Building a formal, in-house mentorship program is a valuable talent development initiative. It takes some careful planning and some skillful management to be a success. I've spearheaded a few mentorship programs over the years and each program reveals new insights - from the good to the challenging to the unexpected!
Here's what you can expect - and what might surprise you - when establishing formal mentorship program in your own organization:
The good: How mentorship develops your people and your organization
A well-executed mentorship program delivers tremendous value to all participants: the mentors, mentees and the organization. While you might experience some company- or team-specific benefits that are unique to your organization, here are three amazing outcomes that I can pretty much guarantee:
1. Community building and reinvigorating company culture
Fostering community and engagement within your organization is one of the most rewarding things about facilitating a mentorship program. One of the biggest problems you can solve is the feeling of inclusion especially with remote employees or a remote workforce. Mentoring helps with networking and building relationships which helps with a sense of belonging.
When I co-created a mentorship program for the Administrative Professional Network in the public sector, there wasn't an issue with getting participants because they all knew the value of having a mentor.
We kicked off the pilot program with a huge launch party, bringing the entire mentoring group together and creating an atmosphere of excitement. Our leadership team was completely on-board and invested in the program which helped with participation from employees. The president and the director general shared motivational speeches and heartwarming stories of their own personal mentoring experiences. This was important because getting leadership buy-in is what will make your program successful in the end.
The Unexpected: At the end of the program, we found that employees who work remotely felt more engaged and connected to the organization, and were grateful to be included in the pilot program, despite the physical distance between them and the rest of the team.
2. Empowering and driving development
Implementing a formal mentorship program in your organization is a great way to link learning and development with performance outcomes! Mentors, in addition to managers, can transform the employee development experience by coaching for growth.
Mentees can rate themselves on their skills, ask peers for feedback on their skills and re-assess following their mentoring experience to see their progress. Mentors and mentees can also establish goals and communicate regularly on their goal progress in their performance management system.
An in-house mentorship program touches so many aspects of employee development, contributing to an environment that enables both your people and business to succeed!
The Unexpected: A mentorship program is a development and performance powerhouse! Make sure to measure key metrics through participant surveys before launch and once the pilot ends. You can compare this data with goal achievement rates to demonstrate how mentorship moves the needle on performance.
3. Focused on outcomes: Linking learning to performance
The goal of any learning or development initiative is to make a tangible difference in your people's growth and development. If you are not doing it yet it is never too late. Decide how you want to measure the success of the program. Will it be measuring specific skills, engagement, career development? You'll want to clearly define these metrics before you launch the program so that you can accurately track your people's progress.
Remember to rate participants' skills before the program begins and then re-evaluate at the end (which is usually about six months for a pilot program). Focusing on performance outcomes will get your people tracking their achievements and growth. If you have a performance management system, make sure they track goals there!
The Unexpected: The results! You may be surprised by what you learn about your organization's goals and your people's development progress. Progress = happiness, so you can guarantee that you will have a happier, more fulfilled workforce.
The Challenging: Navigating program roadblocks and finding solutions
As with all programs involving people, it's inevitable that you'll experience roadblocks and challenges - especially if it's your first mentorship program. Some challenges will be unique to your organization and others may be quite similar to mine! I found that there are three themes to the stumbling blocks my teams and I have experienced:
1. Let's get active: Encouraging consistent participation
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but active mentor/mentee participation is the foundation of a successful mentorship program. Think about it: you could do all the legwork of getting leadership buy-in, evaluating participants, assigning pre-program training, connecting mentors to mentees, setting up a meeting framework and aligning the program to organizational goals, but if your employees don't follow through and actually show up to do the work, your program is doomed.
Hold your participants accountable by getting them to sign a contract before the program launches, stating that they understand their responsibilities and the consequences should they not fulfill their contractual obligations.
Decide on the minimum number of touch points ahead of time. For example, you might require that mentors and mentees have a rich conversation (online or in person) at least once per month. Any other contact, such as texting, emailing, phone calls and meetings are at their discretion.
The Unexpected: Every relationship is different but the key to great communication in a mentoring relationship is listening. Make sure that when you set expectations for the program you ensure that not only mentor training is created but that you also have mentee training.
2. Troubleshooting partnership friction
There are going to be many mentorship program participants with different personalities, life experiences, beliefs and values. Ensure all participants complete pre-program mentorship training courses that will help refine their conflict resolution skills.
At Saba, we get our mentorship program participants to complete mandatory training. But that's just the beginning. We arrange monthly mentor meetings where mentors can discuss any concerns, struggles and best practices to help support them in their mentoring experience (all while maintaining mentee confidentiality).
The Unexpected: Sometimes certain personalities may not work and that is okay. Ensure that your participants are trained in dealing with conflict, that they use an outward mindset and remove judgments, and maintain a coaching communication style to help work through any concerns. If that doesn't work then participants can certainly rely on the project team to assist with re-matching if required.
3. M.I.A. mentors: Balancing participant ratios
You might find that you have so many enthusiastic employees who want to participate as mentees that you don't have enough mentors to go around! First, give yourself a pat on the back - this is what a self-driven learner culture looks like. Your people feel that they're in the driver's seat of their own development and are proactively seeking out ways to improve a skill or learn something new. That's impressive!
But when everyone wants to learn, it might become challenging to find enough mentors to fill the need. In this case, there are a few things you can do:
Identify all potential mentors: Don't limit possible mentors to managers and company leadership. Add an option to your program enrolment form asking all participants whether they'd be open to being both a mentee and a mentor. Get potential mentors to elaborate on what skills they've mastered and how they think they can contribute.
Change the narrative: Teaching is also a form of learning. It reinforces what you already know and being questioned helps you to think critically. Show mentors that they will also learn new skills and hone the ones they already have.
Spotlight connectors: What's in it for mentors? They build their network and position themselves as trusted subject matter experts who develop the next generation of leaders. That's not just an ego boost, that's strategic relationship-building.
Pull double-duty: Allow mentors to take on more than one mentee if they're able to handle it. A word of caution: don't rely on this solution alone. You don't want to burn out your mentors with mentee-overload. Set a reasonable limit and stick to it.
The Unexpected: You don't need a fancy matching system to help get your mentors and mentees matched. Most times people want to find their own mentors. If you have a platform like Saba, use it! You can create a space where you show mentor bios and allow mentees to find someone they feel would be a great match for them. Matching can be difficult but certainly helpful for those who perhaps don't know others in the organization or introverts who are not comfortable initiating the discussion. Make sure you cover your ground when creating your application forms to help with this.
Mentorship programs: A valuable talent development initiative
Taking the time to build and implement an effective mentorship program can have a huge impact that truly benefits your organization. Getting participants involved in feedback will help to achieve the outcomes that ensure the program is a success.
Forming a dedicated project team to support, encourage and hold participants accountable will also ensure that your mentoring program will be successful. Piloting your program will give you that opportunity to fine tune things for when you are ready to launch to everyone.