who are participating.

Mentorship models can be formal, such as one-on-one meetings that happen at prescribed intervals over a certain period of time (sometimes up to a year) or they can be done more informally, in a group setting or for a very brief period. 

5. Create a support system

Make sure you plan to provide the mentor/mentee relationships with the support and resources they need to be successful. Start with creating what I call an “agreement and rules of engagement” document. This document lays out 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.

Make sure you check in regularly with participants and even offer some incentives for both the mentor and the mentee (a small gift card or a lunch celebration, for example) for meeting their mentoring goals.

6. Start with a small group

I am a big fan of beta testing any new program before introducing it on a company-wide scale. 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

Whether you are beta testing in a small group or already have your program up and running, 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 you envisioned and gives you an opportunity to adjust anything that isn’t working. 

Renowned business training expert Donald Kirkpatrick recommends four levels of evaluation in order to gain a full assessment of a program. You can implement these four levels in the following way.

  • 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 your mission and decide if you are closer to achieving the goals you laid out in the beginning. Did sales increase? By how much? Did customer satisfaction ratings increase? Did employee retention improve?

If you have questions about how to get started in creating a winning mentorship program that allows you to take your company to the next level, your HR services provider can help.

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice; and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance.

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