Get the best tips & tricks for HR and L&D leaders straight into your inbox
Sign Up for the Newsletter


Buying into a Mentoring Program

If you're on the fence about joining a mentoring program or supporting one in your organization you need to read this.

Matthew Reeves

January 20, 2020

Within any company, the bottom line is always the top priority. There can be so much focus on turning profits that the analysis on how to get there can be blindsided by initiatives that seem to work in the short-term. Just because something works financially, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it works developmentally. There are always other avenues to explore. 

There are many opportunities to future-proof businesses, keep employees engaged and innovate with new practices that pave the way for newer businesses, however a lot of these opportunities are missed because it seems like too much of a risk, a high investment or unnecessary use of time. 

A mentoring program is just one of these examples and while the premise is simple, the execution has to be well thought out to work in the long-term. So, the challenge for business executives and senior managers is to see past the hurdles and buy into the future investment of mentoring. 

Company Reputation

The problem with not having a program for mentoring in the workplace is that it can sell future leaders short. Many future leaders are not aware of this until a program is in place and they realize what they were missing out on. 

All you have to do is look at mentoring programs at Boeing or Caterpillar to see how a successfully managed program can change the game for the future of the company. Reputation counts for a lot in terms of recruitment. In an age where information can be pulled up online in seconds, it can be a huge issue if you have a negative online reputation that potential investors, potential employees or stakeholders can access.

People sometimes talk about their wasted potential or how they never got the opportunity they deserved due to setbacks or lack of support from the company they work for. If a business earns this kind of reputation it can be costly and even lead to high employee turnover or employee disengagement who may see the job as a filler until they get to fulfil their career goals elsewhere. 

A mentoring program could be the difference between a satisfied, excited and engaged workforce or a lacklustre disengaged one. Over 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies now offer mentoring programs to their employees and are rewarded with higher retention rates and engaged employees. 

Mentoring Goals

Mentoring programs are not something that should be launched for the sake of it or to jump on the bandwagon.  Programs that begin with that sort of reasoning or haste are usually the ones that fail. A mentoring program is not something businesses should launch out of necessity. While it is a good idea to look to other companies and their mentoring programs for inspiration, mentoring programs are not really a one-size-fits-all kind of deal and they need to meet expectations and requirements of the business first and foremost. 

The best approach to launching a program is to establish what mentoring goals your company needs help in achieving. Then investigate how incorporating mentoring can help to achieve them. 

Consistency is key to a successful program, so any business considering adopting a mentoring program must be able to maintain the structure and use it to grow efficiently. Stagnant work practices are what causes employees to lose interest and lose any belief that they are valued and may be able to climb the career ladder they have worked hard toward. 

Setting out goals from the outset will help the program launch with more credibility and buy-in. 

Improving management skills is another core reason for mentoring programs. It can be the missing link within the company that needs to be bridged to improve employee relations. As a goal, this is something a lot of businesses are exploring now as the need for managers to understand millennial culture is crucial to secure a future-forward way of working. 

Another vital goal for mentoring programs is succession planning. All businesses have unplanned turnover due to retirements, illness, parenthood and even better opportunities. Planning successors for executive roles should be a top priority. Mentoring can help with this when there are either a) a number of candidates that have the potential to fill the role but need their performance to be visible and measurable or b) very few or no potential candidates and the business has not invested time into succession planning before. 

These goals set the basis for mentoring needs and they shouldn’t fall into a priority category just because someone else is doing it. 

How do Individuals Benefit from Mentoring

A lot of the core values in mentoring involve changing behaviours and enhancing interpersonal skills rather than desktop training with modules that teach the ins and outs of a job description. It is about teaching things that training courses can’t, as each program in every company is different and the level and speed of learning is bespoke to the parties involved. 

Typically, mentoring can be set out as a formal program in the work environment where it is managed and overseen by the HR department and relevant executives who have a need to see the progress of potential successors. Formal mentoring programs allow tracking to see when meetings have taken place, what tasks and coaching have been requested and how long the process is taking. 

They are most successful when mentors are paired with somebody who will benefit from their knowledge and not just a run of the mill exercise to fill a quota. For example, somebody with great knowledge of the company and ready to step into a higher role may struggle with networking or presentation confidence.  Mentorship would be best suited to someone who can help them work on these areas rather than receive minimal benefit learning material they already know and are good at. 

