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Build Your Organization’s Mentoring Culture With a Pilot Program

Mentoring is a smart strategy for organizations ready to invest in employee development, and it’s important to roll it out right to ensure the best adoption rates. The biggest factor of success, by far, is a mentoring culture that permeates from top to bottom. Build a mentoring culture with a pilot program that lets you harness that vital organizational support and smooth out your program process before you roll it out to your entire organization.

At Chronus, we help organizations plan their mentoring pilot programs in preparation for the big rollout. We’ve found that successful planning can be implemented in five steps:

  1. Develop clear goals
  2. Plan to measure and evangelize results
  3. Determine a timeline for the pilot
  4. Determine the size and nature of the audience
  5. Create a go-forward plan for scaling the program post-pilot

Develop Clear Goals

The goal for a mentoring program pilot should not necessarily be unique to that pilot. Instead of planning just for the pilot, plan for the real thing. Imagine the program you’d like to see thriving two years from now. What talent development challenge does it solve? How can you start small and scale it over the next two years?

Most organizations have multiple goals but see them as spokes of the same wheel, failing to differentiate separate initiatives. One program type is best for your pilot, whether it’s
new manager training, new hire onboarding, employee career mentoring, or even reverse mentoring. If you try to do it all, your reporting might get messy.

Tip: Your program will be “stickiest” if you choose a pilot goal that has an external incentive for participation – for instance, make it a requirement for new hires or new promotions. That stickiness will help you demonstrate success, which in turn will help you develop that crucial, elusive mentoring culture.

For more on developing your program goals, read our “How to Start a Mentoring Program” article.

Plan to Measure and Evangelize Results

Once you’ve established goals, consider what metrics will demonstrate success to others. With your mentoring culture in its infancy, it’s important to use these results to garner the financial, technological, human, and leadership commitment you need. The point of your pilot is to show the potential of mentoring, as-yet unlocked. Try to move the needle a bit and show how much further that needle can move with more resources. Here are some examples of how you can measure the success of your pilot:

  1. Launch a survey before and after to measure whether people feel more capable in their jobs, more capable of navigating the organization, or more satisfied with professional relationships as a result (as self-reported).
  2. Measure the health of mentoring partnerships. This is easily done using software.
  3. Survey employees before and after to measure h ow valued they feel.
  4. Establish a baseline of employee engagement and retention. Then measure these attributes again at the end of the pilot program to create a return-on-investment (ROI) metric that you can share with program stakeholders. See our ROI ebook to walk you through this process.

Determine the Timeline for the Pilot

Similar to goal-setting, determining a timeline means thinking beyond the pilot. Your pilot should be the duration of your real-world mentoring cycle. The reason? To achieve a secondary goal beyond the new-and-improved mentoring culture: a polished program design that allows you to quickly scale post-pilot. If you try to shorten the mentoring cycle for the sake of wrapping the pilot faster, you won’t really validate your design assumptions, and you’ll be guessing at the right duration for your “real” launch down the road. So if you want to try out 6-month connections, run your pilot for 6 months (plus recruitment and matching time, of course).

Determine the Size and Nature of the Audience

You’re almost there! One of the final planning steps is knowing your audience. We suggest that you pilot with a subset of the audience you want in your real program. Maintaining audience characteristics lets you carry all content, policies, matching criteria, and other design elements over to your eventual launch, or make only controlled changes. That means you can make a big splash with the confidence of experience behind you. An example: One Chronus customer recently launched a pilot to 200 professionals in its large engineering division, and expanded it the next year to the rest of the same division, this time serving multiple locations. Through that process, they learned that this mentee pool had unique needs and was distinct enough to merit its own program. In order to expand successfully to other divisions, they opted to create a new, separate program targeting more general needs.

Plan to Scale Post Pilot

A common scaling method is to start in one division or unit and gradually permeate others.
For example, many organizations choose to target a single division and share pilot success to get other divisions on board. Showcasing the benefits can be an effective way to get various limbs of the organization to commit financial resources.

In other cases, the organization will spearhead the pilot from the top down, and recruit selective participation across divisions. This allows for cross-departmental mentoring, making it especially effective in silo-heavy organizations trying to encourage collaboration.

Which scaling effort is right for you? This should trace back to your organizational goals. If
several possible initiatives, such as career development or new hire training, are on the
playing field, pick just one to focus on for your pilot. Push the other initiatives to the
sidelines for now, but start working on a concrete plan to get them in motion soon after the
pilot wraps. When your organization is ready to take the next step, mentoring software is a scalable solution that provides room and accommodates all your diverse initiatives. By
the time you shoot for growth, you’ll be in the right position to score.

With a bit of up front planning, your mentoring pilot program can be built for success.
Successful pilot programs translate to successful major programs that can run for years in
organizations, creating better employee engagement and retention for a happy, productive

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