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Not your Grandfather’s Mentoring: Webinar Highlights

Last week we presented a webcast with ATD called “Not Your Grandfather’s Mentoring — Strategies to Engage, Develop and Retain Employees,” featuring by our very own Customer Success Manager Aya Titus. In it, Aya explained the concept of modern mentoring and outlined three innovative strategies that drive success.

You can watch the on-demand ATD webcast or read on for the highlights.

Modern Mentoring

The idea of mentoring learning informally through another has been around for a while, but shifts in today’s workplace presents unique challenges for HR to address:

  • Baby Boomers leaving the workforce are taking insider knowledge with them.
  • Baby Boomers staying in the workforce may find it challenging to keep up with rapidly changing technology.
  • Millennials have a lot of expectations around the employer/employee relationship, engagement and development.

“With all of these shifts happening simultaneously, there is one common outcome that we’re seeing, and that’s the trend toward self-directed learning,” said Aya. “Because in an era where the workplace and the people in it are constantly shifting, the biggest asset to an organization is a team of agile, engaged learners that are willing and able to quickly pick up new skills and adapt to new goals.”

While the workplace shifts and evolves, new applications for mentoring are surfacing — this is what modern mentoring works to address.

High-potential mentoring, diversity mentoring, new-hire buddy programs are just a few examples of modern mentoring that address this shift in the workforce. These innovative mentoring techniques are powerful ways to address key organizational challenges like retention, engagement and development.

“You can have a massive impact on your organization if you employ mentoring correctly,” said Aya.

What are the components to a well-done mentoring program? Aya outlined 3 essential strategies for success.

Strategy 1: Start with Understanding the Problem and the Goal

In order to design a program that’s effective, start by defining what effective means in your specific situation. In other words, why are you putting this program into place and how will you know if the program achieved the desired goal?

Though this might sound like a step you can skip or figure out later, Aya says this step is vital to transcending an“over-the-fence” relationship and instead establishing a consultative partnership with other areas of the business.

“Our challenge as experts in the field of employee development is to carve out a new dynamic with other areas of the business so that we’re able to provide the full range of expertise and consultation that’s needed to develop a successful mentoring program,” said Aya.

Answering these questions will help you understand your organizations problems and goals:

  • What does success look like?
  • How will we know we’re getting there?
  • Who is the executive sponsor?
  • How will we ensure and drive participation?
  • How are we going to reinforce the learning and behavior change that we expect?
  • What other initiatives are going on that might impact this one?
  • Are there conflicting priorities?

“If we don’t ask these questions, we may not be designing the right program,” said Aya. “We might expend a lot of effort putting together a killer mentoring program that addresses the wrong needs.”

Strategy 2: Secure Sponsorship and Work Within Your Learning Culture

The program sponsor is the person who’s really going to help with driving promotion, adoption, and ongoing engagement with your program.  If people in your organization are excited and enthusiastic about a mentoring program, you may be inclined to think designating a program sponsor is unnecessary. On the contrary, skipping this step can prove to be problematic and lead to disappointing program results.

“From my experience, the lack of an active involved sponsor is actually one of the strongest predictors of a program falling short of expectations,” said Aya.

When designing your mentoring program, work within the learning culture at your organization. “Learning culture is the set of norms, expectations, resources, organizational dialogue, leadership rhetoric that all come together to empower — or not — employees to take ownership of their own development and make room for their own learning,” said Aya.

Even though your organization may see employee development as important, it’s often not considered very urgent. “Urgent tasks are going to win over the important ones on any given day,” said Aya.

Getting the direct manager of program participants involved and actively supporting the program participation is the greatest direct driver of engagement and adoption. It’s a leadership ripple effect.

“If you’ve got C-suite leaders supporting an initiative, their support is going to trickle down throughout the organization and drive participation and engagement in a program that is very important but not urgent,” said Aya.

Strategy 3: Select KPIs and Set Goals for Your Program Before You Design It

How will you know the impact your program is having once it’s in place? An easy answer might be to track the number of participants and their satisfaction with the program.

“The main challenge with this approach is it doesn’t end up telling you a whole lot,” said Aya. “If we don’t measure at all, it suggests that we don’t have a clear goal in mind, which leads to a lot of the challenges that we’ve been talking about. If we don’t know what we’re looking for, we may spend a ton of energy analyzing the data on the back end without really getting anything useful out of that exercise.”

Aya recommends that you move beyond participation and satisfaction levels. Identify the proof points will be relevant to the business case. When the budget controller decides whether or not to continue the program, what evidence might they need to be convinced of its success and ROI for the business?

To answer that question, Aya suggests utilizing the established Kirkpatrick Evaluation ModelThis model shows you a framework of how to capture data at several levels so that you can develop a comprehensive picture of the impact of your development program.

Download our Guide to Measuring Modern Mentoring Programs

Designing an effective mentoring program can seem daunting, but if you don’t get it perfect the first time, that’s ok.

“Selecting KPIs and setting goals before you start the program is incredibly challenging to do well,” said Aya. “All of us struggle with it. Don’t be discouraged. Start where you can. Keep challenging yourself to do more each time you iterate.”


As the workforce shifts, we need mentoring techniques that go beyond traditional mentoring. Remember, this is not your grandfather’s mentoring.

Keeping these three strategies in mind will empower you to successfully harness the power of modern mentoring to address key challenges like employee retention, engagement, and development.

For a deeper dive, watch the on-demand ATD webcast: “Not Your Grandfather’s Mentoring — Strategies to Engage, Develop and Retain Employees.”


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