Mentoring programs are a great method to boost employee development, engagement, and retention at any company. Start your program off right with mentoring program best practices gathered together from our internal staff. Attention to a few important details can make all the difference in ensuring effectiveness for your mentoring program. Watch our quick video to learn our top 5 best practices, or read on for our top 10 most popular best practices.
1. Define Your Mentoring Program Objectives and Secure Leadership Support
You might be surprised by the number of mentoring programs without clear objectives or strong buy-in. Such programs often struggle because there’s no consensus of what success looks like. Follow mentoring program best practices by implementing SMART objectives – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
Here’s an example: “The goal of our mentoring program is to help new employees become 80 percent productive by the end of their first six months.” Such objectives provide direction to program participants and help organizational leaders understand why they should offer their support. As part of that, make sure to identify a senior leader who believes strongly in the program and is willing serve as its executive champion. This person will prove to be a critical resource and advocate.
2. Find a Strong, Passionate Mentoring Program Manager
Selecting the right program manager is critical to your mentoring program. A strong program manager doesn’t guarantee success. But a weak one will guarantee underwhelming results.
Program managers provide essential ongoing support, training, and coaching to participants. They identify opportunities and troubleshoot issues, working with stakeholders to make ongoing adjustments to keep the program thriving.
They’re also instrumental in promoting the program to potential participants and serve as the programs ambassador (along with the executive champion) to the organization. Passion, excellent communication, and organizational skills are a must. Prior experience in serving as a mentor is bonus.
3. Build Flexibility into the Program
Successful mentoring programs balance the dueling needs of structure and flexibility. A level of formality is needed within the mentoring process, participant training, progress tracking, and communication to help the program run smoothly.
Yet mentoring is about individual learning and growth, which means participant needs will vary in outcomes sought and preferred methods of learning. When planning a mentoring program, identify areas that require flexibility and build them into the program. Areas to consider include: mentoring format (one-to-one, group, circles), duration, and participant interaction tools.
4. Put Your Marketing Hat On
When you introduce a new mentoring program to your organization, there’s generally natural enthusiasm. But this enthusiasm doesn’t always translate into high participation rates. A common reason? The absence of effective promotion.
Don’t assume potential mentors and mentees will automatically understand the benefits of mentoring. For many, this will be their first experience. You’ll need to convince them that participation is worth their time and effort. Beyond participants, key leaders and stakeholders need to be educated on the benefits of the program and strategic value to the organization.
5. Think Win-Win
Consider the needs of mentors. Building a solid base of mentors can be a challenge. A key is understanding the positive and negative factors that impact mentor participation. Once you’ve identified them, look for creative ways to reinforce positive drivers and lower the hurdles of negative ones throughout the mentoring process.
For example, mentors are often busy people with limited time to spend. How can you help mentors become more efficient with their time? Also consider recognition and reward strategies. Formally recognizing mentor involvement is a best practice that can be very motivating to those mentors and help attract new ones.
6. Use Mentoring Program Best Practices to Prepare Mentors and Mentees for Success
Productive mentoring doesn’t just happen. Provide training to mentors and mentees regarding the programs goals, participant roles, mentoring best practices, and your mentoring process. Help mentors and mentees clarify their own objectives. The need for training and guidance doesn’t end after the initial orientation. Provide tips and best practices throughout the mentoring program to help participants stay on track and get the most out of the program.
7. Embrace the Role of Mentoring Matchmaker
For mentoring to thrive, a solid relationship needs to form between mentor and mentee. The strength of the match plays a critical role in this. Consider giving mentees a say in the matching process by allowing them to select a particular mentor or list their top three choices. Mentoring software can improve and speed up the matching process. If your software has a strong matching capability, it will recommend suitable mentors based upon learning needs and compatibility.
8. Track, Measure, Listen & Tune
How will you know if your mentoring program is a success? Track program and connection metrics and ask for feedback. At the program level, build metrics around defined objectives (see Tip #1 above).
Also, be sure to assess the outcomes of individual mentor and mentee connections. One of the easiest ways to measure success and capture feedback is through surveys. Ask participants and stakeholders how well the mentoring program met their goals and the goals of the organization. Also ask them for their ideas for improving the program.
9. Bring Closure to Individual Mentoring Connections
Entrepreneurs are advised to develop a clear exit strategy for their business to help them focus upon a tangible outcome. Mentoring is similar in the sense that without defining a closure point, the mentoring process can wander aimlessly. As a mentoring connection progresses, work with the mentor and mentee to identify mileposts that indicate when mutually established goals have been reached. Establish a formal process that brings closure to the mentoring experience. Within this process, provide an opportunity for both the mentor and mentee to reflect upon what was learned, discuss next steps for the mentee, and provide feedback.
10. Broadcast Mentoring Successes
After a mentoring program begins, the focus naturally shifts into operating the program and keeping it running smoothly. Keep in mind, there are likely many more potential participants waiting for signs that joining the program is worth their time and effort.
Continually demonstrate the value of the program, recognize participant contributions, and spotlight successes. This best practice effort will bring energy to the program, expand participation, and increase overall support within the organization.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2015 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.