How To Start A Mentoring Program
“I want to start a mentorship program, but I’m not sure where to start.”
We get this question a lot.
Whether you’re fast approaching your launch date for your mentoring program or management has tasked you with starting a workplace mentoring program, this guide will help you from start to finish.
Call it your roadmap for knocking your mentorship program out of the park.
Whether you’re an HR professional, L&D strategist, or resource group leader, it takes a lot of work to run a successful mentoring program.
That’s partly why we exist at Together. We’ve helped hundreds of organizations launch incredible mentoring programs using our mentorship platform. We saw that most companies have mentoring programs today (about 71% last time we checked), and some drive real impact. But many don’t. They start off with good intentions, only to fizzle out.
So what separates the wildly successful mentoring programs? That’s what we’re going to share in this guide.
Now, don’t be intimidated by the length. We know it’s a lot to read! But we’ve tried to make it easy for you by simplifying starting a mentoring program down to five clear steps.
If you follow the below steps, we firmly believe that you’ll create a mentorship program that quite literally changes lives. We’ve seen it happen, and you will too.
And if you don’t have time to read this whole guide, we’ve put together a “spark notes version” you can download below.
A straightforward guide to starting a mentoring program
Read the guide below to learn from some of the best mentoring program managers today. Their hard-earned advice and best practices will help you confidently navigate your mentoring program’s launch.
Let’s dive in!
What we cover in this guide:
Establish the goal of the mentoring program
Before you start thinking of getting your hands dirty with setting up your mentorship program, the best thing you can do is to take a step back and think through why you are setting up your program and what you hope to achieve.
The first step in starting a mentorship program is establishing the program's goal. Take a step back and consider why you want a mentorship program and what you hope to achieve.
In other words, what are your objectives for your mentoring program?
Knowing these lets you articulate your program strategy with an objective statement and corresponding KPIs.
Examples of program goals
For example, your objective could be “to improve employee retention,” and your KPI could be the difference in retention rates between employees in the mentorship program versus those who are not in the program.
Retention rates are just one example. Your program's exact objective and KPIs can vary based on the context in which you are setting up your mentorship program. It is also possible to have multiple objectives and KPIs.
Regardless of your goals, you must document them and hold your team accountable for them.
Questions to ask to refine your goals
Once you have defined your strategy, it is important to define how you will achieve it. To do this, answer the following questions:
- Who will be involved (i.e. what are the eligibility criteria for mentors and mentees?)?
- Will the program be mentor or mentee-led?
- How many mentors will each mentee have?
- How many mentees will each mentor have?
- What will be the criteria for matching mentors and mentees?
- How often will mentors and mentees meet?
- Will sessions be 1-on-1 or group?
- How long will relationships last?
There are no right or wrong answers for any of the above questions.
Dr. Wendy Axelrod, author of 10 Steps to Successful Mentoring drives home the importance of determining the purpose of your mentorship program before you start building it out:
Dr. Axelrod has a lot of great advise for successful mentoring programs. Watch the full conversation between Dr. Axelrod and our CEO Matthew Reeves where they discuss what separates successful mentoring programs from those that flop.
Want to learn more?
Choose the type of mentorship program
While the traditional depiction of mentoring includes a more experienced individual passing down their wisdom to a less experienced person, there are, in fact, different types of workplace mentoring programs your company can launch.
What are the different mentoring models?
- Traditional 1-on-1 mentoring
- Group mentoring
- Peer-to-peer learning
- Reverse mentoring
- Employee resource groups
- Flash or speed mentoring
Let's take a closer look at each of these:
Traditional 1-on-1 mentoring
Traditional 1-on-1 mentoring is the most common mentoring model and what most people think of when they hear the word "mentoring."
In this program, each mentee is paired with a mentor - usually a more senior employee or expert - who they will meet with regularly to discuss their career goals, receive advice, and build a relationship.
The key to this program’s success is finding mentors willing to commit to meeting regularly with their mentees and providing them with honest feedback and guidance.
This kind of connection can result in:
- More personalized attention.
- The ability to develop a strong, trusting relationship.
- Tailored advice and mentorship that is specific to the mentee's goals and experiences.
- Real accountability
To find out more about implementing a 1-on-1 mentorship program in your business, check out our guide to 1-on-1 mentoring.
In a group mentoring program, mentees are placed in small groups (usually 3-5 people) with a mentor who leads discussions and activities around a specific topic.
This type of program is beneficial because:
- It gives each mentee the chance to share their experiences with others facing similar challenges.
- It provides an opportunity for multiple mentors to get involved in the program.
- It can be less time-consuming for mentors since they are working with a group of mentees at once.
