Mentorship Programs

Running mentoring programs in the workplace [best practices and success stories]

Here are 16 tried-and-tested best practices for successful workplace mentoring programs. We also share examples of mentoring programs and advice from program managers who've made their mark.

Matthew Reeves and Nathan Goldstein

Co-founders of Together

Published on 

December 19, 2022

Updated on 

December 12, 2023

Time to Read

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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.

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 that 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: 

  1. The mentoring experience for both mentors and mentees. Is it seamless or clunky and confusing?
  2. 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?
  3. 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 in. This guide is an extensive outline of 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 are mentorship programs?

Mentorship programs are typically relationships between senior and junior employees, with the former providing guidance and advice on career development, work performance, and other aspects of professional life.

Usually initiated by the organization’s HR and L&D teams to foster collaboration and support among employees, they are designed to give mentees access to resources, expertise, and guidance from more experienced professionals, which opens up new opportunities for growth and development.

What makes mentorship programs so effective is that they provide a platform for honest, two-way conversations that can have a lasting impact on the mentees’ performance as they navigate their career paths and work life.

Ultimately, a mentoring program in the workplace helps mentees look beyond their immediate tasks to focus on growing their skills and nurturing the mindsets that will set their careers up for success.

“What makes mentorship programs so effective is that they provide a platform for honest, two-way conversations that can have a lasting impact on the mentees’ performance.”

What do all successful mentoring programs have in common?

On Together’s mentorship platform, there are over 150 mentorship programs running at any given time, with thousands of professionals finding relevant mentors to learn from. 

We looked into the most successful programs and saw three common traits among them. 

We’ll unpack them below.

They know their north star

Like any successful L&D program, mentoring programs require clear goals and expected outcomes before starting an initiative. 

Mentorship programs that define their “north star” always do better than those that start a mentoring program because “it’s good for culture.” 

These programs lack a backbone, as Wend Axelrod, mentorship expert and author of 10 Steps To Successful Mentoring, says (more from Wendy below—her insights are invaluable).

With a specific goal in mind, it's easier to design and implement a program that not only provides value to the organization but also meets the needs of all stakeholders.

“Mentorship programs that define their “north star” always do better than those that start a mentoring program because ‘it’s good for culture.’”

A north star can include goals like:

  • Increasing retention rates by 30% within the next year
  • Reducing the time needed to onboard new hires by 25%
  • Improving employee engagement scores by 15 points within six months

Finding relevant mentors for every employee

As a mentorship program manager, most of your efforts should go into finding the right mentor for each employee. While it might seem straightforward to match mentors with mentees, the process requires a great deal of thought and effort when done manually. 

Successful mentoring program managers know they can’t spend all their time manually matching. Instead, they use a mentor-matching algorithm, like what we have in the Together Mentoring Platform. 

Our pairing algorithm takes weighs factors such as:

  • goals, 
  • skills, 
  • interests, 
  • experience, and more through employee questionnaires to ensure that the right mentor-mentee pair is created every time.

High-quality mentors

If you're one of many who think that any senior-level employee can be a mentor, think again. 

The best mentors have more than just experience. Mentors that drive meaningful change in their mentee’s careers have a passion for teaching, the ability to empathize, and the willingness to help others.

Unlike other L&D initiatives, mentoring programs require a significant amount of effort from mentors. 

“Mentors that drive meaningful change in their mentee’s careers have a passion for teaching, the ability to empathize, and the willingness to help others.”

Therefore, organizations that take extra steps by investing in mentor training programs ensure that their mentors are well-equipped and supported to do an effective job.

Types of mentorship programs

There’s more than one way to run a mentoring program. Choosing the appropriate mentoring model for your program depends on your goals.

Let's explore each and identify the situation where it would be most effective.

  • 1-on-1: The most common form of mentoring where a senior employee is paired with a junior employee. Great for employee career development and leadership training of high-potential employees.
  • Group: Useful for organizations that have unequal numbers of mentors and mentees, with several mentees having one or more mentors. Great for onboarding and manager training.
  • Peer-to-peer: Pairing colleagues at similar levels in the company to exchange valuable insights and perspectives. Great for knowledge sharing and remote workplace engagement.
  • Reverse: Flips the traditional 1-on-1 model by letting junior employees mentor a leader or executive. Great for leadership development and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
  • Employee resource groups (ERGs): Matching members from the same or different ERGs across the organization for a 1-on-1, group, or peer mentoring program. Great for DEI initiatives and career development within ERGs.
  • Flash: Called just-in-time mentoring since mentors and mentees only meet once or twice instead of having recurring sessions. Great for supplementing training programs and remote workplace engagement.
"In a time of incredible change, professional disruption, and overwhelming loneliness, mentorship can anchor us."

16 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 16 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.  

There are two ways to promote a mentorship program: Frequent reminders and sharing who will be mentors.

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.

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. 

Together enables three types of mentor matching

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.”
Marginal mentoring is when mentors aren't invest in their mentees development

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 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.

13. Qualify the mentees

We’d argue that all employees should have access to a workplace mentoring program. But if you’re starting out, it’s much easier to build momentum when you’re more selective about who can be a mentee.

This ensures that only those with the qualifications, potential, and capacity to participate can take full advantage of the program.

Suppose the program aims to prepare high-potential employees for leadership positions. In that case, employees must meet requirements, such as having earned high-performance ratings for two consecutive years or showing outstanding leadership qualities.

