Did you know that workplace mentorships generally last between six and twelve months? In that time, pairs go through four predictable phases that are often peppered with surprises. Both mentors and mentees need to be aware of these four phases so that they can make the most of their relationship – and their program, if applicable.
If you are considering starting a mentorship program within your workplace, understanding the four phases and what they entail is crucial for success. Each phase is distinct in its outcomes and objectives, and it’s important that mentors and mentees alike are on board with the goals of the program.
Let's take a look.
The four phases of mentoring
Every mentoring relationship is different, just as every person is unique. However, there are four general phases that most mentorships will go through – and there are great benefits to understanding these phases before you start.
Phase 1: Purpose
When a mentee decides that they would like a mentor, they have entered the Purpose phase. Characterized by a curiosity to learn and a desire to succeed, the mentee goes out in search of an individual or workplace mentoring program that can fulfill this professional goal.
The key hallmarks of this phase include:
- Seeking a role model or expert to help with career development
- Being highly motivated and proactive; constantly aware of opportunities and taking advantage of them
- Wanting to learn as much as possible in a short period of time
- Joining a program, starting a conversation with their employer, or seeking out a mentor on their own
The culmination of this phase, of course, is when the mentee successfully secures their mentor and begins making progress on their goals.
Phase 2: Engagement
Once a mentee has found a mentor, the Engagement phase begins. This is where relationships are built and trust is established. The focus during this time should be on deepening the connection between mentor and mentee and getting to know each other better.
The green flags of this phase include:
- Building rapport and trust
- Discussing goals, progress, and challenges
- Focusing on the relationship, not just the task or project at hand
- Spending time getting to know each other as people, not just professionals
- Setting boundaries around expectations and communication
It is especially crucial for the mentor to take charge in setting boundaries and parameters at this stage, in order to avoid any confusion or resentment down the line.
How long are they willing to commit to being a mentor? What is their availability? What level of commitment are they expecting from the mentee? These are all important questions that should be answered during the Engagement phase.
Phase 3: Growth
For most of a mentoring relationship, the pair will be in the Growth phase. They'll be deepening their professional relationship, getting increasingly familiar with one another's goals, and working together to achieve them. The focus during this time is on progress, and both mentor and mentee should be keenly aware of the growth taking place.
Throughout this process, the mentor will continue offering constructive feedback and guidance. The key indicators of this phase are:
- Making steady progress on set goals by undertaking new challenges and tasks together
- Continuing to build trust and rapport
- Demonstrating a commitment to learning and personal growth
- Regularly meeting to discuss progress and goals, as well as challenges and obstacles
- Transferring skills from mentor to mentee
The Growth phase is typically the longest and most productive stage of a mentoring relationship. It's also where the most value is often derived for both mentor and mentee. In this phase, the mentor might:
- Shadow the mentor (e.x. attending a sales call or presentation) to learn from them.
- Identify stretch assignments or projects the mentee can pursue to develop a particular skill.
- Solve a particular challenge holding the mentee back (e.x. Asking for a promotion, dealing with a challenging subordinate, identifying and addressing a limiting belief)
This stage requires, from the mentee, transparency, and humility as they open up and explore the challenges they face. Similarly, the mentor requires empathy, active listening, and clear feedback to help their mentee effectively grow.
It may be uncomfortable at times – but without discomfort, there can be no growth.
Phase 4: Completion
The final stage of mentorship is the Completion phase. This occurs when the mentee has successfully achieved their goals with the help of their mentor, and the relationship naturally comes to an end. The key indicators of this stage are:
- Achieving the goals set out at the beginning of the mentorship
- Ending on good terms, with both mentor and mentee feeling satisfied with the experience
- Feeling confident enough to continue progressing without a mentor's guidance
- Passing on skills and knowledge they've learned to other colleagues or subordinates
It's important for both mentor and mentee to feel a sense of closure at the end of mentorship. Whether this is achieved through celebrating successes or having a sit-down debriefing, both parties should feel like they've gained something from the experience and are ready to move on.
Mentorship process: steps to build a successful workplace mentoring program
Being familiar with the four stages of mentorship is just one component of running a healthy and successful workplace mentoring program. As the coordinator, you also need to be aware of the stages that the program itself goes through. Let's explore this a little further.
Promoting your mentoring program
When mentees are in their Purpose phase, they are often in search of a program that will match them with a mentor. The promotion of your mentoring program is crucial in the early stages so that you can find the right people to be a part of it. This means that the messaging around your program should be clear, concise, and accurate.
