3 min read

How to Start a Mentorship Program

How to Start a Mentorship Program

Does your organization recognize the value of mentorship? If not, it should! 

A robust mentorship program helps drive long-term business success. It does so by increasing the retention of key employees, supporting internal growth and talent development, and contributing to a strong company culture. Mentees tend to feel more invested in their work, and mentors receive an opportunity to collaborate and share their experiences with coworkers they may not usually cross paths with. 

Many employers are reluctant to implement a mentorship program because it seems daunting or overwhelming. Others aren’t sure where to start, aren’t sure they will have support from their teams, or worry about balancing mentorship with other competing business priorities. However, mentorship programs don’t have to be complicated or over-architected. Even a simple mentorship program can have great results. Mentorship also has a ripple effect. Employees who are mentored and developed internally are more likely to pay it forward by making time to train the next generation.  

Follow the steps below to create a program uniquely tailored to your workplace:  

  1. Define the Goals 

    What does the company hope to achieve? Most mentorship programs are designed to develop employee skills that ultimately improve job performance. Mentorship programs that begin early in an employee’s tenure as part of onboarding activities can help attract strong candidates. Another common goal is developing leadership and management skills in high-potential employees. Programs are most successful when focused on where the business will benefit most.

  2. Get the Leadership Team Involved and Invested  

    Mentorship is a team sport, and the ultimate success of a program will depend on the engagement of an organization’s leaders. Without their support, it can be challenging to plan and execute effectively. Leaders should be encouraged to participate in the program from its inception—ask for their input in developing the program's content and selecting participants, and, of course, invite them to be mentors.

  3. Develop the Structure 

    Take the time to outline the program, identify learning and development goals, and think through questions like: who can participate as a mentor, and what strengths or qualifications must they have? Can employees sign up, or must they be selected? Will mentoring be one-on-one or in a group setting? What, if any, training materials will be used? How will the organization measure success? How long will each mentorship cohort cycle last? 

  4. Select Participants 

    The best mentorship programs thrive on diversity of thought, ideas, and lived experiences. If the program will involve proactively identifying mentees rather than having them apply, gather details about their professional backgrounds, skills, values, and opportunities for improvement. Determine how participation in your mentorship program will help them gain new skills and bridge their talent gaps. Ensure participants bring diverse perspectives, a willingness to challenge their own assumptions, and a desire to learn something new.

  5. Identify Mentors 

    Mentors should be dedicated, interested in sharing their knowledge and expertise, and respected within the organization. They need to be passionate about what they do and be willing to take the time to teach. They should also be able to articulate how they plan to help their mentee grow. Identify those individuals in the organization and explore if they have the interest, time, and ability to be a mentor. 

    Keep in mind that professional degrees or long career tenure aren’t always good indicators of whether someone would be a qualified mentor. In fact, relying on those criteria alone may unintentionally exclude marginalized groups. Like mentee selections, employers should ensure their mentors represent diverse perspectives and backgrounds.

  6. Make a Good Matchup 

    Consider who will be paired with whom and why. Take a holistic approach that looks at learning and communication styles, how the mentor’s strengths will translate into growth and development gains for the mentee, and any skills or experiences that align with the mentee’s future career goals. It is also helpful to look at personality types for compatibility.  

  7. Provide Ongoing Support and Mentor Training 

    Provide mentors with training and development that helps them learn how to be effective. Ensure they have the tools to adapt to their mentee’s learning style. They’ll need to understand that a skill or knowledge that may come naturally to them could be incredibly challenging for their mentee to learn. Although most people learn by doing, a mentor must know how to break down tasks and offer feedback in a way that connects with the mentee.  

  8. Solicit Feedback to Continuously Improve 

    At the end of each mentorship cohort, provide the opportunity for mentees and mentors to give candid feedback and evaluate the program. This could be in the form of a survey or by meeting with participants. It’s a wonderful opportunity to see how the program impacts its participants. Consolidate and review the feedback, then use it to inform future program changes to ensure continuous improvement.

Investing in employee development through mentorship strengthens organizations from the inside out, creating new generations of leaders and key individual contributors. Mentors can share their experience and institutional knowledge with those who will guide the business into its next chapter. Participants feel valued and supported, which fosters a culture of growth, opportunity, and encouragement. 

It’s a win-win.

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