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How to Build a Mentorship Program Employees Will Love

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Ten Thousand Coffees team
Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
October 1, 2020

Do you know where your employees are on their career paths?

Because nearly half of workers with higher education degrees say they would leave companies where their career paths were limited if they found growth opportunities elsewhere...so if you want your employees to stick around, you'll have to offer ways for them to grow professionally.

One of the most effective ways to encourage career growth within your company is with a mentorship program, but creating a mentoring program involves more than just matching new employees with older ones. To create real opportunities for growth, you'll have to create a mentor program employees actually want to participate in.

Easier said than done.

Is a mentorship program right for your company? Let’s find out!

What is a mentorship program?

A mentorship program is a talent development program or opportunity that pairs skilled, knowledgeable mentors with mentees who can learn from them. 

A few of the main purposes of professional mentoring programs include:

  • Developing talent, typically in leadership, management, and executive realms
  • Increasing and improving employee engagement and reducing turnover
  • Creating an in-house culture of communication, knowledge sharing, and skills building
  • Onboarding new hires and giving them a direct point of contact they can call on for support 

What are the benefits of a mentorship program?

Every party involved in your mentoring program can experience different benefits from it! Here are a few ways everyone comes out on top:

Benefits for mentees

Mentees, through connections with their mentors and guidance from your organization, can: 

  • Gain new skills and insights
  • Cultivate a larger professional network
  • Learn what it takes to level-up in your organization
  • Develop a better understanding of the working world and their place in it

Benefits for mentors

In exchange for sharing expertise and experience, mentors can:

  • Gain a new perspective on their fields by interacting with newer or prospective colleagues
  • Add to their existing professional network
  • Feel like they're giving back to their field or profession by engaging mentees in their work
  • Improve the skills and knowledge of the employees within their organization

Benefits for organizations

Finally, organizations benefit from creating and organizing mentor programs. By creating mentoring experience that are actually engaging and effective, organizations can:

  • Cultivate a larger, more engaged talent pool
  • Build employee loyalty within the organization
  • Develop a reputation as a preferable workplace that invests in its employees.

Stated simply, a rising tide lifts all ships. By helping your employees to better their futures you’re setting everyone, your company included, up for greater success going forward.

How to build a mentorship program that's actually engaging (yes, it’s possible!)

Building a mentoring program is more than just matching more experienced employees with less experienced ones.

Building a mentoring program is more than just matching more experienced employees with less experienced ones. In fact, thinking about mentoring programs as making simple one-to-one matches via complicated spreadsheets is actually pretty outdated. 

To create a program your employees love and want to participate in as both mentors and mentees, you'll have to update your thinking. Here are a few starters:

Learn from past mistakes (if you have some to learn from)

If your organization had a mentor program that didn't quite work or is no longer as effective as it once was, that’s a good place to start.

Was it difficult to recruit mentees or mentors? Was the mentor program too unstructured? Did participants experience little benefit after investing their time in the program? Mentorship isn’t one size fits all, but busy HR teams don’t have bandwidth to build a bespoke program for each individual (and even if they did, that doesn’t scale).

Figuring out why a past effort didn't work can help you anticipate issues you might experience in the future. It can also help you engage employees by considering their input or feedback. Especially if current employees are skeptical of your efforts for a new program, getting them on board by asking them about their past negative experiences will help instill faith in this new program.

Address psychological and organizational barriers within your organization that might prevent success

Just because you've matched mentees with the perfect mentors doesn't mean your program will be a success.

Just because you've matched mentees with the perfect mentors doesn't mean your program will be a success. In fact, if you fail to understand potential obstacles within your organization, your program might never get off the ground. 

Every organization faces its own unique issues. However, before starting your mentoring program, consider the following barriers you might have to overcome:

Lack of leadership buy-in

If your mentorship program isn't supported by the C-suite, you'll have a hard time convincing employees it's worth participating in. Especially if you expect your organization's leaders to volunteer as mentors, you'll need the higher-ups to endorse your program.

To get leadership on board, you'll have to communicate the benefits of mentoring to your organization as a whole. And if you're hoping to draw mentors from leadership, you'll likely also have to let them know what they'll get out of the program. Good thing we've already outlined some of those benefits for you above! 

An unhealthily competitive workplace culture 

Competition can be a good thing... until it isn't. Healthy competition can encourage innovation and advance both individual employees and your organization. However, unhealthy competition can create a workplace fearful of sharing ideas and a culture that encourages diminishing the accomplishments of others to highlight your own achievements.

Mentoring programs are based on sharing professional know-how with less experienced employees. Organizations that tend to promote idea hoarding or struggle to celebrate employee achievement at all levels might find mentorship difficult.

Difficulty delivering or receiving feedback

If you really want to know how your mentoring program is doing, you'll need transparent feedback from all participants. On a workplace culture level, if your organization discourages transparency or constructive criticism of leadership efforts, your participants might find it difficult to deliver useful feedback on your program. On a resource level, if you don't provide a platform where participants can deliver timely feedback, you'll miss out on helpful insights.

Think about making all feedback about your program anonymous so participants feel comfortable conveying their true feelings. And to organize that feedback, invest in employee engagement software that helps connect employees and direct their engagement activities.