Your promotion of the program should involve:
- Getting leadership to buy into the benefits of mentorship programs
- Getting employees excited about joining by sharing what’s in it for them
- Getting leaders, managers, and influential employees to encourage participation
It's not always easy to get buy-in on your program, especially when running the program may cost money or take up time. But it's important to remember that the benefits of having a mentoring program go beyond just the individual participants.
When done correctly, workplace mentorship programs can help improve employee engagement, boost retention rates, and even increase productivity. Plus, when leadership buys into the program, they're sending a clear message to employees that they care about their development.
Matching mentors and mentees
After you've successfully promoted your mentoring program, you will move into the phase of matching mentors and mentees. It's important to have a process in place for how these matches are made in order to ensure that both the mentor and mentee are a good fit for each other.
Ideally, you'll want to use a tool like Together, which automatically matches pairs based on factors like skills, interests, work styles, and goals.
Whether you match pairs manually or with Together, it's crucial to issue a questionnaire (here’s a template of registration questions we have mentors and mentees fill out when they join a default mentorship program on our platform) to both mentors and mentees first.
This will help you to get an understanding of their goals for the mentorship, as well as what they're hoping to gain from the experience.
Supporting each phase of the mentoring relationship
There's only so much you can do before sending pairs off and hoping for the best – but your involvement doesn't end there. In order to support each stage of the mentoring relationship, you'll need to be there to offer guidance and advice when needed.
This means that you should:
- Be available to answer any questions mentors and mentees may have about the program or their relationship
- Offer resources and training for mentors on how to be a good mentor
- Be available to help mediate any conflicts that may arise between mentors and mentees
At Together, we provide meeting agendas to give mentors and mentees discussion topics that they can use as a launchpad. This makes it easy for mentors to know what they should be talking about each week, and it also helps to keep the relationship on track.
If you aren't using Together, you can (and should) still put together a resource pack for mentors that include articles, templates, discussion prompts, and more to help them guide their mentee through the program.
Reporting on program outcomes
Part of your buy-in phase may involve assuring your superiors that the program is having a positive impact. In order to follow up on this, you'll need to report on the outcomes of the mentorship program.
This could involve anything from:
- Surveying mentors and mentees to see how they feel about the program
- Measuring employee engagement and productivity before and after the program
- Analyzing retention rates of employees who have participated in the program
Together has a built-in reporting system that collects feedback from participants, tracks how many meetings take place as well as what’s discussed, and more – the perfect solution for those who need to report on their program outcomes.
Running a workplace mentorship program can be a lot of work, but it's worth it when you see the positive impacts it has on employees. By being aware of the four stages of mentorship and the different things you need to do in each stage, you'll be able to set your program up for success.
For mentors and mentees: principles for structuring a thriving relationship
We've covered the basics – but for mentors and mentees embarking on a mentoring relationship, what are some actionable steps to keep in mind?
Mentees need clear goals for what they want out of the relationship
Imagine you are planning to build a house. You would never start pouring concrete or nailing a frame together without having the blueprint first. You wouldn't have even ordered the supplies yet!
The same is true for your mentoring relationship. Don't expect a mutually beneficial relationship to grow from a month's worth of surface-level conversations – get right down to the specifics. Set goals around the following:
- Why have you each entered the relationship?
- What are your professional objectives?
- Is there a specific skill you set out to learn when looking for a mentor?
- Can the mentor help you with networking?
- Do you want to be held accountable for your goals, or does the mentor offer that support?
Mentors need a plan, too!
Your mentee's goals are important, but they're not the only thing you need on your mind. As a mentor, you need to:
- Keep your goals for the relationship in mind
- Be clear about what you can offer – and be honest about your limitations
- Make sure that expectations around time commitment are discussed upfront (you don't want to over commit or under commit)
- Set an agenda for each meeting
- Regularly assess the relationship to make sure it's still serving both parties' needs
With your goals set in concrete, both parties can move on to the next essential step: familiarity.
Get to know one another
If a mentor and mentee happen to be particularly compatible, they may end up growing incredibly familiar without too much forethought. However, most relationships will need a conscious effort to get to know one another in the ways that count.
For mentors, this means asking questions about the mentee's life and career goals but also delving into their personal life.
- What makes them tick? What are their passions?
- Have they had any major turning points in their life or career?
- Where do they hope to be in ten years? Doing what?
The more you know about your mentee as a person, the more effective your guidance will be.
Mentees should take care to ask their mentors about their professional lives as well. What was their career path? What industry do they work in now? What are their thoughts on the current job market? The more background information you have, the better equipped you'll be to make the most of your mentor's advice.
Where can mentors offer the most support?
