Mentoring in the workplace has been around ever since there have been people who are more experienced than others in the same job, which is to say, forever. It is essentially the original on-the-job training, where a more experienced employee (the mentor) provides guidance and knowledge to a less-experienced employee (the mentee or protege).
The enduring nature of mentorship in the workplace alone is a testament to its importance for companies and its employees.
However, in modern companies, we now have a host of new learning and development frameworks such as specialized training delivered by dedicated trainers and online LMS’s to name just a couple. Given these advancements, mentorship in the workplace sometimes gets overlooked. While it’s doubtful that any workplace has no informal mentorship, as this occurs organically, many companies have no formal mentoring program.
A formal mentoring program is one where a company puts guardrails around mentoring relationships. The lack of a formal mentoring program in a company is a huge loss for the company and its employees. Not only is mentoring an extremely powerful development tool, but it is also extremely cost-effective. This is because you’re leveraging the resources you already have (your experienced employees).
Mentoring in the workplace is also not just a feel-good initiative. There is a ton of research, much of which has just been published in the last decade, to support the business benefits that mentoring in the workplace has across a number of verticals. In our opinion, one of the most impactful benefits that mentoring can have on companies is the improvement in employee retention. With the ever-increasing rates of employee turnover, which can cost companies dearly in lost productivity, recruiting and training costs, every company could use something that helps combat this costly trend. However, improved employee retention isn’t the only benefit of workplace mentoring programs. Improving employee productivity is another one. Particularly in companies when experienced employees and leaders are nearing retirement, mentoring is one of the most effective ways to pass down the knowledge of these individuals before they leave the company.
Mentoring in the workplace has also been linked to improving workplace diversity. This is a benefit that almost anyone can get behind. Aside from being the morally right thing to do, improved diversity has been linked to increased business performance in its own right.
In summary, there is no reason that any company should not have a formal mentoring program.
If mentoring in the workplace is so important, what does best practice mentorship look like? Well, the first best practice is to have a formal program. If this is not the case for your company and you want to better understand how to get a formal program started, we lay this out step-by-step here.
Once you have a formal program setup, there are a number of best practices that can help ensure you get the most out of your program.
First, ensure you are pairing mentees with relevant mentors. Too often we see program administrators making assignments based on irrelevant factors like the school that mentors and mentees came from. As such, to do the pairing well you need to invest time in the registration process to collect the relevant information for making high-quality pairings. Most importantly you need to ensure that the mentor can provide a relevant perspective on the career trajectory that the mentee wants to take. This means collecting information on goals and areas for development from mentees among other information.
Second, don’t disrupt informal mentoring relationships when they exist. Rather try to port these existing relationships over to your formal program so that you can monitor them and put guardrails up around them. This is important because organic relationships tend to be more beneficial than inorganic ones.
Third, when possible, try to provide more than one mentor. Due to time constraints, this is not always possible, but mentees need a diverse set of perspectives to make the best decisions. As such, providing only a single mentor gives them only one person’s perspective, which may be biased. By having at least one other mentor, they can sense check career advice to see if both mentors agree, or if they need to do more research to know what the right answer is.
Fourth, ensure that mentors and mentees are meeting at the right frequency. Our research shows that mentees typically want mentorship at least once a month. As an administrator, this means you need to stay on top of these relationships to ensure mentors and mentees are actually meeting. It’s shocking the number of programs we find where the program administrator never follows-up with mentors and mentees. Unsurprisingly a number of mentors and mentees never end-up meeting, or meet only once. We’ve even come across cases where a mentor had left the company by the time they were assigned to a mentee.
Last, facilitate diversity mentorship when desired. A key dimension for pairing mentors and mentees can be the diversity group they are a part of. Surprisingly, however, not all mentees view diversity in the same light. Some feel very strongly that they want a mentor from the same diversity group, whereas others feel the exact opposite. As such, it is important as a program administrator to collect these preferences and take them into account.
While these don’t outline all the best practices, it’s a good place to start. If you want to make your life easier, you always consider a mentoring software that bakes in these and a number of other best practices. You can learn more about Together’s mentoring software here.
There are several types of programs that have been seeing success for a variety of companies and corporations across a wide range of industries.
Some of these include:
To know if your corporate mentoring program is successful or not, you need to clearly articulate program objectives and corresponding KPIs at the onset of the program. Only then can you monitor these outcomes and see if your program is achieving the desired results.
The good news is there are a lot of reasons to start a mentorship program. This could include reducing employee turnover, improving employee productivity, improving diversity representation at senior levels, improving promotion rates, or improving knowledge transfer to name just a few. You just need to identify the one or ones that are most relevant for your business and clearly record that this is the objective of your program.