- It can be less daunting for mentees since they are in a group setting.
It can also be easier to maintain and monitor from a business perspective, making it a great option for organizations who want to start a mentoring program but don’t have the bandwidth to support a large number of 1-on-1 relationships.
Read our guide on group mentoring to learn about group mentoring and how to set one up in your workplace.
Peer-to-peer learning (also called social learning) is an effective way to share knowledge and best practices within an organization.
In this type of mentorship program, employees are paired with someone in a similar role. Together, they work on projects, shadow each other, and provide feedback to help the mentee learn more about their role.
Peer-to-peer learning can be beneficial because it:
- Is less formal than other types of mentorship programs, making it more accessible for employees.
- Encourages collaboration and knowledge sharing between employees.
- Can be adapted to different learning styles.
- Is a great way to onboard new employees.
There's also a real value in creating equal relationships among your employees, and peer-to-peer learning is a great way to do that.
If you’re interested in starting a peer-to-peer learning program at your organization, check out our guide on peer mentorship.
Ever heard of the saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear?"
Reverse mentoring is based on this idea. In a reverse mentoring program, a more experienced employee is paired with a less experienced employee who can give them a fresh perspective.
For example, an older employee may be paired with a younger hire to learn about social media marketing, or a senior executive may be paired with an entry-level employee to learn about the company's day-to-day operations.
Reverse mentoring can help organizations in a few different ways:
- It helps close the generation gap by fostering collaboration and understanding between employees of different ages.
- It allows employees to share their knowledge and expertise with others.
- It provides an opportunity for employees to develop new skills.
We have a few tips to get you started if you’re thinking about starting a reverse mentoring program.
Employee resource groups
An employee resource group (ERG) isn’t a mentorship program, but mentorship is often part of the group.
For example, an ERG for women in the tech industry may provide mentorship and support for female employees who work in male-dominated industries. Or, an ERG for first-generation college students may provide guidance and resources for employees who are the first in their families to receive post-secondary education.
ERGs can benefit both the employees who participate in them and the organizations where they work.
Some of the benefits of ERGs are:
- Providing support for employees who may feel isolated or marginalized in the workplace.
- Helping to attract and retain top talent.
- Increasing employee engagement and satisfaction.
- Building a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
Starting an ERG can be a daunting (but rewarding!) task, so check out our comprehensive guide to determine whether it is the right path for your business.
Flash or speed mentoring
Flash or speed mentoring is a type of mentorship program that pairs mentors and mentees for brief, focused sessions.
The sessions are typically between 15 and 30 minutes long and can take place in person or virtually. The key is that they are shorter and more focused than traditional 1-on-1 mentoring relationships, where the conversation can sometimes lack any real direction.
One of the benefits of flash mentoring is that it can be less time-consuming for both mentors and mentees. This can be helpful for employees who are already busy with work and other commitments.
Another benefit is that it can help connect employees with various people, leading to a more diverse range of perspectives and experiences. Sometimes, a mentor may seem like a good fit only because the employee has never experienced the relationship.
If you’re interested in starting a flash mentoring program at your organization, check out our guide to flash mentoring for all the details.
Invite employees to be mentors or mentees
To promote your mentoring program we’re going to draw from the advice of MentorStrat, a mentorship program consulting firm. We interviewed Mary and Jodi from their team to understand what first-time mentorship program managers need to know to be successful.
During that conversation, we covered a lot and summarized 14 things managers can do to attract more mentors. The overarching advice is to develop and execute an effective communication strategy for the program.
The form that your communication strategy will vary slightly depending on the context of your program. However, there are a few rules of thumb:
- Build excitement
- Host a launch event
- Follow up with participants
Follow up with participants
Most people are busy, and it may require one or two additional touch points to get them to register.
In terms of a response rate that you can expect, it depends on the context of the program. However, as a rule of thumb for voluntary programs, you can expect participation rates in the range of 25 – 45% of your organization for initial sign-up.
Be prepared. More often than not, we find that program administrators get a higher response rate than they expected. Take diversity mentorship programs, for example:
- A study documented that 74% of employees from ministry backgrounds participated in mentoring programs when they were offered. And,
- 32% stated their mentoring relationship was “extremely important” to them.
Match mentors and mentees and support their relationship
Once mentors and mentees are paired, your job as the program manager isn’t over. Mentoring programs run anywhere from 6-12 months so there’s plenty of time for program managers to help mentors and mentees develop meaningful relationships.
Here are three things program managers can do to set up their pairings for success:
- Provide learning resources
- Send tips to mentors and mentees
- Follow up with pairs
Provide learning resources
It can be awkward to start a mentoring relationship. Program managers can help mentees and mentors kick it off by providing session agendas or discussion topics or tips on being a great mentor or mentee.
