“I need help recruiting mentors.”
At MentorStrat, this is the most common problem we hear from mentoring program managers. Recruiting and retaining high-quality mentors is critical to success.
After all, what’s a mentoring program without mentors?
Still, even the most thoughtfully designed, well-resourced programs can struggle to engage mentors. We know this because we’ve been there.
But before you start sending out dozens of emails, calling seasoned employees to be mentors, let’s take a step back and share some best practices. By the end of this article, you’ll know the 4 common reasons you’re struggling with mentor recruitment and how to solve them.
Let’s dig in!
How to effectively promote your mentoring program
“You need a good communication plan.”
We’ve launched a lot of mentoring programs over our careers. Through our experience, we’ve learned that how you market your program matters.
But even if you knock it out of the park, it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
I (Mary) want to share my experience launching my first mentoring program.
The first time I launched a large-scale program, I spent weeks working with our communications team, reviewing past announcements, scouring the web for engaging messaging ideas and planning sequenced communications.
We had an inspiring CEO message, testimonials from past participants, and program-specific communications. We even developed an online course where employees could learn about program expectations and how to be effective in mentoring.
When launch day came, I was bursting with excitement. As enrolments piled up, I beamed with pride (and relief.) I was confident that with this communication plan and an excellent program, mentees and mentors would engage year after year.
The first year, we had excess mentors, but as mentee enrolment grew, our surplus turned into an ever-growing deficit.
We reworked communication plans and partnered with employee resource groups and leaders to spread the word, but we couldn’t meet the growing demand. I blamed employee availability, timing, and burnout.
Those certainly didn’t help, but it wasn’t just my company. Many of my peer mentoring program leaders were in the same boat.
It became clear: we had a pattern that communication planning alone wouldn’t solve.
What to do if you don’t have enough mentors
We knew our problem: We didn’t have enough mentors.
But was that really the problem? Or simply a symptom?
A misdiagnosed problem leads to a misaligned solution. It’s important to take time to clearly define the problem.
If you are experiencing mentor recruitment challenges, ask yourself:
“Why don’t I have enough mentors?”
Keep in mind a decreasing mentor:mentee ratio doesn’t mean your program is failing. It may actually be a sign of success!
Your program may have a phenomenal reputation and your mentee demand has grown exponentially while your mentor population has grown at a linear rate.
Look at the list below. Which of the following are true for your program? Are there other factors to consider? If you don’t know, look back at your data.
- Mentors are leaving the program(s) prematurely
- Mentors are leaving the program after one cycle
- Mentors have less capacity, supporting fewer mentees
- New mentors are not joining
- New mentees are joining
- Mentees are staying in the program(s) cycle after cycle
- Mentees are not converting to mentors
- The program is transitioning from group to 1:1 structure
- Program cycle dates have changed
- The business landscape has changed
Once you have identified your problem, ask yourself why, why, and why again, until you have determined the root cause.
Here are some of the common challenges in mentor recruitment and retention.
Four common causes of mentor recruitment and retention challenges
Mentor recruitment and retention challenges tend to fall into four categories:
- Knowledge & skills
Review the challenges and consider the questions to determine if it contributes to your problem. Use available program data. If data is not available, talk with current, past, and prospective participants to determine the root cause.
Employees are busy, and can’t be in two places at once. Your business areas are likely busy at different points during the year. Examine your program cycle. Are you adapting to mentor availability?
Consider the following:
- Are business cycles or seasonality impacting availability?
- Are participants clear about the time commitment?
- Are you cannibalizing efforts by recruiting from the same candidate pool as other programs?
- Are systemic barriers preventing people from being available?
- Is your program “open,” or does it have multiple entry points? Does this impact an individual's ability to participate?
People can’t sign up for a program they don’t know about. You may be thinking, “How can they not be aware? Everyone got emails, intranet articles, or heard about it in an ERG meeting.”
But, let’s be honest, haven’t we all been so busy we ignored information that wasn’t mission critical? Or assumed that an announcement wasn’t relevant to us personally?
You may need to get creative in generating awareness.
Here are some questions to get you started:
- What channels do you use to build awareness? Does everyone have access to and use these channels regularly?
- Who influences desired mentors? Who do they look up to?
- Is there confusion or misinformation regarding the program?
- Is your message getting lost due to competing messaging?
Awareness goes hand in hand with motivation, so let’s examine that next.
It can be difficult to gauge employee motivation to mentor.
There are inherent personality traits that affect motivation. Some people are intrinsically driven to help others, some may do it for recognition or to be rewarded for their work, while others who are driven by money or possessions will participate if they believe it will advance their careers.
Examine why some mentors stick around, why some leave after one cycle, and why some never enroll at all.
Use these questions to guide you:
- Do employees know the personal benefits of mentoring?
- What explicit and implicit messages are they receiving about the value of mentoring?
- Do senior leaders support and participate in your program?
- Do you recognize the contributions of mentors internally and/or externally? How can you improve?
- Are people being guilted into becoming a mentor?
- Is being a mentor required for leaders?
- Is a history of subpar mentoring experiences demotivating employees?
Knowledge & Skills
You need to ensure mentors have the expertise mentees want and the core mentoring skills to be effective.
Many mentoring program managers assume only people leaders can mentor. Some believe they don’t have the qualifications and miss out on sharing valuable experiences.
If your program doesn’t provide mentoring skills training to mentors and mentees, it makes it harder for them to succeed, lowering the likelihood of repeat participation.
To determine the support and training you need to effectively recruit mentors, ask yourself:
- What makes a good mentor?
- What knowledge and skills do mentees in the program need?
- Are we recruiting from pools with the necessary knowledge and skills?
- Do we have effective mentoring core skills training?
Balancing the mentor-mentee ratio
This analysis phase may seem overwhelming, but defining your problem and identifying the root causes will guide you toward building effective solutions.
Learn about strategies to help solve your mentor recruitment challenges by reading Recruiting Mentors: 14 tactics to attract more mentors.
Need help with an organizational assessment of your mentoring program? MentorStrat can help you get a deeper understanding of your program challenges and help you design effective solutions. Schedule a meeting here.