Mentoring is not a hand-holding exercise where each step is consistently mapped out, which is why it works so well at higher levels of employment. It is not purposeful to revisit technical training of policies and processes and have a tick list when new ground is covered. The content of a mentoring program is actually less prominent and in fact, the relationship between mentors and mentees takes a front seat in the learning curve. 

Pairing mentors and mentees based on prior knowledge, personalities and future goals are of the utmost importance for a program to be beneficial. The training aspect comes from starting a conversation and realizing where gaps in knowledge or lack of confidence in certain areas need to be improved for a mentee to benefit. 

Friendships can form and long-term networks that can open up a variety of doors and be a more important part of the whole process. Mentor relationships are based on mutual respect and contribution, so these benefits are not an automatic giveaway with any program and have to be worked toward and maintained. 

Making Sure a Mentoring Program Works

A recent survey found that 41 percent of mentees claim it is difficult to get time with their mentor. The issue is partly due to time which every worker wishes they could have more of, but also dedication to the program. It needs to be seen as a priority by all involved.

It is not expected that a mentee should be meeting their mentor every day or week, but without contact on a timely or regular basis, they may start to feel like the program is not working for them or perhaps guilty that they need more time. It can ultimately lead to resentment and fear of picking up the phone to their mentor to discuss further support. 

Part of the initial planning process would be to identify candidates for mentoring positions that are willing to offer their support and time and can say with honesty that they have it to give. Larger companies may take on many mentors, but if this is just the beginning of a program, quality should always take precedence of quantity. It is also a great idea to recruit mentors who once had mentors themselves and can see first-hand the benefits of the program. 

The job of a mentor is not one to be taken lightly either.  It shouldn’t cause any serious disruption to anyone’s lives but cannot be neglected. Such responsibility should provide joy to be able to pass on teachings and share knowledge on their own career path and beyond teething issues. Mentoring somebody shouldn’t be the cause of additional work-related stress.

It is important for both parties that an arranged mentorship or a program for mentoring offers the same sort of support for mentees and mentors to ensure the process is still an enjoyable and worthwhile experience. 

How a Mentoring Program Works

A good mentoring program does not have to be complicated or over-thought during the process as long as the plans put in place are being reviewed and adapted when things aren’t working so well. 

The aim is to reinforce already learned skills, improve on less visited knowledge by stepping out of comfort zones and to continually drive the program forward to reach personal goals. 

With the right mentoring and pairing program, the package can be easily managed so that the rest of it is down to the parties that matter. As an employer, adopting a good mentoring program helps to see the succession of the program overall via statistics, as well as offering diary software to be able to keep up and catch up with mentors and mentees. 

Once a mentor has been paired with a mentee, it doesn’t mean that this is a fixed contract for a specific amount of time – it has to work and feel right. The first meeting in mentorship is the most crucial as it allows the mentee to share their goals, concerns and open up in a non-judgemental setting about issues that may have been holding them back in their careers.

It is also a great chance to build rapport and find out about each other’s likes, dislikes and morals, which can be a good sensory tool in building a relationship or realising straight away that the pairing may not work well. 

Establishing the mentorship is the most crucial section for the rest of the program to work. Meetings should be consistent. Although not constant, phone or video calls should be factored in and booked where appropriate. A formal mentorship needs boundaries and schedules to keep on track. This is not to say that formality is the only way to get through a program. Establishing the boundaries also means building a relationship that both parties are comfortable in, so it may prove more successful to have informal chats from time to time.

Summary and Recap

Mentoring programs are becoming more popular and even more than that, necessary to modern business. For the next leaders to imitate the current success of a company the way to do it is through influential mentoring from the people who have been through the struggles and been part of the successes that got them there and who are willing to share their process. 

Goal setting is important in implementing a mentoring program and the goals of the company need to be recognized as well as individual needs and support for careers.

Correct pairing needs to take priority in any mentoring program for it to be successful and to ensure both parties are able to benefit from the process. 

close button

Download our Whitepaper on Best Practices for Running A Mentorship Program

We draw from the first-hand experience of managers at various companies leading mentoring programs and our own expertise to outline the best practices for running a mentorship program. This white paper is a comprehensive guide to help you build a world-class mentoring program.