Together’s mentoring platform provides program managers with several session guides on goal setting, problem-solving, job shadowing, networking, and more to keep conversations on track and fruitful.
Likewise, Together has a mentor handbook and mentee handbook that give participants lots of tips for building strong mentoring relationships.
Establish relationship guidelines
One of the first steps for mentors and mentees is establishing clear guidelines about how the relationship will work.
The mentor and mentee expectations may not always be clear, but some basic guidelines can help move the mentoring relationship forward. It’s acceptable for the mentor to share information about themselves, including their background, skills, and expertise.
This gives the mentor a starting point to consider how they can enhance the mentee’s experience in the workplace.
Follow up with pairs
You can't just let the program function without constantly monitoring it. Ask both sides of the relationship for feedback regularly, at least once every two weeks. This will help you adjust the program as needed and identify any issues that may arise.
Conducting check-ins also allows program managers to hear about the successes of their mentoring relationships. These stories can be used to encourage other participants or even shared externally to promote the benefits of the mentorship program.
At Together, we've built the feedback function directly into the platform by making it incredibly easy to send out a survey follow-up. The feedback process is streamlined and effortless with templates to choose from or a custom builder to design your own.
Evaluate and report on program success
There is one very important requirement for all mentoring programs—the ability to measure their success. By implementing a standardized tracking system, you can keep track of several key metrics.
- The number of employees who have completed their goals
- The average time it takes to complete a goal
- The percentage of employees who reach their goals.
While it may not be as effective in certain situations, keeping your finger on the pulse of the mentorship program through regular, anecdotal feedback can give you some great insights.
This could be in the form of:
- One-on-one conversations with mentors and mentees
- Group discussions with all participants
- An anonymous survey sent to all employees who have participated in the program
Anecdotal feedback should always be taken with a grain of salt but can help to uncover any issues that aren’t being picked up by more formal methods of evaluation. For example, an employee may not feel comfortable writing down their feelings about a particular mentor but would open up in a one-on-one conversation.
This is the more formal feedback that you’ll get from each mentoring session. A simple form can be sent to each participant at the end, and data can be collected on a program-wide basis for future improvement. It can help with things like:
- Determining the effectiveness of the matching process
- Identifying which topics are being covered in sessions
- Deciding whether the format or frequency of sessions needs to change.
Without this feedback, it would be very difficult to make necessary changes to the program as you would be guessing what needs to be changed based on individual, anecdotal evidence that can be misleading.
While a mentorship program is mostly about employee growth, it also needs to be justified to senior leadership or other decision-makers in terms of business outcomes. This is why it’s important to track data that links the mentorship program to business results.
Some examples of this could be:
- An increase in sales for mentees who are in sales roles
- A decrease in turnover for employees who have been through the program
- An increase in productivity for all employees who have participated.
This type of data is essential for getting buy-in from key stakeholders who may be skeptical about the value of a mentorship program. It also helps to show the return on investment (ROI) of the program and can be used to secure funding for future initiatives.
Monitor metrics regularly
Importantly, it is not enough to just collect this data. You need to establish a system for monitoring it regularly and reporting on progress. This will help you make necessary adjustments to the program and ensure that it remains relevant and valuable.
There should even be a meta-level analysis of the metrics themselves to determine whether they accurately measure the program's success. This step is crucial for ensuring that your program can demonstrate real, lasting results.
Some parting tips for creating your workplace mentorship program
We’ve covered a lot in the above five steps. But we want to share some tips we’ve picked up from our own experience and talking to successful mentorship program admins.
You need to win approval from leadership to build a mentoring program (here's how)
Depending on how your mentorship program idea originated, it may be required to get leadership buy-in on the business case for mentorship. If the initiative to start a mentorship program came from the top, that’s great, and you may be able to skip this step.
If it didn’t, then you’ll need to put some additional work in to ensure your program has the support from leadership it needs to succeed.
Mary Schlegal, L&D leader, shared how she got buy-in for her mentoring program.
Why leaders need to buy into your mentorship program
Buy-in from the top is critical for several reasons.
- First, in most cases, your mentors will come from the senior ranks of your organization. There must be a positive message around the mentorship program so that you can recruit these mentors as participants.
- Second, most mentorship programs at least require some business resources. At the very least, this could be the dedicated time of an employee to administer the program, but in many cases, it may require some budget to support things such as learning materials or mentorship software.
