5 steps to creating amazing mentoring programs

John McNamara
Last updated on 3rd September 2020
4 min read

“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had a real positive influence in his or her life […] A mentor.”

Not the words of a HR thought leader, but Denzel Washington.

It shows – whatever your job – the vital importance of a mentor. Or, as he puts it: “I don’t care what you do for a living – if you do it well, I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way.”

It’s something we can all relate to. Either we’ve had a great mentor (or a bad one!) or, been one ourselves. Perhaps we’ve not had a mentor and would’ve liked to at some point in our career.

HR and People teams are in a prime position to create healthier mentoring programs. We look at five steps how to do this.

1. Use backward planning to determine the best program type

Traditional one-on-one, face-to-face mentoring programs may be the first to come to mind, but they aren’t the only option.

There’s e-mentoring, where participants communicate exclusively through technology; reverse mentoring, which allows a younger mentor to share knowledge with senior leaders; group mentoring, when one mentor advises multiple mentees in the same setting; and peer mentoring, which removes the power dynamic and allows peers to give each other feedback and advice.

In order to determine the best fit, HR and People teams must clearly identify the program goals and how they’ll measure success.

This will allow you to use backward planning in order to define the program elements and activities that will lead to your intended goals, and then map those activities to the ideal program type.

2. Provide training, education and parameters

Employees should have clear guidance on how they can be an effective mentor or mentee, what problematic behaviors look like, how to communicate with emotional intelligence and care, and where to go if they have challenges.

This can be delivered through formal training and company documentation, before beginning the mentoring program and periodically throughout the program as continued education.

HR leaders should be sure to define the required training and appropriate parameters ahead of rolling out the program.

This will allow you to continue to develop and train staff on the soft skills in a continuous way while also avoiding hiccups that stem from confusion or a lack of clarity around what is expected.

3. Develop a system for matching participants

Mentor matches should be made through careful and strategic consideration. The matching system can be done through software or a human matching process.

It’s important that HR leaders align matches to their outcomes – as opposed to less relevant elements of compatibility such as gender.

The information that goes into a matching system will ultimately depend on the program goals, amongst other factors, but common inputs are questions that allow the matchmaker to determine the person’s experience within the company, their short and long-term goals, and the type of development or experience that they’re seeking.

Another way to drive investment and commitment within the relationships is to offer the participants the opportunity to select the person who they think they’d work best with.

Sodexo ensures that their pairs are cross-divisional, cross-functional, and cross-cultural, which is aligned with their goal of diverse leadership pipelines and enhanced organizational culture by ensuring relationships are being built across areas.

This approach has been successful for them. Beyond the increases in organizational commitment and diversity awareness, the company has also seen a measurable ROI. According to a study undertaken by Diversity, for every $1 spent, there was $2.28 in retention and increased productivity realized.

Ultimately, HR leaders should understand that the matching process is as critical as the rest of the program and allowing participants choice when possible will go a long way.

4. Assess the program early and often

Mentoring programs aren’t set-it-and-forget-it. They need to be assessed and recalibrated, if needed, regularly.

Best practices include checking in on the match quality and cohesion in the early weeks and months, and assessing the program goals at six-month and one-year benchmarks.

After pairing and ensuring match stability and satisfaction, companies should check in frequently, and ensure that the pair is meeting at the agreed cadence, while also gauging relationship quality and progression towards goals.

Assessments can be done through performance management software that allows both users to provide unique inputs and the distributor to define their questions – this also has the benefit of allowing HR leaders to view trends at scale.

For example, perhaps the pairs should be meeting once a month but are actually only meeting once a quarter.

Microsoft is transparent about their assessment and outcomes – publishing regular reports about their various mentoring programs, employee community groups, and their diversity and equal pay metrics –their benchmarks for success – at the global level to increase their accountability and demonstrate their continued commitment.

It may be common for leaders to think that evaluation and assessment happen towards the end of the program, but understanding the quality early and continuously will help the mentors and mentees stay on the right track.

5. Provide opportunities for open feedback to a third-party

Focusing exclusively on the success metrics (e.g. number of minorities retained) won’t provide a full story or create space for people to bring forth any challenges or concerns.

HR and People leaders should be sure to offer a third-party resource to receive feedback about the quality and effectiveness of the relationship on an ongoing basis.

Open feedback will allow participants to share any concerns that the program leaders may not have considered within the pre-defined questions.

Additionally, third-party resources can eliminate potential bias or the threat of negative impact that may impede on a participant’s ability to speak candidly.

HR Leaders can use this feedback to recalibrate the program, make adjustments between pairings or even intervene within the matches if needed.

The benefits of mentoring

Mentoring has been shown to improve work stress, health, and mental wellbeing for everyone involved.

It enhances the job performance, satisfaction and emotional health of the mentees, and results in decreased anxiety and increased meaning in the lives of mentors.

Ultimately, progressive and forward-thinking People Companies are invested in building great experiences for their employees and setting them up for success.

Mentoring schemes can be a great way to do this – whether the goal is deeper skill training, leadership development, acclimating new team members or building more diverse and inclusive companies.

What do your workforce really want? Download research from 3,500 employees on what really gets them productive in the workplace.

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