Build a mentoring culture: 5 reliable steps

From the author of Creating a Mentoring Culture, we draw from Lois J. Zachary's work and the expertise of the Together team to outline how you can build a mentoring culture in your organization.

Ryan Carruthers

Published on 

June 13, 2022

Updated on 

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The report, State of Coaching and Mentorship in 2022 is primarily an HR professionals' assessment of the importance of coaching and mentoring now and in the future. The outcome of the research showed that 62% of HR professionals, when asked about the next two years, expect to see a greater emphasis on mentoring. For that reason, ‌building a mentoring culture in the workplace is of utmost importance. 

Who can give an accurate prediction of the future of mentoring in organizations if not HR professionals, anyway? This article will outline clear steps HR professionals can take to build a mentoring culture at their company.

What is a mentorship culture?

Here is how the Centre for Mentoring Excellence describes mentoring culture:

“In a true mentoring culture, there’s a constant emphasis on mentoring excellence, and the bar for competency and skills mastery is continuously raised.”

They went on to affirm that in a mentoring culture, employees are always looking for opportunities to coach their peers and aren’t afraid to ask their leaders for guidance. 

The 9 hallmarks of a mentoring culture

Lois J. Zachary, author of Creating a Mentoring Culture, outlined the 9 hallmarks that contribute to a vibrant mentoring culture‌:

1. Infrastructure 

“Trying to build a mentoring culture without an infrastructure is slippery business.”

That's from Lois J. Zachary. She outlines that the infrastructure your mentoring culture needs is:

  • Leadership buy-in
  • Time to run one or more mentoring programs
  • Budget
  • technology tools to manage mentoring relationships
  • The right people to manage it all, and 
  • Knowledge resource that supports mentoring activities.

This infrastructure is what you leverage to continually support a mentoring culture, not just a match-making event.

2. Alignment

Zachary clarifies the often ambiguous term, alignment, and how it pertains to a mentoring culture. 

“In a mentoring culture, multiple components must work together in exactly the same way. Alignment is the hallmark of a mentoring culture that makes it possible for this to happen.” 

For the infrastructure to work effectively in supporting your mentoring initiatives, you need alignment between all of them.

3. Accountability

To build a healthy mentoring culture everyone needs to know the role they play. As Zachary states, 

“Accountability also involves the processes of (1) setting goals, (2) clarifying expectations, (3) defining roles and responsibilities, (4) monitoring progress and measuring results, (5) gathering feedback, and (6) formulating action goals.” 

She perfectly captures what happens when there’s no accountability by detailing the story of a non-profit. When starting their mentoring program, they expected everyone to participate. Unfortunately, no one did. Why? Zachary simply states that they didn’t make it clear who was accountable to make the first move.

4. Communication

We can all agree that communication is key. There’s no argument. But actually ensuring clear communication between all mentors, mentees, and administrators is easier said than done. 

Zachary offers a few guidelines for communication within a mentoring program’s context so that everything runs smoothly and everyone has clarity. 

  • First, be really clear on roles and responsibilities. This harkens back to the point above on accountability. 
  • Secondly, be consistent. Within reason, over-communication is better than none at all. 
  • There are other guidelines, but the most pertinent one is that communication is two-way. In other words, if you’re running a mentoring program, ask for feedback. And do it frequently.

5. Value and visibility

The role that leaders play in role modelling a mentoring culture can’t be understated. As Zachary asserts, 

“Value and visibility rely on the personal practice of role modelling by senior leaders and the organization’s practices of reward, recognition, and celebration. Together these practices help to create value and visibility.” 

Recall the point above on alignment. If leaders aren’t aligned and supportive of building a mentoring culture you’ll never get it off the ground. This doesn’t mean you need every leader to start mentoring multiple employees. But Zachary does encourage you to find ways to “visible support from senior management. 

You can do this by “[l]inking mentoring with broader organizational processes” and goals. If leaders see a clear line between mentoring and improvement in performance, for example, it won’t be hard to get their buy-in. 

Studies that show the benefits of mentoring help to build a business case. A quick Google search will find high-level statistics, but we’ve collected several revealing studies in our article on mentoring statistics.

6. Demand

The above point stressed getting public leadership buy-in for mentoring, whether through their participation in a mentoring program or their approval in a public way, through a company town hall meeting, for example. 

What this doesn’t mean is that mentoring needs to be a top-down approach where you mandate that employees have to participate in the program. Instead, Zachary encourages you to promote demand for your mentoring program through pull strategies

One of the best ways to get employees excited about mentoring is to generate real success stories. Run a pilot program. Work hard to create mentoring relationships that generate fantastic results and propel people’s careers forward. Document these stories and let the employees who are thrilled to participate do the rest. Their word of mouth will spread like wild fire.

7. Multiple mentoring opportunities

Zachary highlights that mentoring is likely happening in some way or another informally in your organization. Likewise, a formal mentoring program isn’t limited to a traditional one-on-one relationship between a senior and junior employee. 

To support a vibrant mentoring culture, make room (and organize) multiple mentoring initiatives. This includes things like peer-to-peer mentoring, group mentoring, and what we commonly see as one-on-one relationships. 

