The 2022 L&D Global Sentiment Survey shows mentorship has moved from #6 to #4 on the list of Learning & Development strategies businesses are looking at. More than half of organizations (56% - 71%) now use mentoring in some form which means more businesses now experience the myriad of benefits that come with it.
Mentoring programs continue to thrive in the corporate world because they bridge the gap between junior and senior employees. With mentoring, for example, new employees can quickly ramp up and build a lasting relationship with their mentor. Other examples include accelerating career development, aiding L&D programs, supporting employees from diverse backgrounds, and leadership development.
It’s clear running impactful mentoring programs is becoming more of a priority in most organizations. But how to do it well? For your company to run workplace mentoring programs that drive impact, you need to keep 3 things in mind:
- The mentoring experience for both mentors and mentees. Is it seamless, or clunky and confusing?
- Monitoring performance and outcomes. Do you know when a mentoring relationship isn’t hitting it off? Likewise, do you have the data you need to show ROI?
- Autonomy. How much control do you have vs the employees? Will employees choose their mentors or will you have the final say?
With these three points in mind let’s jump into this guide. We’ll explain the most effective practices all mentoring programs have in common.
A quick note, these best practices are drawn from our comprehensive guide, Best Practices for Running A Mentorship Program. We’ve leveraged the first-hand experience of program administrators and the expertise of the Together team to deliver the most pertinent tips for program managers.
What do all successful mentoring programs have in common?
A successful mentoring program will have adequate preparation, a sizeable number of participants, and a clear focus. The foundation, however, of a thriving mentoring program is clear goals.
As the program manager, knowing the needle(s) you’re trying to move with your mentorship program is critical. Depending on your goals, you may structure your mentoring program in a different way (one-on-one mentoring is most common, but not the only way). Mentoring programs with a defined direction will yield positive results.
An easy way to match mentors and mentees
Matching mentors with mentees is often difficult, especially when done manually. The match is the foundation of the mentoring relationship; get that wrong and it’s impossible to have a successful program.
To make matching simple and scalable, many mentoring programs leverage mentor-matching algorithms, like what we have in the Together Mentoring Platform. The algorithm uses employee questionnaires (that ask a series of questions about their goals, and strengths to build a profile) to find the most relevant mentor or mentee for each participant.
12 best practices for impactful mentorship programs in the workplace
A Harvard Business Review article argues, "In a time of incredible change, professional disruption, and overwhelming loneliness, mentorship can anchor us." Today, mentorship is needed more than ever. To build workplaces where employees have anchors, here are 12 actionable best practices for mentoring programs. Keep these in mind and you’ll be sure to launch an impactful mentoring program.:
1. Launching registration early
One of the best ways to start a mentoring program is to kick off registration early. It's smart to initiate the call for mentors and mentees a few months before the program officially begins. This gives employees ample time to decide if they want to participate.
Starting early also generates anticipation. Launching early gets employees enthusiastic about finding a mentor or mentee.
2. Promote the program through every means possible
This next step requires massive publicity to make the program and its advantages known to every employee. While announcement emails are effective, you must employ a few more methods to create the needed buzz about the program. Remember, the strength of your advertising campaign will make or mar the program.
For first-time programs, it's expected that some employees will be interested, but what matters is how you transform interest into registrations. This guide suggests you identify your target audience among the employees and promote them ongoing.
Further, we’ve explored a dozen ideas in detail in our article on 12 easy strategies for promoting your mentoring program. Your program will provoke great interest and, ultimately, plenty of signups by utilizing these strategies.
3. Ask mentors to take on more than one mentee
It’s a common challenge to have more mentees than mentors in your mentoring program. An easy solution is to ask mentors to consider accepting more than one mentee. This can quickly grow the mentoring capacity in your program. Group mentoring is another solution. Group mentoring is more collaborative and is a great way to encourage peer learning and development.
Going back to having mentors take on more than one mentee, it can be difficult to sell the idea. What if mentors say they're to busy? To answer this, we’ve outlined 6 ways to get busy executives to sign up to your mentoring program. The two most important are reinforcing the benefits of mentorship, and equipping mentors with the resources they need to feel confident. If they believe in the power of mentoring and have training, they’re more likely to get on board.
4. Sell leaders on being mentors
When a senior executive agrees to join the program as a mentor, it enriches the program's credibility and makes it more attractive to the other employees. It encourages junior employees and also other senior executives to get on board.
Additionally, when senior leaders join as mentors, they likely have the skills of great mentors. That's critical for a successful mentoring program. Our State of Mentoring and Coaching Report identified that a lack of competency training is linked to poor mentoring experiences.
