Mentorship programs

Training mentors: Is it necessary, and how do you do it well?

The most successful mentoring programs support their mentors with training. Here's how to set up mentor training the right way.

Ryan Carruthers

Published on 

January 3, 2023

Updated on 

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Through mentoring, employees benefit from the experience of more experienced professionals. But a long tenure doesn’t automatically guarantee that they’ll be a great mentor. 

This is where most mentoring programs fail. Well-meaning program admins don’t vet their mentors beforehand, assuming that every seasoned employee will be a great mentor. 

Although we believe that everyone has something to offer, many mentors need an orientation or action plan on how to coach, listen to, and challenge their mentees. This is the heart of mentor training.  

In this guide, we’ll unpack what mentor training is and how you can start a training program that empowers your mentors to drive impact in their mentees’ lives and careers. By the end, you’ll have a clear action plan. Let’s dive in!

What is mentor training?

Mentor training is a program designed to equip mentors with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for effective mentorship. This includes training on the roles and responsibilities of mentors, effective communication strategies, building trust and rapport with mentees. It also includes:

  • understanding diverse learning styles, 
  • addressing cross-cultural differences 
  • identifying potential challenges in the mentorship relationship, and
  • developing an action plan that helps their mentee grow. 

When done right, training provides mentors with the tools and resources necessary to identify their mentees' goals and helps them create an action plan to reach them.

Mentorship program admins from The United Nations and The Forum unpack how to run world-class mentoring programs. Watch the full panel discussion.

Why Is mentor training important?

The benefits of training mentors are undeniable. According to Mary Schlegel, MentorStrat's Learning and Development Lead, mentors who have undergone training are twice as likely to succeed in their roles compared to those who have not received training. 

In fact, the greatest success can be achieved by providing training to both mentors and mentees, with a reported 90% success rate. It is clear that investing in training for mentors is essential for the success of any mentoring program.

Not everyone is cut out to be a mentor

Effective mentorship requires more than just knowledge and experience in a particular field. It requires unique skills and qualities, including patience, effective communication, providing constructive feedback, empathy, active listening, and a willingness to learn. However, it is also important to train potential mentors on ethical and strategic aspects of mentorship.  

Ethically, mentors must respect the autonomy and boundaries of their mentees and avoid imposing their views or agendas. It is also crucial for mentors to maintain confidentiality and protect the trust of their mentees. 

Dr. Wendy Axelrod, an executive coach, former HR executive, author, speaker, and renowned mentorship guru, warns of breaching mentees’ trust, 

“for example, in the beginning, mentors thought it was great to talk to the person's supervisor. Well, not really a good idea because you're building a trusting relationship, and as soon as you speak with the person's manager or supervisor, you've blown that trust out of the water.

This is especially important in the early stages of the mentorship relationship, as breaking trust can severely damage the relationship. With proper training, mentors can align their actions and behaviors with the expectations and goals of the organization.

Training aligns expectations

Aligning mentor expectations starts with training. The training provided to mentors enables them to understand their roles, responsibilities, and expectations. 

According to Dr. Axelrod, mentors need training and support before starting any mentoring program. 

"Supporting your mentors— it's really about creating the right expectation before they come in, having them think through what it is they hope to get from the mentoring experience; setting goals for themselves in their own development, trying new things, making it a stretching, fun, and engaging experience."

Training prevents unnecessary conflict

Properly setting expectations during mentor training helps to prevent unnecessary stress and conflict. 

Mary Schlegal from MentorStrat understood this, recognizing the importance of clearly outlining expectations for all parties involved in the program. She advises mentorship program admins, saying, 

"In your communications, set the expectation with mentors and mentees about how you're going to match and why you're going to match them that way. It will save you a lot of headaches."

In Mary’s own experience, being transparent about their matching process reduced the number of mismatches.

Training gets mentors in the right mindset

When done well, mentor training ensures mentors have the right mindset. The training fosters in them an open and growth-driven mindset, a desire to help others succeed, and the willingness to devote time and effort toward this goal.

When mentors are aware of the expectations placed upon them, they can align their mindset toward meeting these expectations and contributing to the mentoring program's success.

Training mentors gives them confidence

Training gives mentors the confidence to help their mentees. Often, mentors can feel imposter syndrome. Even senior leaders have shared with us that they don’t know what they have to offer their mentees. 

Successful mentor training will alleviate the imposter syndrome some mentors may feel. Rather than going into their first meeting empty-handed, mentors have a checklist of things to do with their mentees that will help them break the ice and start growing.

Training makes mentors feel supported the organization

When mentors go through training, it shows them that the organization is dedicated to their success and the success of their mentees. It makes the mentoring program more credible.

Providing mentors with training and resources demonstrates the organization's commitment to supporting and helping them succeed. Furthermore, training helps ensure mentors are prepared to handle the challenges and responsibilities of their positions.

eBook Guide Mentors and Mentees To Better Relationships

What should mentor training include?

Our team has compiled comprehensive information on the components of successful mentor training programs to ensure mentors are fully equipped for success. 

