How to start a mentor program in 10 steps
1. Communicate expectations
People need to understand the meaning of mentorship to benefit from such a program. Be specific on the reasons that prompted you to start the program. They should correspond to skills gaps or upcoming changes in your company. For example, a mentorship program can:
- Contribute to the onboarding of new hires
- Prepare junior team members for promotion
- Develop management and improve leadership skills
- Increase retention rates
- Provide a transfer of knowledge from retiring employees to replacement staff
- Improve customer experience
Find out what being successful means for your employees. Then define the program’s goals and prepare documentation to communicate them to participants. Is it a learning program for a future task or a new position? Is the objective to develop employees personally as well as professionally? Clearly explain what you expect from the mentors and mentees.
2. Select mentors
Next, select the right mentors for your mentorship program. Choose people who enjoy helping others achieve their goals and already live and breathe your brand values. Here’s an idea of the type of qualities to look for when making your selection:
- Enthusiastic: Good mentors are passionate and sincere. They want to help. Their passion pushes them to share their knowledge because they feel rewarded when their trainees become successful.
- Excellent listener: Ideal mentors take time to listen to colleagues and know how to make them feel prioritized. They can give space for reflection while offering kind, helpful advice.
- Respectful: While effective mentors influence mentees, they don’t force mentees into anything. They don’t try to control the actions or emotions of others. They should show empathy and be free of judgment.
- Expert: The right mentors possess skills and talents suited to the program’s goals. They’re experts on the subject they teach.
Once mentors are selected, you can inform them about the goals of the program and the benefits they’ll bring the organization.
3. Invite mentees
First, you can let people know about your new mentoring program in view of inspiring people to volunteer. Post announcements and share good reasons to participate. There is usually a natural enthusiasm among the personnel toward mentoring, but not always. Employees might be worried about investing time in the program in addition to their daily duties. It’s up to you to sell the mentorship program as an opportunity.
It might also be a good idea to recommend that certain employees sign up for the program. You can approach this in one-on-one interviews. The program might be tailored for people who are ready for promotion in addition to those who require extra support hitting targets.
4. Match mentors to mentees
To optimally connect mentors with mentees, consider the expertise and objectives of each participant. Be careful to take into consideration their learning styles and backgrounds. Is there a need for encouragement, teaching of concepts or for a more direct approach?
Once you define objectives, it’s a good idea to ask for participants’ input in the matching process. For instance, you could ask them to provide a list of their top three preferred matches. This adds a level of autonomy and personal responsibility to the endeavor. Remember, a mentor-mentee relationship should be meaningful and constructive for both parties.
5. Refine processes and procedures
Aim to create a structured program, but keep certain aspects flexible. Decide how to organize meetings, define how often participants meet and choose suitable locations for interactions. Also, verify that the mentors are available to meet at corresponding times. They may have a heavy traveling schedule, for instance, so the program should adapt. It is possible to organize regular phone or video conferences, as long as it suits the mentor and mentee.
6. Ensure mentors are accountable
Be sure to designate someone to monitor the mentor/mentee relationship. This person’s task is to ensure that the mentor’s activities have a positive impact on the mentee and the company. It can be the administrator of the program or the participant’s supervisor. Your priority should be making sure the individual is impartial and focused on organizational goals.
To keep the program running smoothly, holding mentors accountable is crucial. It may not work if you select participants, set goals and leave them be. A productive mentor program requires attention and direction from company leaders.
7. Set rules for confidentiality
The mentor-mentee pairings should trust each other and have an excellent working relationship. The mentees should be able to confide their concerns without any fear of them being disclosed to anyone. However, both parties need to agree that if anything illegal or contrary to the company’s policies should occur, disclosure would be mandatory.
If the mentee feels like their concerns are being gossiped about—or worse, that their career suffers because of concerns they’ve raised—, the program won’t work. However, professionalism and observation of policy are critical, and they should be aware that breaches can be shared.
8. Provide guidance and feedback
With proper direction, the mentoring relationship can maintain focus and momentum. But don’t forget that structure and guidance during the mentorship program are crucial to ongoing success.
Provide participants with a goal and action plan, and set KPIs for mentors at key milestones. This gives structure to the program and prevents it from stagnating. Ensure mentors receive training, best practice guides and have access to necessary resources. Be sure to outline a timeline with dates when both have to report on their progress in a one-to-one meeting.
9. Collect data and track progress
To know whether your program is effective or not, you’ll need to track KPIs to measure success. It’s important to conduct interviews, provide quick tests and conduct surveys before each mentee starts to establish a baseline. As people progress through the program, repeat this process at key milestones. For example, one week in, one month in and at the end of the program, you should hear about the mentee’s progress in interviews and see improvements in test scores.
Plus, you’ll gain actionable insights from anonymous surveys, in which employees may offer more detailed answers than they gave in interviews. Conduct separate one-on-ones with mentors and collect surveys from them to ensure their intentions and employee outcomes are aligned. The more data you can capture each step of the way, the better able you’ll be to improve the mentor program moving forward.
10. Refine the program
With the economy, business best practices and employee expectations changing faster than ever, it’s critical that you take an agile approach to your mentor program. What works one year may lose its shine 2 years later. Stay up-to-date with market demands and employee experience trends to keep getting the best out of the program. As a bonus, tweaking the formula a little each time will ensure mentors stay driven and enthusiastic.
Productive and positive mentoring is an excellent approach to improving the quality of your workforce. But like all worthwhile pursuits, it requires planning, follow-up and two-way feedback. It’s not only a question of proper selection and matching of participants; it requires ongoing analysis and refinement.
Mentors and mentees must stay focused on the program’s goals throughout the mentoring process in order for the program, and your company, to reach its full potential.
Frequently asked questions about how to start a mentorship program
What are the benefits of starting a mentor program?
Starting a mentorship program is a symbiotic process that benefits you and your employees. By giving extra learning and development opportunities and hands-on attention to those who can benefit most, you can genuinely add value to your workforce. At the same time, by ensuring your most proactive brand ambassadors impart their knowledge, you can boost productivity and improve performance. Because you’re in charge of who becomes a mentor, you can shape your workforce in any direction, whether that’s aligning new starters with company culture, improving working knowledge or priming high-performers for promotion.
Are there four stages to mentoring?
There are many approaches you can take to mentor programs, but a popular one follows a four-stage model. The stages are preparation, negotiating, enabling growth and closure. Training mentors in this approach can help provide a framework so they can track their own progress. In the first stage, the mentor and mentee get to know each other, and the mentor demonstrates their aptitude for the role. Goals are set and the mentee’s personal expectations are established. In the negotiating stage, the program is adapted according to the mentee’s needs, ground rules are established and discussion formats are agreed upon. Moving into enabling growth, advice is offered, constructive criticism is given and successes (however small) are celebrated. During closure, the mentor and mentee demonstrate gratitude, discuss outcomes and identify positive benefits.