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Definitive Guide

How To Start A Mentoring Program

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

What is mentorship in the workplace?

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 newly remote or hybrid workforce

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

How To Build A Mentoring Program

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

We’ve simplified the process down to 6 steps. We’ll explore each step in-depth to give you as much clarity as possible and additional resources that explore it further. 

Ready to develop a mentorship program that will help your organization thrive? Let’s go!

What we will cover:

Step 1: Establish the goal of the mentoring program

Step 2: Choose the type of mentorship program

Step 3: Invite employees to be mentors or mentees

Step 4: Match mentors and mentees

Step 5: Evaluate the 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 what the goal of the program is. Take a step back and think through why you are setting up your program and what you hope to achieve.

In other words, what are your objectives and KPIs?

If you know these things, then you will be able to articulate your program strategy in terms of an objective’s statement with corresponding KPIs. 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.

This is just one example, the exact objective and KPIs of your program can vary based on the context in which you are setting up your 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 objective and KPIs, it is crucial that you document both of these to hold yourself accountable to them in the future.

Once you have defined your strategy, it is then important to define how you are going to achieve it. You can do this by answering the following questions:

  • Who will be involved (i.e. what is 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?

While 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

When we think of mentorship we usually think of senior employees guiding more junior ones. But that’s only one form of mentoring program you can choose to create. There are other types of mentoring programs, including:

  • Group Mentoring. Where one or more mentors, mentors a group of mentees.
  • Reverse mentoring. Instead of a senior employee mentoring a more junior one, the roles are switched.
  • Peer mentoring. Employees on similar seniority levels or stages in their careers mentor one another. Usually done across different departments.

Each of these mentoring models have their advantages and are best suited for specific contexts. 

For example, group mentoring programs, where groups of mentees connect with a senior executive for mentorship, works well for onboarding because all new hires are on similar levels and can receive mentorship as part of their onboarding process. Additionally, group mentoring solves one of the most common issues the program managers face: not having enough mentors. If there are more mentees than mentors then mentors can take on several mentees.

Group mentoring is best for:

Reverse mentoring is a great way to increase the visibility of minority employees for future leadership opportunities, thus supporting diversity initiatives.

Reverse mentoring is best for:

  • Connecting younger employees with older employees for knowledge transfer opportunities.
  • Increasing visibility of underrepresented employees.

Lastly, peer mentoring is a great way to encourage collaboration between employees that are on similar hierarchical levels but don’t have many opportunities to connect. Consider new managers. They’d benefit from discussing with one another the challenges of adjusting to their new roles and sharing advice. But without a mentoring program that holds them accountable to meet with one another they may neglect it as things get busy.

Peer mentoring is best for:

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 in advance of the launch, or having senior leaders discussing 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 touch-points to get them to register.

In terms of a response rate that you can expect, it really 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 expect, rather than a lower one.

Want to learn more?

  1. How do I promote my mentoring program?
  2. How‌ ‌To‌ ‌Market‌ ‌Your‌ ‌Mentor‌ ‌Program‌ Internally‌

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 3 things program mangers 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

Provide learning resources

It can be awkward to start a mentoring relationship. Program managers can help mentees and mentors kick it off by providing them with session agenda’s or guides that give them tips on how to be 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 to establish clear guidelines about how the relationship will work. It may not always be clear what is required from each individual, but there are some basic guidelines that can help move the mentoring relationship forward. It’s acceptable for the mentor to share information about him or herself, 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.

Great, so you have your program up and running, but how do you know things are going well and that you’re driving impact. That’s where program measurement comes in.

Program measurement is crucial not only for ensuring that participants are getting value, but also for justifying the program to ensure that it gets continued support from leadership.

5. Evaluate and report on program success

There is one very important requirement for all mentoring programs—the ability to measure its success. If you can't measure it you can't improve it, as the saying goes. The best company’s program administrators we’ve worked with at Together have leveraged our reporting tools to monitor important metrics. 

Important metrics include sign-ups, the goals mentees list when they register, the skills mentors bring to the program, how many mentors and mentees are in the program and more. 

Together’s software provides insights to program managers at a glance. They can see the program’s performance from a high level or zoom in on individual mentor-mentee pairings.

Without software, program managers would have to reach out to participants and interview them individually. This would be time-consuming and possibly happen after the fact when the relationship has concluded. 

Tips for creating a mentorship program at work

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. 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 a number of reasons.

  • First, in most cases your mentors will come from the senior ranks of your organization. It is critical that there is 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 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 buy-in you’ll need to put together a business case to present to leadership. Don’t worry, you already have a lot of what you need completed 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 it will 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 reduced employee turnover from 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 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

While mentorship is an effective tool, setting up a program is not to be taken lightly. A poorly organized mentorship program is worse off than not having a program at all. Some of the most common reasons corporate mentorship programs fail are:

  • Poorly defined objectives
  • Lack of accountability
  • Inadequate preparation
  • A failure to create meaningful matches

Not to worry though, if you follow the steps outlined in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to having an effective program.​

Managing the program with software

By now you're ready to start your own mentorship program at your company. Running a mentorship program is arguably the most effective way to strengthen your companies culture and leverage the diverse experiences that all employees hold.

At the end of the day, it's just creating the opportunity for meaningful connections.

If your company has over 200 employees this can get complicated. That's why our software exists. If you're ready to start your mentorship program and want it to run as efficiently as possible book a demo with us today. 👇