Ten Thousand Coffees can help guide and structure employee feedback and give HR directors a central platform to access that feedback.

Define your program's goals and make sure all elements align with those goals

If your goal is to "check the box" with employee engagement, we encourage you to think more deeply about the purpose of your mentor program. Although improving employee engagement is a noble goal in itself, it's important to further understand why and how you'll do that.

When creating goals, think of the SMART goal model. Using this framework, your goals should be:

  • Specific — Name what you want to achieve and why you want to achieve it. 
  • Measurable — You should be able to quantify some part of your goal in order to track progress.
  • Achievable — Reaching this goal should be realistic in the time frame you decide upon. Moonshot goals might be temporarily motivating, but you'll likely end up discouraged in the long run.
  • Relevant — Your goals should line up with your company's overall goals. Improving employee engagement, for example, could align with your company's overall goals of winning a "Best Place to Work" award or improving your average reviews score on sites like Glassdoor.
  • Time-bound — Deadlines will help you create a realistic timeline to achieve your goals.

To start creating goals, think about where your organization could most benefit from a mentorship program and move from there. Whether it's smoother onboarding, turnover reduction, or encouraging general skills sharing, defining the "why" behind your program will help to focus it. 

It could also encourage participation from your employees. With a better understanding of the purpose behind the program, they'll also better understand the benefits of participation.

Figure out how you're going to get the data that will help measure success

If you've followed the SMART goal framework, you've already identified metrics you'll use to measure goal progress and success. However, you still need a plan for getting your hands on the data you'll need.

If you're focusing on increased employee engagement, how will you measure that? You can look at employee retention rates as one metric of success. But you should also consider whether you'll need to create data to measure progress. Responses to an employee engagement survey administered before, during, and after starting a mentoring program could be a useful source of data. 

Use employee goals as your primary matching criteria

It's important that mentors and mentees get along. However, making friends probably isn't among participants' primary reasons for participating in your mentor program. Instead, most people probably want to gain professional experience and further their own career goals.

Ideally, mentees and mentors will have compatible goals that will make each person feel like they're getting something out of your program. Using these compatible goals to create mentor-mentee matches will encourage participation and hopefully make it more effective.

Ten Thousand Coffees' matching algorithms can help pair up employees with similar goals.

However, especially if you have a lot of program participants, creating these matches manually via spreadsheets could become overwhelming.

Using employee engagement software like Ten Thousand Coffees can help pair employees quickly with intelligent goal-based algorithms. Better matches AND less time administrating = winning!

Match mentees with more than one mentor

The idea that one mentor can teach a mentee everything they need to know is outdated and based on the idea that employees will stay with one company for the majority of their careers.

Especially for new employees or interns, connecting mentees with more than one mentor can: 

  • Help them grow their skill sets
  • Give them a better idea of how they want to develop their own careers
  • Introduce them to different teams and departments to develop a better understanding of how your company works
  • Experience diverse ideas and viewpoints...no one person has all the answers!

For all participants, connecting with more than one person helps them to grow their professional network. And cultivating more connections within your organization helps to encourage cross-team collaboration and communication.

Ten Thousand Coffees can help define rules for matching employees to each other to create optimal connections with multiple colleagues.

Again, using software purposely built to connect employees can give you more time to match mentees to more than one mentor. Ideally, this software should allow employees to continually update their goals so you can continue to connect them with colleagues who can help them. 

Allow flexibility, but don't leave program participants to figure it out on their own

One of the beauties of mentorship programs as a way to develop talent is that they're much less one-size-fits-all than formal training programs. Matching mentees with different mentors helps both participants gain different perspectives on their fields and how best to do their jobs. 

However, many employees will appreciate resources and guidelines that will help them share those unique perspectives with others. 

A successful mentorship program will provide training and communicate clear expectations for both mentors and mentees. Each party should understand how often they're supposed to meet and feel equipped with tools that will help them conduct meaningful meetings and conversations. 

Gather and act on feedback throughout the duration of the program

You shouldn't wait until your program wraps up to survey participants! 

Sure, a pre-program survey paired with a post-completion survey can help you measure progress. However, feedback gathered while your program is still running can help you combat issues as they occur. On a positive note, it can also help you identify what's working and encourage other participants to adopt effective techniques.

Providing a platform for feedback helps employees give timely responses and gives HR teams a central location where they can measure employee sentiment.

Ten Thousand Coffees gives HR teams real-time data on how their mentor program is going and what type of connections employees are making.

Make participation in your mentorship program easy

As a program organizer, your job is to tear down obstacles to effective mentorship. By structuring your program with an eye for employee engagement, you build a mentoring experience your employees love.

But you should also look to tear down obstacles for yourself when building your program.

Using employee connectivity software like Ten Thousand Coffees can make mentorship program creation easy. With algorithmic matching, software that helps structure employee connections, and a place to track metrics, you'll have a central platform where you can track success.

Employees will also have a platform where they can make connections and provide feedback on engagement programs.

Are you ready to start your mentorship program?

Schedule a demo today to learn more about how Ten Thousand Coffees can help you create a mentorship program your employees actually want to participate in.

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