Many high-performing organizations consider mentoring a key competency among their leaders — and leaders who take mentoring seriously and handle it effectively have a profound impact.
Whether it’s a formal or informal arrangement, mentoring at work benefits everyone involved: the mentor, the mentee, and the organization that supports it. Effective mentors develop the leadership capacity of their mentees, while increasing their own skills. They nurture the alignment between employee aspirations and organizational imperatives, and they create depth and loyalty within their organizations. Plus, they transfer their knowledge and expertise back into their organizations.
In addition, companies around the world are experiencing serious - and growing - gaps between what skills their employees have, and what they need to be competitive in their market, while also trying to increase employee retention. McKinsey has reported that a whopping 87% of companies they surveyed either are experiencing skills gaps or expect to within five years. So how do you bridge that gap? One way is by adding employee mentoring programs to your employee training and development offering.
Based on best practices, we have curated five tips to help you build an effective mentoring program.
Set Clear Objectives for the Program
While organizational goals are part of the equation, allowing mentors and mentees to work out their own program goals makes a mentoring program much more likely to succeed.
It’s also imperative to set goals that are measurable and realistic, both for the participants, as well as the teams looking to benefit from mentoring. The goals of the marketing team will be different from those of the IT team, whose goals will differ from HR. Mentoring can mean different things to different people.
“An effective and successful mentoring program should encourage each individual mentoring pair to set their own specific goals," said William Taylor, senior career advisor at VelvetJobs, a Los Angeles-based career transition and outplacement firm. "While some mentoring programs focus on general conversation, I’ve found that setting clear development goals works to keep a partnership on track and produce measurable results.”
A pre-mentoring assessment is a good tool to match mentors with mentees as well. The assessment identifies strengths and weaknesses of each, and sets the pair on a path to mentoring relationship success.
Require Mentoring Training
Employees should not be assigned to a mentorship program without the proper training on how to be effective. Successful organizations set the stage by training mentors and mentees on roles and expectations, effective communication strategies, and relationship-building techniques.
For mentors, training should focus on ways to talk with and build trust with mentees. For mentees, it’s often about how to ask the right questions and learn from their mentors.
There are practical tools and mentoring software available to facilitate an effective mentoring program and they should be provided in the learning process just as with any learning initiative. These tools and templates will walk participants through the steps, track goals and jump-start conversations.
Be sure to pay special attention to power dynamics as well. The mentor is generally in a position of authority or seniority and should be responsible for making the other employee feel comfortable. Ideally, the mentor should be supportive, encouraging and helpful, and actively listen to a mentee's questions. The goal is to create a bond based on empathy and trust that encourages understanding and learning.
But it's not just about the mentee. The mentorship experience should be a positive experience in which both parties gain a better understanding of each other and the objectives of the business. Mentoring programs should be engaging, fruitful, and well-organized, while also playing a role in helping employees to feel comfortable with their workplace.
These programs should also take into account the organization’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts to ensure all employees are fully engaged in the mentorship process.
Mentoring is Not One-Size-Fits-All
In every business, there are employees who naturally gravitate towards one another and those who do not. Not everyone can be an effective mentor, and effective ones are not always the right fit for a mentee - selection is the biggest challenge.
The key is to pair mentors and mentees based on skill sets, experience, and personality. Mentees can take a survey to weigh their interests and potential goals, and potential mentors can interview with managers or department heads to make the initial decision.
Your organization should narrow the mentoring pool down to several potential candidates and then allow the new mentee to choose the best match based on his or her goals. The most success often comes from giving participants input and choice — for example, suggesting two or three possible mentors and then letting the employee choose who's best for them.
Mentorship can fail when the relationship is forced. Don't choose your mentors based on who has the best skills or most company experience. Choose your mentors based on who has the most compassion, empathy and patience. The goal is for the new hire to feel welcomed, not schooled.
Resource and Support Your Mentorship Program
Mentoring is more than just a mechanism to teach employees new skills. Aside from providing training, mentoring is an effective way to keep employees engaged, as it builds strong relationships and promotes professional development.
A mentoring program should be a priority for businesses, considering it contributes positively to both leaders and employees. Mentoring helps in gaining a better understanding and perspective of the organization, and is an effective way for employees to feel connected and increase engagement, which makes them more productive and efficient for a long time.
That means it's important for a business to fully invest in their mentoring program as a vital part of the business strategy. Your organization needs to stand firmly behind the decision to implement a mentoring program with people, time and money.
When you resource the program, you set it up for success. You are demonstrating that you consider this important both to the mentor and mentee and the rest of the organization. That doesn't mean it should always be a formal program. In fact, we believe informal mentoring initiatives can also be effective.
Informal mentoring is a great way to make a new employee feel more at home and connected in their new workplace. In addition, there are all the potential benefits of pairing younger employees with more experienced employees to focus on specific areas of development.
Use Assessments to Measure Effectiveness
There needs to be a tight feedback loop to find out if the mentoring program has been effective, and it’s necessary to check in with your mentors and mentees. It's difficult to know if your mentoring program is a success if you don't track program metrics and ask for feedback. You can capture feedback through employee surveys by asking participants and stakeholders how well the mentoring program met their goals and the goals of the organization. Also, establish a formal process that brings closure to the mentoring experience.
Actively listening to the feedback of both mentors and mentees at the end of the mentoring program improves the program for the next round, and assists in mentoring goal setting for the future. This will aid in onboarding and career development, while also supporting career goals for all involved.
An effective mentoring program is the one that is implemented with specific key performance indicators that can be used to gauge the overall success of the program. When a program is structured with clear, realistic goals, it will yield better results down the road.
Overall, a mentorship program can be an effective way to gain a greater understanding of the skillsets of employees while enabling them to work on weaknesses. Constructed correctly, it builds lasting work relationships, facilitates professional development, increases employee engagement and productivity and helps employees feel connected, valued and appreciated; improving the employee journey for everyone involved, both mentor and mentee.