8. Education and training

Zachary highlights two ways to prepare employees for mentoring. She defines mentoring education and training as different things:

  • Mentoring training is a planned learning experience (an event or series of sessions) that focuses specifically on development of mentoring awareness, understanding, knowledge, and skills.”
  • Mentoring education is a broader, more inclusive, and strategic term than training. It encompasses a number of potential mentoring learning experiences (including training) under its ever-widening wingspan.”

What Zachary encourages is a robust mentor training curriculum for formal mentoring programs. It includes training to prepare mentors with the non-negotiable skills they need and expectation setting with mentees.

9. Safety nets

Safety nets are crucial in a healthy mentoring culture. There’s always the risk in a formal mentoring relationship that both the mentor and mentee don’t hit it off. For the mentee and mentor, this can be discouraging. It can also be damaging to the reputation of your program if they go around sharing their negative experience. In these instances, rematching participants is key. 

Additionally, setting up a mentoring program with the right infrastructure (see point 1) will avoid many of the pitfalls that lead to failed mentoring programs.

What are the benefits of having a culture of mentorship?

Below are the benefits of having a culture of mentorship in your workplace.  

  • Retention: Mentorship is a cost-effective way to attract and retain talent. Delloite, for example, committed to making 5 years the minimum target for retention after learning that those intending to stay with their organization for over five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68 percent) than not (32 percent). 
  • Employee satisfaction: Research has shown that employees who are mentored have a better career track than those who are not. This includes receiving higher compensation and more promotions, as well as higher career satisfaction. 
  • Productivity: After benefiting immensely from a well-structured mentoring program. You can expect an employee, whether old or new, to have better job satisfaction, which eventually translates to increased productivity. 
  • Engagement: A Gallup survey found that 66% of Millennials expect to leave their jobs within four years. They also found that 94% of the survey participants appreciated having a mentor at work. This shows employee engagement and satisfaction have links to a mentoring culture in organizations. 
  • Supporting diversity and inclusion. Diversity mentoring programs for employees from diverse backgrounds can do wonders in opening up opportunities for commonly underrepresented leadership roles. Likewise, mentoring programs pair well with employee resource groups.

From our report on the State of Coaching and Mentorship in 2022, the three most widely cited reasons for using coaching and mentoring programs are:

  1. To provide guidance to help others realize their potential
  2. To help create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce
  3. To prepare a pool of talent to fill future critical roles
Handbook Best Practices on How To Be a Great Mentee

How to build a mentorship program in your organization

Mentorship programs are sure ways to nurture culture and productivity within your organization. Over 71% of Fortune 500 companies have mentorship programs. 

Below are some actionable tips on building a mentorship program in your organization:

Train your mentors

Our study, State of Coaching and Mentorship in 2022, showed that formal training for internal coaches and mentors is not widespread. Only 53% provide coaching skills training for some or all of their internal coaches, while 43% provide mentoring skills for some or all of their mentors.

Mentor training prepares leaders to better understand what is expected of them and sets them up for success. It equips them with communication skills and ways to better understand their mentees. It also helps them clarify their expectations, such as deadlines, meeting times, and goals. 

Give employees the ability to find a mentor at any time

With Together’s mentoring platform, you can create a place where employees go to explore available mentors and request to match with them. 

Without a mentoring platform that facilitates this, matching mentors to mentees can be a herculean task. Picture endless spreadsheets and having to collate names and categorize employees according to their mutual interests.

You can have employees submit a mentor request form. You can then search for leaders across the organization who would be a good fit for them. This would take a lot of time and work. You can cut down on time and work by using a mentorship management platform.   

Join mentoring programs with existing development programs

One of the hallmarks of successful mentoring talks about education and training, and how integrating a mentorship culture into an organization’s training and development program is important to achieving success in your mentoring program.  

If you have an existing Learning and Development program L&D or career initiatives, ‌incorporate mentoring programs into it. This way, you’re not starting from zero but ‌revamping your L&D program

Think about the whole mentoring journey for each employee

By this, we mean exploring an individualized approach to mentoring. 

Don’t just pair employees with senior employees or leaders. Explore both the formal and informal mentoring, which is mentioned under “multiple mentoring opportunities” of the eight hallmarks of a successful mentoring culture. 

You can also consider multiple variations of mentorship, such as  peer mentorship, group mentoring, mentoring circles, or speed mentoring.

Encourage employees to build mentoring constellations

Mentoring constellations are alternative forms of mentoring where individuals receive mentoring assistance from many people at any point in time. It could be senior colleagues, peers, family, and community members. 

Kick-start an impactful mentoring program with Together

How do you establish a mentoring culture that stands the test of time?

Mentoring is constant matching, people management, promotion, measuring success and a host of other things HR people need to do to keep it going. We have the solution for you!

You can keep it all together with Together. How does it work?

We thought you’d never ask!

Together has a customizable registration flow, which makes it easy for you to do things your way. There is also the customizable algorithm-assisted matching to pair mentors with mentees. Administrator matching if you prefer to match employees yourself and the pairing readiness report. 

This barely scratches the surface, right? How about the session reminders, goal settings, action plan development, mentor and mentee feedback collection, surveys, and progress tracking? 

If you’re ready to start a mentoring program that drives impact get started pairing employees today, book a free demo

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