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?

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.

Building a successful mentor program

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.

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. On the other hand, a mentee may prefer to have a mentor in the same line of work who had similar career aspirations when they were at the mentee’s level.

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.

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?

Establish a loose framework: It doesn’t need to be a formal process – unless the pair feel it would benefit from being so. It can be as simple as keeping an open line of communication. But agree to a loose schedule. Arrange, for example, to meet once a month to begin with. From there, both parties can assess whether this frequency works for them.

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. Those coordinating the mentor scheme should be consulted, and they can then identify an alternative candidate.

ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll can help HR professionals manage their workforce, even while operating remotely. As a cloud-based solution, ELMO helps employers manage their teams from anywhere at any time from a secure, centralised location. All employee-employer touchpoints are covered by ELMO’s suite, from ‘hire to retire’. For example, ELMO Recruitment helps to streamline the hiring process – from job requisitions through to screening – without jeopardising the quality of new hires. For further information on any ELMO solution, please 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

Learn more about how ELMO can help your organisation.
Learn more about how ELMO can help your organisation.