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How to Create a Successful Mentor Program

How to Create a Successful Mentor Program

A mentor program can bring many benefits to an organisation. Performance, productivity, and innovation are three key success factors that mentorship programs can support, and in fact, 71% of Fortune 500 companies have mentor programs in place.[1]

Research[2] shows that 67% of organisations holding mentoring sessions report an increase in employee productivity because of the initiative. But how do mentor programs actually serve the bigger picture? Employees receiving career guidance can feel more motivated, supported, and confident – while the ability to speak with someone independent from their team can help them to gain new, objective perspectives on their work. In short, it all comes down to employee engagement.

Employee engagement levels, as we know, have a huge bearing on organisational performance. Highly engaged teams report:

  • 21% greater profitability
  • 41% reduction in absenteeism
  • 59% less turnover[3]

A key factor that drives employee engagement is career development. According to research, 55% of workers believe having a mentor can help them succeed more than if they had no one guiding them in their career.2

What is a mentor program?

The idea of a mentor program is that rather than turning to a line manager or co-worker for advice, an employee can instead turn toward an independent, trusted advisor for advice that will guide them during their time with the organisation. This appointed mentor will serve as a role model for the mentee and unlike a buddy, is a level or two higher in seniority than the mentee. The mentor will help the mentee with their career progression, and provide the coaching needed to help the mentee on their way to the next level.

Benefits of having a mentor program include helping to develop a pipeline of leadership talent, who understand the skills and competencies needed to be successful in a company and to support its growth – while also enhancing leadership and coaching abilities (of the mentor). Not only this, but a mentor program can also reduce the cost of learning.

For more on improving your learning programs, download ELMO’s eBook: A More Effective Way to Accelerate Learning & Development

Benefits of a mentor program in the workplace

Mentor programs can be a valuable source of engagement and purpose for both mentors and mentee. If done well, setting up a dedicated program can demonstrate commitment to employees’ long-term career paths and foster strong relationships throughout the organisation.  Benefits for the mentee include:

  • Career guidance
  • Opportunity for learning
  • An additional source of support beyond a direct manager or HR
  • The chance to network and gain sponsorship outside of their function

There are plenty of benefits for the mentor too, especially if they have been with the business or worked in the industry for some time. They may be seeking a sense of purpose and direction to reengage their passion for what they do, and mentoring could provide the perfect opportunity. Benefits for the mentor include:

  • A sense of purpose outside of their direct role
  • A feeling of giving back, boosting self-esteem and engagement
  • Stronger connections outside of their immediate function
  • The chance to gain fresh perspectives from someone with a different background, whether age, ethnicity or gender

How to start a mentoring program

1. Define the objectives of the program

If the purpose of the mentor program is to develop future leaders, then the program will be designed differently from a program developed to improve employee engagement and retention rates, for example. In the case of developing future leaders, mentees should be paired with a more senior figure in the organisation – so that the mentor can impart leadership knowledge and train their protégés in these areas. In the case of the employee engagement objective, program designers might look beyond the traditional hierarchical structures of appointing a senior leader to a junior team member. For example, a more senior employee working in the HR team might want to learn more about marketing as part of their professional development, for example, so could be paired with a marketing employee more junior to them.

Establish a loose framework

Set out a rough cadence around how often mentor and mentee should meet and how to capture the progress of the program. Should sessions be face-to-face or could they be done virtually? Should they set formal goals and how will they record any progress made? The mentor program can be as formal or informal as an organisations likes but it’s important that everyone starts on the same page. Developing this loose framework first will also help when seeking buy-in from leaders and employees, as they’ll know upfront how much time they’re required to give.

Begin approaching leaders and employees

This could be done directly or by creating a sign-up process, either through a form or by asking employees to show their interest through an email or Slack message. Don’t just send one message however. Implement a regular communication plan and use multiple channels to make sure the message doesn’t get lost. You can also ask department leaders or managers to communicate it to their teams and use forums such as a Town Hall to promote the program.

Pair up mentors and mentees

Remember, the mentor doesn’t need to be in a similar line of work. While the mentor should be more senior than the mentee, they don’t necessarily need to be in the same line of work. Sometimes mentors can come from unexpected places. For example, an employee working in R&D could be appointed a mentor working in marketing. In fact, sometimes it can be beneficial to do it this way – as the mentor from a different department can offer a more refreshed perspective.

Iterate and refine the program

Regularly seek feedback from mentors and mentees to find out if the program is functioning well and how it could be improved. Starting anything new requires experimentation and the acceptance that there’ll be bumps in the road – that’s OK. Perfection is the enemy is progress, so be ready to make tweaks and improvements over time to ensure the program is user-friendly and achieving what it set out to in step one.

Read more: Leadership Tips To Bolster Engagement

3 tips for creating a successful mentor program

1. Make data-driven decisions around pairings

The pairing is the trickiest part of ensuring a successful mentor program – but as always, data can help. One way to gain information is to create a survey that asks interested employees about their career objectives, communication styles, and what they are looking for in a mentor or mentee. Then they can be paired up according to their responses. Successful mentor-mentee pairings are those where the participants have similar interests and personalities, as well as complementary goals. ELMO survey enables users to create customised employee surveys, which can be used for assessing mentor/mentee compatibility.

2. Establish goals

Built into the mentorship program should be an agreement that from day one, goals are set for the relationship. This way, the mentor and mentee can measure how successful the relationship is, and the mentee is more accountable to these. Both parties should define exactly what it is they hope to get out of the relationship. This will help both to assess whether the pairing is a good one. When forming goals, both mentors and mentees should ask themselves: what do I want to gain out of this? How frequently should we be meeting? What does success look like?

3. Be honest if it’s simply not working out

While a mentee or mentor might meet the other’s pairing criteria perfectly, sometimes it’s a case of just not clicking with one another. When this happens, it’s important that this is communicated between the pair. Rather than leaving a mentee/mentor hanging by prolonging the arrangement unnecessarily, the disinterested party should have a constructive discussion about how the mentoring arrangement is going. Reach out to the people running the mentor program. They might have another great match for you.

ELMO Software  is a cloud-based solution that helps thousands of organisations across Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom to effectively manage their people, process and pay. ELMO solutions span the entire employee lifecycle from ‘hire to retire’. They can be used together or stand-alone, and are configurable according to an organisation’s unique processes and workflows. Automate and streamline your operations to reduce costs, increase efficiency and bolster productivity. For further information, contact us.

[1] Forbes, “Improve workplace culture with a strong mentoring program”, 2019

[2] HRD, “Mentors vs sponsors – why employees need both”, Feb 2021

[3] Gallup, 2017