As a summary, effective mentor training programs include the following:

Clarity on the goal of the mentoring program

Goal-driven mentoring programs will always outperform those that are started for vague reasons, such as “it’s good for culture.”.

When mentoring program admins clearly define what they hope to achieve with their mentoring program, it’s much easier to get mentors on board. 

For example, when mentors know that the program is designed to improve retention rates, support learning and development, or prepare future leaders, they’ll tailor how they approach conversations to fit that goal. 

In short, clear goals provide context for mentors.

Clear expectations on their role as mentor

Mentors with clear objectives and goals for their mentoring relationship will likely have more productive and successful relationships with their mentees. A well-defined purpose provides a roadmap for the mentor and mentee to follow, which can help to reduce misunderstandings, disorganization, and uncertainty. 

Dr. Wendy Axelrod thinks not setting clear expectations for your mentors is a big mistake, 

"...assuming that it can be informal; assuming that the mentor knows what to do once they're paired up— I think those are mistakes. I think spinning [the program] out on its own is a misstep."

Instead, there should be clear expectations and check-ins to ensure that the mentor and mentee are on track and meeting their goals.

A documented handbook with mentoring tips and advice

A handbook (like the mentoring handbook we provide at Together) with advice and tips can be beneficial in setting up mentor/mentee relationships because it provides a clear set of guidelines and expectations for both parties to follow. This can help ensure the relationship is productive, positive, and mutually beneficial.

Here are some examples of the types of advice and tips that might be included in a handbook for mentor/mentee relationships:

  • Tips on how to establish clear goals and objectives for the relationship
  • Advice on how to effectively communicate and collaborate
  • Suggestions for setting up regular meetings and check-ins
  • Strategies for giving and receiving feedback
  • Ideas for tracking progress and measuring success

This resource helps mentors and mentees navigate the relationship more effectively and efficiently and provides a helpful reference point if any issues or challenges arise.

A checklist and discussion topics for each mentor meeting

During meetings, there should be a selection of mentoring discussion topics specifically tailored towards helping the mentee progress in their development journey by addressing challenges or opportunities they may face. 

A checklist ensures that all relevant topics, such as career goals, current projects, areas for improvement, and more, are addressed promptly, keeping everyone focused on the mentee's development. 

The discussion topics should be carefully chosen to effectively help achieve these targets, from overcoming specific challenges or opportunities arising at work to long-term professional growth objectives.

Where they can go if they need support

While it is essential to provide adequate resources and training to mentors and mentees, ongoing support is also necessary to ensure the success of a mentoring program. 

As Dr. Axelrod emphasized, 

"[In our mentorship program] we realized we needed to give a lot of ongoing support, not just send the pairs off on their own, but support them beyond their one-on-one conversations."

To provide meaningful support beyond one-on-one conversations, create a safe space for mentors to discuss challenges and receive peer coaching. Wendy explains that program admins can do this by organizing…

“...a cohort of mentors that come together in a safe space to talk about what's going on for them in their mentoring relationship.”

Kate Doyle, a career development expert at the UN, highlighted the various support offered to their mentors, including handbooks, monthly support sessions, and a dedicated HR site. She explains, 

“We have mentor and mentee handbooks which are PDF documents on the platform and then a separate dedicated HR site. We hold monthly support sessions, which are simply hour-long Teams meetings where we invite all mentees and then, separately, all mentors to come and ask questions."

Prioritize ongoing support for mentors to ensure the success of the mentoring program and the achievement of its goals and objectives.

Mentor communities where mentors can connect

The best mentoring programs provide mentors with support by organizing small mentoring circles. In these circles, mentors can encourage one another, ask questions, and get advice. 

Jodi Petersen, from MentorStrat, explains why mentoring communities are a great idea:

This community could regularly convene through meetings or an internal communication platform to facilitate check-ins and the exchange of ideas and experiences. For instance, newer mentors can utilize this community to seek guidance and advice from more seasoned mentors, allowing them to enhance their skills and capabilities as mentors. 

Mentors and mentees can expand their knowledge and capabilities by participating in a mentoring community, benefiting the mentorship relationship and the organization.

How to select employees who will be great mentors

When selecting mentors, program managers should assess individuals for their ability to actively listen, build trust, and establish authentic relationships. 

These are crucial factors in facilitating successful mentoring relationships and should be considered non-negotiable for potential mentors

It is important to recognize that not all employees possess the necessary skills and attributes for a successful mentorship. Careful consideration should be given to selecting individuals well-suited for the role. 

Additional resources for mentors

Our comprehensive online library of mentorship best practices is a valuable resource for mentors, providing them access to a wide range of expert guidance and recommendations. 

These resources provide a comprehensive and well-rounded approach to mentorship training:

Mentor training is the foundation of a successful program

A strong mentorship program not only meets business goals and objectives but also prioritizes both mentors' and mentees' personal and professional growth. Investing in your mentors to provide them with the necessary skills, knowledge, and expectations to effectively support their mentees is crucial.

If you’re looking to start or expand your mentorship program, our award-winning mentorship platform can help. Our platform provides the tools and resources to train mentors effectively, track progress, and measure outcomes.

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