After the surface-level stuff, take it another level deeper. If you are a mentor, as the all-important question – "How can I be of most support to you?"
Not all mentees want constant accountability practice. Instead, they may respond with:
- "I need you to introduce me to people in your network."
- "Can you help me brainstorm ideas for my project?"
- "Can you proofread this document/give me feedback on my pitch?"
- "I'd like monthly check-ins to update you on my progress and solicit your advice."
The beauty of mentorship is that it can take so many shapes and sizes when both parties are clear on the expectations. As long as you're constantly assessing the relationship, it will continue to be productive for both mentors and mentees.
Invest in the relationship: connect consistently
A common misconception about mentorship is that they need to be an everyday interaction in order to be beneficial. Not true. More to the point, mentorships must be consistent – whether that's once a day, once a week, or once a month.
The best way to accomplish this is by setting a schedule right off the bat. You might:
- Start a shared Google calendar
- Connect on Slack and set a reminder to check in every few days
- Meet in person on the same date once a month
No matter how you do it, make sure both parties are aware of the expectations and connect accordingly. Consistent communication is the key to keeping any relationship – mentorship or not – healthy and thriving.
Come to each meeting prepared
Whenever you do decide to meet up, make sure to steer clear of the small-talk rut. It's tempting to run your meetups ad-lib, especially if you are both busy people. But skipping the agenda and jumping into random conversations can actually do more harm than good.
A mentor should come to each meeting with an idea of what they want to discuss. This might be a specific question they need answering, or simply an update on how their mentee is doing since the last meeting. The agenda can be as simple or detailed as you like, but make sure both parties are aware of it in advance.
Mentees should also come to each meeting with a plan. What would you like to accomplish? What questions do you have for your mentor? Have you been following their advice and seen results? If not, why? The more prepared you are, the more effective the meeting will be.
Recognize growth (and show gratitude)
Above all else, remember that you are in this together. A mentor is not a life coach, therapist, or fairy godmother – they are a guide, advisor, and support system. And as with any good relationship, it's important to show gratitude for the guidance and advice you've been given.
Recognize when you've had a growth spurt due to your mentor's advice, and send a quick thank-you email or social media post. Not only is it the polite thing to do, but it also reinforces the idea that the relationship is authentic and valuable to both parties.
A mentorship can be one of the most rewarding relationships in your professional life. With proper care and attention, it can help you grow into the best possible version of yourself.
For mentees: know the benefits of mentorship
When embarking on a mentoring relationship, it's crucial that mentees understand the potential benefits at their fingertips. Why? Because mentees are an essential contributor to the partnership's success; your enthusiasm and engagement are key ingredients, and as such, you need to be aware of the opportunity you're entering into.
Here are some of the most exciting benefits you can gain from being mentored:
- Mentors help focus your ambition. In mentoring relationships, mentees are encouraged to define a goal and then achieve it. When you’re early on in a new role, for example, having a mentor can ground all your exciting ideas in reality and help you channel your ambitions to one thing at a time.
- They show you the ropes. One of the reasons a mentor’s advice is so valuable is because it’s unlikely you’d be able to learn it from a book. It’s tactic knowledge. They’ve made mistakes you can now avoid. Mentors can also help you adapt to the office culture more quickly and understand workplace routines, policies, and expectations.
- Mentors encourage you to stretch yourself. A good mentor will gently nudge mentees to get out of their comfort zone and take a chance. It’s when you try something new or attempt a calculated risk that you grow. A mentor can be a safety net for these stretch assignments.
- They provide honest feedback. A mentor should provide constructive criticism that can help you understand what areas of your life and career need work. Throughout the mentoring relationship, a mentee should start to see their strengths and weaknesses more clearly.
Mentorship is one of those opportunities that can change the course of your career, and indeed, your life. Keep in mind that if you don't see these benefits from your first mentoring relationship, there's no rule to stop you from seeking out another one.
The important thing is to be clear about what you're looking for in a mentor and to be honest with yourself about the commitment you're willing to make.
Mentoring relationships hold incredible benefits for mentor and mentee alike – but only if both parties navigate the four essential phases successfully. If you’re considering becoming a mentor, or if you’ve been asked to become one, it’s important to be aware of these phases and how to manage them.
Remember that mentorships are like any relationship; they require time, effort, and careful planning to be successful. But with the right mindset and a commitment to growth, you can make an enormous impact on the lives of both your mentee and yourself.
If you are unsure about where to start, why not try out the Together platform? Our powerful pairing algorithm takes the guesswork out of finding the perfect mentor-mentee pairs, and our extensive resources make it easy to get started.