Definitive Guide

How To Start A Mentoring Program

Starting a mentoring program is a great idea, but it takes time. Here are five steps to keep you on the right track.

What is a workplace mentorship program?

If you’re thinking of starting a mentorship program, that’s great! Across a wide range of verticals, mentorship programs are proven to be an effective way for organizations to improve their culture and productivity. That’s why over 71% of fortune 500 companies have built mentoring programs. 

At Together, we’re experts in helping 1000+ employee companies create internal mentorship programs. These are some of the most common reasons they cite for starting their programs:

  • A scalable way to train and onboard new employees
  • Pass on knowledge from senior employees to the next generation 
  • Strengthen and promote diverse and inclusive cultures
  • Reduce turnover and increase internal mobility
  • Increase employee engagement and productivity
  • Connect their teams in a new remote or hybrid workforce

These are just some of the most common reasons organizations use mentoring software to create mentoring programs.

How To Build A Mentoring Program

Creating a mentoring program takes time and involves many stakeholders, but it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task. 

We’ve simplified the process down to five steps. 

We’ll explore each step in-depth to give you as much clarity as possible and additional resources that explore it further. 

What we cover in this guide:

Step 1: How to establish the goal of the mentoring program

Step 2: How to choose the type of mentorship program right for your goals

Step 3: The process for inviting employees to be mentors or mentees

Step 4: A scalable way to match mentors and mentees

Step 5: Several ways to report on and evaluate your program


1. 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.

The table below outlines a few additional examples.

Program objective Program context KPI
Improve university admission rates Not for profit University admission rate
Improve member career progression Professional association Promotion rate
Improve leadership development Workplace Promotion rate
Improve diversity at the manager level Workplace Promotion rate among employees with diverse backgrounds
Improve employee performance Workplace % of employees in select performance buckets
Improve employee retention Workplace Retention rate

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.

Want to learn more?

  1. Examples of successful mentoring programs
  2. Examples of mentoring program goals

2: 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:

The traditional 1-on-1 mentoring relationship.

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

Group mentorship: where there's one (or more) mentor(s) with several mentees.

Group 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 mentoring where colleagues coach one another.

Peer-to-peer learning

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

Flipping the traditional mentoring relationship to practice reverse mentoring.

Reverse mentoring

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

Most Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) include some form of mentorship.

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.

In flash mentoring, a mentee meets with multiple mentors for 1 or 2 meetings only.

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.

3: Invite employees to be mentors or mentees

Now that you've laid the foundation for your mentoring program by establishing your goals and choosing a model, it’s time to attract mentors and mentees to sign up. To ensure this, you must develop and execute an effective communication strategy for the program.

The form that your communication strategy will take, 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

Build excitement

This could come in the form of an email campaign before the launch or having senior leaders discuss it at organizational events.

Host a launch event

Have a dedicated launch event or have the launch coincide with another event where it makes sense (for example, some professional associations have annual conferences, which is a great time to launch a mentorship program.)

Follow up with participants

Most people are busy, and it may require one or two additional touchpoints 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:

4. 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:

  1. Provide learning resources
  2. Send tips to mentors and mentees
  3. Follow up with pairs
The above employees should absolutely have mentors in their careers.

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.


5. 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.

Signups

The first metric you should track is the number of signups for your program. This will give you a good idea of how much interest there is from potential mentors and mentees. Importantly, it will also allow you to make sure that you have a balance of participants.

If you find that you have significantly more mentors than mentees, consider running a second signup period or actively recruiting mentees. Alternatively, if you have more mentees than mentors, you may want to look into ways of encouraging employees to become mentors. 

You could also transition to a different program format, using group mentoring or peer-to-peer learning in the absence of qualified mentors.

Goals

A mentorship program is only effective if it’s helping employees to achieve their goals. As such, you should track the progress of both mentors and mentees against their goals. 

In addition to tracking individual progress, it’s also useful to look at the program as a whole and quantify success with key performance indicators like:

  • 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. 

This may not be an easy thing to monitor at all times, as employees can be protective of their goals and privacy. However, it’s important to at least attempt to track progress so that you can make changes to the program where necessary.

Anecdotal feedback

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. 

Session feedback

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. 

Business outcomes

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.


Tips for creating a mentorship program at work

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. 

How to win approval from leadership to build a mentoring program

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.

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
Calculate cost of employee turnover.

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.

Managing the program with Together’s mentorship platform

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.