14. Set the structure from the beginning

Even though mentoring programs are voluntary, you still need to establish a framework for the participants to follow. The structure should cover activities, such as kick-off orientation, goal and expectation setting, communication protocols, mentee gatherings, and individual check-in calls.

In our interview with Wendy Axelrod, author and mentorship expert, she noted that setting these rules from the start helps participants understand their roles in the program as mentors or mentees, the commitment it requires, as well as the expectations that will be placed on them. 

This structure maintains accountability for mentors and mentees and protects against a mentoring relationship that fizzles out because it lacks support.

15. Encourage sign-ups through testimonials

While most employees are drawn to the idea of having an experienced mentor in their corner, others may need a little more convincing. To do this, you can send out personal email invites and collect testimonials from previous participants to highlight the successes they’ve achieved through the program.

These real stories will encourage more people to get on board with the program and give them insights into what they should expect during their time as mentors or mentees.

16. Provide training to mentors

It's a common misconception that senior employees and leaders are naturally equipped to become mentors. The truth is, even the best of them need training on how to be effective mentors to help their mentees reach their fullest potential.

As Wendy shared in her article, she has brought in expert coaches to provide training on critical mentoring skills, such as 

  • asking thought-provoking questions, 
  • maintaining boundaries, 
  • getting them outside their comfort zone, and 
  • giving feedback.

Aside from improving the mentorship experience for both parties, bringing in experienced and trained mentors adds credibility to your program and drives more mentee interest.

Webinar Round-Table: Mentorship Program Admins Share Best Practices

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.

How to start a mentoring program

Once you're convinced of the value and impact of a mentoring program in the workplace, it’s time to create and develop a comprehensive plan for the program. 

There’s a lot of nuance to running a mentorship program. It’s hard to summarize it all in a “5-step guide to starting a mentorship program,” although we’ve tried our best (see our mentorship program guide here). 

We’ll unpack the steps below:

1. Make your mentoring program easily accessible

Employees love the idea of a mentoring program that will help them grow in their careers. However, with so many work priorities on their plate, it's hard to carve out time, especially if it means opening yet another app or tab on their browser.

And that's why, the first step is to think about the platform you're offering the mentoring program on. Does it have easy registration, scheduling and matching features that don't make mentoring seem like a daunting task? Does it integrate into employee workflows or does it distract them?

With careful consideration of these questions, we developed Together for Microsoft Teams.

With this solution, your mentoring program is available right in the Teams environment, where employees are already present. Mentors and mentees can register, schedule, and dive right into their mentoring sessions without leaving the Teams app, making it barrier-free to engage in learning.

Think about how your employees work. With the shift from email and in-person to instant messaging (for example, in Microsoft Teams or Slack), communication platforms are evolving into all-in-one workspaces where employees spend the majority of their day. And, as the data below shows, employees prefer instant, all-in-one communication spaces.

When you make your mentoring program available in an employee's preferred workspace, you drive more participation and higher engagement. And that's why, with Together for Microsoft Teams, employees can choose to get mentoring alerts in their Teams DMs, and never miss out on key updates. It's the first step to baking mentoring into employee workflows.

2. Establish clear goals

Take the time to assess your organization's needs and determine a high-level goal you’re hoping to achieve with your mentoring program. Do you want to focus on increasing employee engagement or leadership training?

Whatever your goal is, make sure to set measurable objectives and their corresponding KPIs to help track the success and impact of your program.

3. Choose the appropriate type of mentoring program

While it's common to think of mentoring in a traditional setting, there are several approaches to running a successful program.

For example, if you want to attract and retain top talent, consider integrating group mentoring during the onboarding process

This approach pairs a mentor with multiple new hires, allowing them to learn from each other's experiences and challenges, build relationships with colleagues and become familiar with the organization’s culture.

4. Attract employees to sign up

For a mentoring program to work, the mentors and mentees must be committed to the program and its objectives. To that end, designing an attractive and engaging program description and marketing plan is crucial to increase participation.

Consider executing an email campaign encouraging employees from all levels and departments to sign up for the program before the launch. A dedicated launch event should provide a brief overview of the program, what kind of skills they’ll gain or develop, and how it will benefit them in their career.

5. Match mentors with mentees efficiently

As a program manager, one of the most important roles you’ll play is finding suitable mentors and mentees. Together's mentor matching software makes this easier by leveraging mentor-matching algorithms to create pairing based on several factors you can set.

Since mentorship programs usually last 6 to 12 months, it's critical to offer constant support to the participants by providing learning resources and conducting check-ins to ensure that the pairings are mutually beneficial and effective.

6. Measure and report on program success

As your mentorship program progresses, tracking the performance and impact of the program is key to understanding its overall success. This can be done by tracking changes in sign-ups, goal achievements, and goal-related business.

It’s also helpful to collect feedback from participants so that you can understand their experience and implement necessary improvements if needed.

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.

Cruse Automation's mentorship 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.

King Games mentorship program Kicking Glass

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.

Cooley Law's mentorship program

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 best practices for starting a mentoring program, but if you want a step-by-step guide from planning to execution and reporting, check out our blog, which provides a mentoring program outline that can be adapted to any organization.

Lean on easy-to-use mentorship software

Running a successful mentoring program is easy if you use the right technoogy.

The steps we outlined require a lot of effort and time, if done manually. The good news is that mentoring software can make all of these tasks extremely easy for a mentorship program manager and more effective for the program participants. With Together, you get more than a mentoring platform, you get a partner who walks and stays with you throughout your mentoring journey.

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.

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