How to get your leaders on board: a business case
To get the buy-in, you’ll need to put together a business case to present to leadership. Don’t worry; you have already completed much of what you need from the previous step. Rather, what’s required now is packaging your plan into a compelling story that:
- Communicates the impact your program will have on your business or organization.
- What resources will it require.
Calculating the impact you'll have
In creating your business case it is important to focus on the impact that your program will have. While this will vary from program to program, it should tie back directly to your objectives and KPIs. Moreover, it is important to quantify the impact whenever possible.
For workplace programs, you can use our online calculator to quantify how much your company could save in reducing employee turnover by implementing a mentorship program.
Employee Turnover Cost Calculator
Getting the resources you'll need
In your business case, you will also want to be clear about what resources you need to make the program successful. If you do plan to use software, you may want to involve IT so that you can properly budget for their time in your business case.
You should also think of presenting an ROI for the program by dividing the impact by the cost of the program. For businesses, this usually means presenting a monetary ROI.
However, the ROI doesn’t always have to be communicated as a financial return. For example, you could communicate the number of mentees you will support getting into university per dollar invested in the program.
Program mistakes to avoid
Mentoring is not something you can drop into every business and guarantee success. It requires thoughtful consideration, design, and execution to deliver the benefits you’re looking for.
When done poorly, mentoring can create more problems than it solves. Some common mistakes organizations make with mentorship programs can cause them to fail.
- Not defining the purpose or outcomes of the program: A mentorship program without a defined purpose is like a boat without a rudder—it will flounder and eventually fail. You need to know what you want to achieve with your program before you can design it or measure its success.
- Poor screening of mentors and mentees: Not all employees will make good mentors or mentees. It’s important to screen participants for qualities that will make them successful in the program, like emotional intelligence, communication skills, and willingness to learn.
- Inadequate training: A mentorship program is only as good as the mentors and mentees involved. If they don’t have the skills or knowledge to be successful, the program will suffer. Make sure to provide training on how to be a good mentor or mentee, as well as specific topics related to your organization or industry.
- Not enough support: You can't just let your participants try to figure it out themselves. They need support from you and each other. Provide resources, like a mentorship manual or online forum, and make yourself available to answer questions.
- Wrong pairings: A mentorship relationship that isn’t a good fit can be frustrating and unproductive for everyone involved. Be thoughtful about who you pair together and make sure they have complementary skills, interests, and goals.
- Failure to monitor progress: This is not a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. You need to check in regularly to see how it’s going and make changes as needed - both to the overall program and the individual pairings.
- Poor expectation management: If you set the bar too high, your participants will feel like they’re falling short. If you set it too low, the program won’t have the impact you want. Be realistic about what your mentorship program can achieve and manage expectations accordingly.
- Insufficient feedback: The feedback street goes both ways. Mentors need to give feedback to their mentees and vice versa. But you also need to give feedback to the program participants and provide them with specific, actionable steps to improve.
- Lack of respect for confidentiality: Everything discussed between a mentor and mentee should be kept confidential. If there’s a breach of trust, it can damage the relationship and discourage others from participating.
- Insufficient time devoted to the program: Like anything else, a mentorship program takes time to develop and grow. You need to be patient and give it the attention it deserves if you want it to be successful.
- Absence of an evaluation plan: How will you know if your program is successful? You need to establish metrics and benchmarks ahead of time so you can measure progress and make improvements.
- No networking: Mentorship is not a static relationship. It should involve networking and regular contact with other mentors and mentees to share ideas, resources, and support. Without it, the program will stagnate.
These are just a few potential pitfalls you need to be aware of when starting a mentorship program. By planning and designing your program carefully, you can avoid these mistakes and set your mentees up for success.
Launch a world class program with Together
By now, you're ready to start your mentorship program at your company. Running a mentorship program is arguably the most effective way to strengthen your company's culture and leverage all employees' diverse experiences.
Together’s platform offers several key features to help you along the way.
- Registration: Instead of sitting down with every potential participant to try and coax out the necessary information, Together quickly collects all relevant data from questionnaires or existing HRIS data.
- Pairing: Managers may think they know how to pair people up, but Together’s algorithm has consistently outperformed it by automatically matching complementary candidates.
- Scheduling: Setting up connections is a breeze as Together integrates with existing email and calendar software to keep everyone up to date on the next scheduled meeting.
- Reporting: Quickly view insights and track progress with a customizable dashboard that gives you the most relevant data right away. These detailed reports can also help you make a business case for senior stakeholders.
- Elevated user experience: With a scalable platform that can grow with your mentorship program, Together offers in-app and email support for all participants, phone support for administrators, and implementation support to get you started.
If you're ready to start your mentorship program and want it to run as efficiently as possible, book a demo with us today.