Training mentors is a separate topic. Let's consider this powerful quote from Tiffany Futch at First Horizon's Center for Learning and Performance. She runs a mentoring program on Together's platform and shared with us how she gets leadership on board:
"I sell mentorship to executives by framing it as 'you're not to drive this relationship. It's not your responsibility to step in and change your mentee's life through this relationship.'"
Instead of turning mentors into parents, make them feel like guides expected to help their students achieve advancement.
5. Encourage mentees to drive the relationship
The best mentoring relationships are when both parties get something from the arrangement. Mentors have a wealth of experience and knowledge to offer their mentees. But mentees also bring unique perspectives and skills to the table.
For the relationship to be truly beneficial, it is essential to encourage the mentee to take an active role. This doesn't mean mentors should relinquish all control – after all, they are the one with more experience. But it does mean giving the mentee some space to drive the relationship.
Allow mentees to set the agenda for meetings and be open to hearing their ideas. By taking this approach, you ensure both parties feel invested in the mentoring relationship – and that it continues to be a positive experience for everyone involved.
Our Co-Founder, Nathan Goldstein shares a rule of thumb for administrators pairing busy leaders with mentees:
“For any mentee who gets paired with an executive, a good takeaway [for admins] is to let them know that the mentees will have to drive the relationship and not be afraid of saying to their mentor, ‘Hey, I'm going to put time in the calendar with you.’ Otherwise, the executive won't necessarily reach out because they’re busy.”
6. Give mentees a choice; don't force a match
Although mentoring program coordinators are responsible for the program's operations, it's best if they allow mentees to pick their desired mentor. For instance, if a certain executive interests a mentee, it'll be discouraging for them to be paired with someone else. Mentees should be allowed to request their preferred mentors.
Our Customer Success team at Together shares,
“A mistake we sometimes see is that admins think they know better than their mentees and decide what mentor is right for them.”
If they aren't allowed to do so, such mentees may become disengaged and criticize the program. Consider adopting the mentee-led matching approach, which lets mentees choose a mentor. However, the mentor reserves the right to accept or decline the request. Offering mentees a choice is a great way to entice them to register.
7. Give mentors a choice; let them approve a mentoring request
Like the previous practice, mentors should be allowed to review mentoring requests and opt for the mentee they feel matches their needs. Improper pairing remains a leading cause of mentoring program failures.
Empowering mentors with the ability to approve or deny a match instills confidence in them and portrays your program in a good light. It also ensures they're engaged and invested in the relationship. And makes all the difference when it comes to providing meaningful guidance and support.
8. Encourage mentors to reach out to their mentees after a making a match
Once a mentor and mentee have been matched, the mentor needs to reach out to the mentee and introduce themselves. It's best practice to have the mentor reach out to the mentee after their pairing. That way, the mentor takes the first step, showing the mentee they're invested in making this relationship work. This first contact can help set the relationship's tone and ensure that both parties are comfortable communicating.
Additionally, it provides an opportunity for the mentor to explain their expectations and answer any questions that the mentee may have. Ideally, this initial contact should occur within a week of the match being made. However, if circumstances prevent this from happening, the mentor should reach out as soon as possible.
9. Act quickly if a mentor and mentee don't hit it off
You must prepare for situations where either the mentor or mentee isn't making significant progress. Instead of waiting for them to resolve their differences, we recommend you step in. To strengthen your conflict resolution efforts, we share the path HR analyst, Tiffany Futch, takes in matters like these. She revealed that she reaches out to mentors or mentees that leave a negative rating after one or two sessions.
“If there’s one or a two [rating], I call them. I simply ask what happened. I’ll say, ‘Hey, I'm just checking the platform and saw you put in a 1-star for your pairing. Tell me what's going on.’ And every single time, they say, ‘I can't believe anyone reads that.”
This shows the organization cares about them and prevents the relationship from collapsing. However, If the issue is beyond resolution, have them rematched with other participants in the program. Whatever decision you make, ensure it's done quickly.
10. Guarantee privacy for mentors and mentees
Catherine Marchand at Rangle.io believes mentoring relationships are characterized by trust and vulnerability. You must make the mentors and mentees feel comfortable to share their thoughts and experience without fear of a breach.
“I think being in a mentoring relationship certainly requires vulnerability and trust. We feel that the more the process is reflective of that, the more likely employees will be in that same mindset and will invest in that process. Adopting Together was 100% truly impactful all the way through.”
One way to achieve this is by including confidentiality agreements as a clause in the program's contract. Enlighten your employees on the agreement which safeguards their information and should encourage them to sign up. For instance, Together's mentoring programs are SOC 2-certified, which means our data on employees enjoy high-level protection.
11. Give mentors and mentees session agendas
After getting matched, the first session is next on the blueprint. We believe employees should be equipped with the appropriate resources so they don't go into the discussions blind.
