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.
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:
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.
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.
Once you have defined your strategy, it is important to define how you will achieve it. To do this, answer the following questions:
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:
“Know what the purpose is and then build the program to that purpose…when you've determined where that need is and how you plan to support it, make sure you have support from the organization: people willing to talk it up, to participate, to be speakers.”
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?
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?
Let's take a closer look at each of these:
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:
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 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:
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:
We have a few tips to get you started if you’re thinking about starting a reverse mentoring program.
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:
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 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.
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:
This could come in the form of an email campaign before the launch or having senior leaders discuss it at organizational events.
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.)
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
A mentorship program is only effective if it helps 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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
"How do we get buy-in from leaders? Well, what do the leaders care about and let's start from there...So, we looked at our organizations five strategic goals and said 'okay, if we know that we are trying to achieve these in the next couple of years, what we can do through mentoring to help us get to those goals?'"
Buy-in from the top is critical for several reasons.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you're ready to start your mentorship program and want it to run as efficiently as possible, book a demo with us today.