With your objective selected, you then need to select a relevant KPI. To the extent possible, the KPI should be quantifiable. While most of the KPIs mentioned above are quantifiable, the bad news is that it can be challenging to effectively capture the appropriate data, calculate the KPI, and attribute it to the mentorship program. That’s another place where mentoring software can help.
Mentoring software like Together’s can integrate with your core HRIS to track key metrics and correlate them to the mentorship program. Making something that could have been a logistical nightmare, simple for the program administrator.
It’s important to track these metrics because the impact on the company is what you’ll use as a program administrator to demonstrate the value of the mentorship program and ensure that it continues to get supported by the company’s leadership.
One thing that the best mentoring programs in corporations have in common is that they are supported by the company’s leadership. The reason for this success is for multiple reasons. First, many of the program’s mentors will and should come from the senior ranks of your company. To be able to recruit these employees to the mentorship program, it has to be clear that mentoring is a valued company initiative. This will be clear to the employees if leaders in the organization articulate their support of mentorship in their communication to employees. Even better is if leaders actively encourage these employees to be mentors by personally sending out notes, or mentioning it one-on-one conversations. If you’re a program administrator, don’t underestimate how much your organization’s leaders care about developing the future of its employees.
In addition to recruiting the mentors, support from leadership also dictates how effective those mentorship relationships are. While mentoring is a good use of time, it does require some time commitment from both mentors and mentees to ensure that they are meeting frequently and long enough to have effective conversations to improve the mentee’s development. If leadership does not value mentorship, then both mentors and mentees will be less willing to invest the time needed in mentorship and as such get much less out of it.
Last, as mentorship becomes more ingrained in the culture of the firm, the effectiveness of the program will only increase. Mentors will become more experienced not only in their field of expertise but also in the skills of mentorship. Mentees too will improve in their ability to be good mentees and this can be transferred onto to new employees as they join the firm.
While a lot of this happens organically, it is also best-practice as a program administrator to capture the key-learnings and the tips and tricks that work best for mentoring in your corporate culture. This way you can share them in training materials so that future participants in your company mentoring program can get up to speed even faster.
If you would like to see an end-to-end mentorship program outline and how to set up a program in your workplace check-out our guide here.
In summary, the steps to setting up a workplace mentorship program are as follows: Set the strategy and operatin model, get leadership buy-in, promote the program, execute the program, and monitor the results.
Set the strategy and operating model
As discussed above, setting the strategy pertains primarily to the setting of objectives and corresponding KPIs. However, at this time it is also worthwhile setting a more clear picture of the operating model of your mentoring program. Who will be eligible as mentors? Who as mentees? How often will they meet? These questions and more define exactly how the program will operate.
Get leadership buy-in
Also discussed above, but not to be underestimated is the importance of getting leadership buy-in. This step is crucial to ensuring the success and support of your workplace mentoring program. Don’t worry too much though, in the majority of cases, leadership is extremely supportive of the idea of mentorship, especially when it is well planned out. As such, it is your responsibility to ensure you come to your leadership with a concrete plan and compelling narrative to sell mentoring. If you do this, you’re likely in the clear and can move to the next step quickly.
Promote the mentoring program
With the program planned and supported by leadership, it is now time to build excitement for your mentoring program. Even before you’re ready to launch, you can start generating interest through company communications. Even better is if you have leaders and role-models in the organization speaking about the program in a positive way. Depending on the shape of your organization, you may also need to put thought into ensuring your promotion recruits the right proportion of mentors and mentees.
Execute the program
Operating the program itself is fairly straightforward from knowing what you have to do. First, you must register mentors and mentees by collecting critical information to pair them and guide their relationships. Second, you must pair mentors and mentees with the aim of globally maximizing the effectiveness of all the relationships you create. Third, you need to ensure that mentors and mentees meet at the right frequency and have the right guidance to make the most out of their sessions. Last, you should ensure that there is a feedback loop for mentors and mentees to ensure that all relationships are going well so that you can intervene when they are not going well.
Monitor the results
With the program up and running, you now need to monitor the KPIs that you set out for your mentorship program. If things are going well, that’s great! If not, don’t fret, dig deeper into the results and feedback you’re getting to understand why. Make sure you take time to celebrate and communicate the wins. The successes will help you justify the program and ensure it continues to get the support it deserves.
While the steps to creating a successful mentoring program are straightforward that is not to say that it is easy work. A lot of the aforementioned steps 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 the administrative and more effective for the program participants. 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.