If you don't have an idea of what agenda to share with the participants, this compiled the list of several discussion topics that should provoke meaningful conversations. Having an agenda provides a direction for the participants. Hence it's important to have one or more.
12. Check-in with mentors and mentees and measure outcomes
The job of a mentoring program administrator is tireless. They must constantly review each pairing, gain insights into the positives, and address the negatives. Not keeping up with the program after launching is one of the tell-tale signs of a failing mentoring program. We recommend program admins keep a close eye on the program's affairs and offer support when necessary.
Admins need to employ the measurement and evaluation process, which implies regular monitoring. They should also use metrics like signups, mentee and mentor goals, anecdotal feedback, and session feedback to measure the program's performance effectively.
Our round-table webinar features discussions with proven program managers on the key best practices for successful workplace mentoring programs.
Following these best practices will build a mentorship culture
You’re in good shape if you plan on following the above best practices to build your workplace mentoring program. In doing so, mentorship will slowly become more ingrained in your culture.
What you want is what this HBR article describes as mentors-of-the-moment:
“Mentors-of-the-moment help to promote a mentoring culture where all members of the organization — especially those in the middle to upper ranks — seek opportunities in daily interactions to develop or grow junior colleagues and peers.”
As you continue to run your mentoring program, your workplace will begin to change. Employees who are mentors will begin utilizing the mentoring skills they’re learning with others, not just their mentee. This is a collaborative, supportive, and learning culture we can all get behind.
Examples of organizations with successful mentorship programs
At Together, we've seen a lot of successful mentorship programs. Let’s look at just three examples worth learning from.
Quickly training new engineers
Cruise Automation is developing self-driving vehicles and has a team of engineers that need to stay on the cutting edge of technology. A key part of making this work in their organization is mentorship. Using Together, Cruise Automation is scaling its workplace mentoring program to include over 1,000 engineers. They first ran a pilot mentoring program and aimed to work with 200 engineers but exceeded expectations and recruited nearly 300 for the workplace mentoring program.
Managing hundreds of mentoring pairs is a challenge in and of itself. However, determining the matches' quality is another reason Cruise Automation relies on Together’s mentoring software.
Mentoring programs in the workplace are essential for the team at Cruise to stay up-to-date on automated driving technology. It is also key to helping new hires understand the intricacies involved in the creation process. In many workplaces, starting a mentorship program to support upskilling among employees is critical for success.
Supporting diversity in the workplace
King Games is a well-known name in the mobile video game industry, with one of their biggest games, Candy Crush earning over $1 billion. The game holds the title of sixth highest-grossing mobile game of all time. But staying competitive in the mobile gaming world can be challenging.
To build a team that allows for robust creativity and is reflective of their mobile video game audience, King decided to boost their internal inclusivity. After hearing what members of the ERG Women@King had to say about a lack of confidence and opportunity, they created a mentoring program for female and non-binary employees. The program was dubbed Kicking Glass.
With the help of Together’s mentoring software, King was able to match over 250 employees with a mentor to help bring down the walls. The mentoring program was a success with participants, most of whom rated it a 3.9 out of 4.
The reality is that minorities in the workplace can face more challenges than others. It requires effort on behalf of an employer to overcome these obstacles. And mentorship is a meaningful way to cultivate belonging among employees. Mentorship can help promote diversity in the workplace. Mentoring programs in the workplace give employees meaningful face-to-face time with leaders who can help them advance their careers.
Cooley sets up new hires for success
Cooley is a global law firm with over 1,500 lawyers. The intricacies of their legal work demand that new attorneys be ready for action quickly. Their Cooley Academy Mentoring Program (CAMP) was designed to onboard new employees and get them up to speed quickly by connecting them with more experienced individuals.
This provided them with a good support system that helped them become competent in their new roles faster. As part of the experience, they started a “Cooley mentoring competition” as a fun way to strengthen existing mentoring relationships and build new connections among colleagues.
Workplace mentoring program outline
We've outlined the bet practices for launching a mentoring program, but if you want a step-by-step guide to planning a mentorship program check out our full guide: How to start a mentorship program. The guide will break down each of the following steps in detail:
- Deciding on your goals for the mentoring program
- Getting leadership buy-in for the program
- Promoting the program
- Session resources
- What you need to measure
We dig into all the critical parts of workplace mentoring programs and share other quick tips.
Easy to use mentorship software
While the steps to creating a successful mentoring program are straightforward that is not to say that it is easy work. A lot of the aforementioned steps require effort and time if done manually. The good news is that mentoring software can make all of these tasks extremely easy for the administrative and more effective for the program participants.
If you haven’t already, see how Together’s mentoring software can make it simple to deploy a best-practice mentoring program in your workplace.