For a Great Mentor Program, Ask These 4 Questions

Employees love to grow—whether it’s learning new skills or furthering their career—and they look to their company for the training and development. A Korn Ferry survey listed growth opportunities as one of the top three reasons executives “love their job.” As HR professionals, you know giving employees what they love is top priority. But, how can you address all of those factors without breaking the bank? Mentoring.

A mentoring program is an affordable—even free—way to provide your employees with the opportunity to make connections, develop their leadership, and enhance their skills. Mentees gain valuable guidance for their job, leadership, or even life—and mentors really value the relationship, too.  

Mentoring also helps retain talent—in terms of both the mentor and mentee. A 2010 poll conducted by Harvard Business Review found that millennials want a boss who will mentor them and a company that will develop their skills for the future. Plus, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior found that employees holding a mentor position were more satisfied with their jobs and committed to the organization than employees not filling a mentor position.

Providing new employees, and even old ones, with more than just an income will make them feel valued and loyal to your company. Even better, it exposes the mentee to another position at the company, says Namely’s Director of Talent Acquisition, Ashley Pelliccione. It gives the employee an idea of future career moves, whether he or she learns to love the role or sees that it’s not a good fit. “A mentor outside the employee’s department allows for a fresh perspective, or another angle on their performance,” Pelliccione said.

The best part: you don’t need to bring in a professional to set it up. Just answer these four questions to build a great mentor program.

What do you want to get out of your mentorship program?

The goals of your program will shape the process of setting it up, implementing it, and measuring the results. Without drafting goals, the project can feel incomplete. So, before you even announce a mentoring initiative, meet with your team to discuss what you want to get out of it.

Some questions must be addressed before planning starts, and your goals will influence the answers. For example, who gets paired with whom: will veterans mentor rookies, or will rookies mentor veterans? Is it a skills-based mentorship where young employees sign up strictly to learn how to do their job better? Or is it a free-for-all where veteran employees counsel mentees on how to further their career while also offering tips for life outside the office? The answers to these questions will outline the project and shape results-oriented relationships.

What are the rules?

The next step is to create rules. This ensures those goals you set are achieved. It’s your chance to outline how often your mentors and mentees will meet and what the tone of their relationships will be. Essentially, lay out the do’s and don’ts of the partnership. These rules can also act as a code of conduct, which will ensure amiable cooperation on both sides.

Start with the requirements for each position. What type of employee should fill the mentor post and what type of employee should be a mentee? This step will secure effective match-ups, increasing the likelihood of reaching your goals. For example, pairing an entry-level IT assistant with an entry-level account manager may not be the most efficient match-up, but that entry-level IT assistant could learn a lot from the director of engineering.    

Then, define the norms for the relationship. Everyone should be on the same page to ensure success. “It’s not a one-way street,” Pelliccione said. “You need to ensure both the mentee and mentor clearly define the purpose and what each wants to get out of the relationship.” For instance, confidential conversation creates a safe space where the mentee will feel comfortable interacting with their guide, and vice versa.

When drafting the structure of the program, it’s also important to keep your company’s culture in mind. If your company is known for its formal culture, like a business formal dress code or strict 9 to 5 work day, adopt some formal mentoring practices. Maybe build an application process. But, if your culture is known for its relaxed culture complete with casual attire and flexible hours, go light on the list of rules and give mentors liberty with their planning. Staying consistent with the culture will keep participation and interest up.

Are your mentors properly trained?

Providing your mentors with guidelines will make the experience for both sides smoother and more effective, especially if your company is lax on the rules. These guidelines can be relayed via mentor trainings, a mentor pamphlet, over an email, or on social media.

This is your chance to communicate what mentoring is, how to give and receive feedback, and tips on conversing with your mentee. But, keep it simple, says Pelliccione. “Sometimes the most successful programs happen organically,” she said. “Where the People team provides each party simple guidance.”

Another helpful step is to offer a plan of action or some activities to help your mentor get started. The mentor could invite the mentee to sit in on a discovery call. Again, keep company culture in mind while providing suggestions to keep mentors and mentees engaged and excited.

Most importantly, remember what you are trying to accomplish. In the same way that your goals shaped the list of rules, they should also shape your guidelines. Make sure all the activities contribute to achieving those goals, and keep in mind how the mentee could benefit from each one. Suggest that the mentor takes his partner to a company training session or an industry conference for exposing the mentee to new practices and ideas.

Is it working?

Mentoring won’t keep employees around if it is ineffective. So, it’s important to track the progress of the project. The first method for measuring results is communication. Regularly speak to participants. Pelliccione recommends check-ins to gauge the success. Make sure you speak with both sides of the team to hear which methods mentees prefer and what mentors expect from their mentees.

A simple way to gather this information is to send out a survey at different points of the relationship. And while you’re at it, create an event or system for gathering suggestions on how to make the mentoring process better: an online ‘suggestions box’ or a mixer where the mentors, mentees, and project leaders have a chance to discuss their experiences.

Whatever your strategy for collecting feedback, the number one priority, again, is to remember what you’re trying to accomplish. The survey questions and follow-up conversations should all relate to your goals to see if this is the right strategy for achieving them.  

Finally, check the numbers. The easiest way to track the effectiveness of your program is to look at participation. If there’s little interest or participation is on the decline, speak with employees to see what can be done to increase engagement.   

Employees want to learn at work, and who will teach them better than the people who hold positions they aspire to fill? With mentoring programs, not only can you develop the skills of younger employees, but mentors will be happier on the job if they have the chance to guide a peer. These perfect matches mean everybody wins.  

Find the real solution to employee engagement and other #HRWins in this report from industry analyst George LaRocque. 

Topics: HR, Employee Engagement, Learning & Development

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