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Starting a mentoring program? Use these 5 tips from talent leaders to get it right

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Christine Matu
Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
May 25, 2021

A word that’s been on every talent management leader’s mind this year is...mentorship.

It’s not hard to understand why. Mentorship programs are proven to increase representation and improve retention. They’re relatively low cost since they use skills that already exist in your organization and they give employees a real opportunity of career development at your organization—a theme that comes up in virtually every employee engagement survey.

But, you probably already knew all of that.

The real question is, if you’ve been given a mandate to start a mentoring program, where do you begin?

As we geared up to build and launch Development Programs we were lucky enough to speak with leaders who have done exactly what you’re trying to do. It’d be a shame to keep all of these great insights to ourselves, so we’ve pulled out the top 5 tips leaders shared with us to move your mentor program from paper to progress.

1. Fixed and flexible mentoring options for the win  

The first thing to keep in mind is that the way each employee wants to learn is a bit different, and so is their schedule.

Long-term mentoring commitments aren’t for everyone. Sometimes a lengthy program can deter employees from getting started, which means they miss out on all of the awesome benefits that mentoring has to offer.

Don’t get stuck on a single form or style of mentoring. The talent leaders who have the most successful mentoring programs offer multiple ways for employees to connect and learn from each other. How do they do it? Here are just a few of the shapes mentoring could take:

  • Introduce employees to a few new employees each year for informal peer mentoring chats so they have a breadth of internal connections to check-in with for advice
  • Host group sessions with leaders and stakeholders so they can give and gain advice and new perspectives for multiple employees at once
  • Offer fixed 1:1 mentoring programs that are shorter and longer term in duration so mentors and mentees can choose a program cadence and length that fits into their schedules

2. Embrace decentralized mentoring programs—then give them better tools

This is another topic that came up a lot.

What if employees, ERGs, or departments are running their own manual mentorship programs? Leaders said embrace it - it shows that there’s a real need and interest. Instead of fighting to centralize these programs, shift your focus to giving them better tools.

Consider looking for a platform or solution that can reduce the manual administration of things like enrollment and mentor matching that program managers are currently dealing with. Help them level up their employee experience with consistent discussion guides and touch points. Doing this has helped talent teams:

  • Get a clear view of all of the programs that are running in their organization
  • Leverage best practices that have been tried and tested through existing programs and make it easier for even more employees to access them
  • Measure what is and isn’t working, and tie results back to business objectives

3. Scalability is the name of the game

This tip really builds on the point we just made, it’s all about better tools.

Virtually every client we’ve spoken with has dealt with ad hoc, informal mentoring programs running across their organization. These programs are painfully manual to run—from recruiting mentors, to having to match mentors with mentees, designing program content and nudging them along their mentorship journey with reminders.

This results in teams getting bogged down with manual tasks, programs only offered to small groups of employees, and matches that aren’t great. No one wants a poor experience like that.

The most successful mentorship programs start with:

  • A clear view of your mentorship program goals, both for your business and for each program participant
  • A well-defined mentorship journey that will ensure these set goals are met
  • A game plan to measure the success of your program
  • A solution partner who can help you scale the delivery and impact of your program

4. Create commitment between mentors and mentees

A program will only be successful if mentors and mentees are committed to their mentoring relationship. But, how do you get them to commit? This was a big theme during our conversations. Getting clear on expectations, what’s in it for the mentor, and what’s in it for the mentee as early as possible is key to success.

Here are a few of the ways talent leaders are keeping good mentors and mentees engaged:

  • Have mentors and mentees sign a mentoring contract to build a solid mentor-mentee relationship
  • Host information sessions for anyone who is interested in the program to answer their questions up front
  • Focus on the highest quality matches possible, so mentors and mentees feel like they have a lot to give and gain through their discussions
  • Deliver meaningful discussion guides to help mentors and mentees have an overview of the topics they’ll cover before they get started
  • Offer multiple program styles & lengths so they can choose a program that fits within the time they can commit

One thing holds true regardless of the tactics you use—it’s the employee experience that will really ensure that they stay the course. So keep a really good pulse on what’s working and what’s not working with each cohort of employees that complete your mentoring program.  

5. Measure, tweak, repeat

That brings us to our last tip. Have a game plan to show the impact of your program in the short term and long term.

Successful programs start with larger organizational goal setting—like increasing representation, improving employee engagement survey results, or decreasing turnover. Once you’ve got this down, you can then determine how mentoring programs can help move the dial.

Once you know what your mentoring program goals are, it’s all about making sure you have the right data touch points to really understand how your program is performing. Here’s some inspiration to get you started:

  • Know where things stand now so you have a clear baseline to measure success against with some sort of pre-program survey
  • Add in a few touch points along the way after each interaction between mentors/mentees so you can gauge their sentiment during the experience
  • Use a midpoint survey to help you evaluate how engaged users are so you can fine tune program cadence and length
  • Set up a post-program survey that can help you evaluate metrics and areas to improve before the next cohort of employees joins

That’s a lot to think through, but don’t sweat it

We know that it can be intimidating to move from a mentoring mandate on paper into action, so we’ve got you covered.

We’ve taken these tips and more that we’ve learned by helping businesses big and small run successful mentorship programs and built out a foolproof guide to get you started.

From professional development and leadership development to onboarding new hires and increasing wellbeing, our online mentoring guide will show you how to create a successful mentoring experience for all involved.

We cover every step, from setting goals and framing expectations to deploying your program and measuring success.

Get your copy now. No email address required ;)

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