10 steps to starting an employee mentoring program

Last updated:
November 5, 2021
November 5, 2021
min read
Brendan McConnell
employee mentoring program
Table of contents

Companies around the world are experiencing serious - and growing - gaps between what skills their employees have, and what they need to be competitive in their market. McKinsey has reported that a whopping 87% of companies they surveyed either are experiencing skills gaps or expect to within five years. So how do you bridge that gap? One way is by adding employee mentoring programs to your training and development offering.

This article will walk you through how to create an employee mentoring program.

What is an employee mentoring program?

Employee mentoring falls into the category of talent development. It’s either a case-by-case activity or part of a wider, company-backed initiative to provide mentoring and growth opportunities.

Mentoring programs come in many forms, but they typically involve pairing skilled and knowledgeable mentors - who are usually more senior in their careers - with mentees who can learn from them.

These programs can follow a standardized template that is created and backed by a committee within the organization, or they can be self-directed mentorships that spawn from working relationships and mutual benefit.

There are many reasons why companies and employees choose to participate in mentor programs, including:

  • Developing talent
  • Increasing employee engagement
  • Reducing turnover
  • Facilitating knowledge sharing
  • Initiating succession planning
  • Creating a culture of communication and learning
  • Improving onboarding by giving direct access to relevant knowledge
  • Guiding more junior employees through their professional journeys
  • Developing leaders and managers

The key benefits and structure of a program will depend on the type of mentoring being offered.

Different types of mentoring programs

There are, generally speaking, five types of employee mentoring that you might consider for your company’s program.

They include:

  • One-on-one mentoring
  • Situational mentoring
  • Developmental and career mentoring
  • Reverse mentoring
  • Peer-based mentoring

Ideally, you would incorporate more than one of these into your employee mentoring program to offer varied experiences tailored to your employees’ needs and interests.

One-on-one mentoring

This is the most common form of mentoring. It involves one mentor, and one mentee who meets regularly to discuss development, roadblocks, growth paths, project requirements, and any other topic agreed upon by the two participants.

Participants in one-on-one mentoring can either be matched by a formal process, or self-select who they want to be paired with. In either case, it’s important to ensure that the mentor is able to offer relevant and useful information that will help in the mentee’s growth.

This type of mentorship is usually focussed on relationship - and individual skills-building.

Situational mentoring

This is a specialized mentoring style that helps mentees learn a specific skill or trade. In these arrangements, a mentee is paired with a mentor to coach and train them as they learn a new skill.

This type of mentoring typically takes place during employee onboarding, or can be initiated at any time if the job requirements for an employee change.

This type of mentoring is great for training employees on new processes and tools, or for getting people up to speed if they change roles.

Developmental and career mentoring

This is a long-term mentoring arrangement that sees senior leaders work with employees to help progress their careers and, eventually, move into more senior positions. These relationships can last for a few years, and are typically part of a formal succession-planning program.

In these programs, a mentee is selected based on their potential and skillset. A mentor guides them along from their current position to the future leadership role.

This type of mentorship helps to formalize career development paths, thereby increasing job satisfaction, career outcomes for employees, and long term retention.

Reverse mentoring

Reverse mentoring is a practice where a junior employee teaches someone more senior than them a new skill or toolset.

This is a very effective technique for ensuring that, as new skills and knowledge enter an organization, they are being distributed to all existing employees who may need it. This is also a great chance to encourage junior employees to take on a leadership role to share their knowledge and demonstrate their expertise.

Peer-based mentoring

Lastly, peer-based mentoring involves self-organized groups of employees who come together to share knowledge and coach each other.

In these arrangements, groups may hold regular virtual meetings, lunch n’ learns, and conversations in Slack channels to discuss key points of interest and share feedback, knowledge, and best practices.

This informal mentoring program is a fantastic way for employees to learn about the company, get to know their co-workers, and hone their own skills and knowledge.

The benefits of an employee mentoring program

Employee mentoring programs are an effective and inexpensive training and development technique. In fact, they can be more successful and impactful than other, more expensive L&D activities, because they are closely tailored to the needs and goals of the learner (the mentee).

This is because mentorship programs - by definition - result in deeper and more personalized conversations, feedback, and action points that directly relate to the mentee's current job and future growth aspiration.

Of course, employee mentorship programs aren’t just beneficial for the mentee. They also offer a range of benefits for the mentor or company.

Let’s look at the benefits for each of these three parties.

Benefits for the mentee

Mentorship programs most directly impact the mentee through targeted and relevant training that helps them:

  • Gain new skills and insights
  • Build a professional network
  • Learn what it takes to progress in the organization
  • Gain insights and skills that are directly relevant to their current position and desired one
  • For a candid relationships with someone more senior in their field
  • Demonstrate commitment and interest in progressing in the organization

Participating as a mentee shows great initiative and a willingness to learn new skills in order to progress in an organization.

Benefits for the mentor

Mentors, on the other hand, can put their coaching and leadership skills to work by helping someone more junior to them.

The benefits of this include:

  • Gaining new perspectives on their fields from new entrants
  • Making new connection in their field
  • Demonstrating leadership in their organization
  • Practicing their coaching and teaching skills
  • Improving the organization by helping to improve skills and transfer knowledge
  • Processing and crystalizing their own knowledge, making it clearer in their own minds

Mentorship is a great experience for any senior professional who is keen to hone their leadership in a beneficial and impactful way.

Benefits for the company

Lastly, employee mentorship programs offer numerous benefits to the company, including:

  • Cultivating a more engaged talent pool
  • Creating redundancy in their skills bench
  • Building employee loyalty within the organization
  • Fostering a culture of learning and growth
  • Improving long term employee retention
  • Creating more open and honest communication between employees
  • Strengthening the employer brand
  • Improving back skilling and succession planning

Employee mentorship programs are a powerful way for companies to future-proof their workforces from future employee exits and shifts in the market by ensuring that skills and knowledge are shared freely between employees.

Steps to starting an employee mentoring program

While it might be tempting to send out some messages to your co-workers, encouraging them to find mentorship opportunities in their own time, this is unlikely to gain any significant traction.

Instead, you should go through the steps required to create a formalized, well-rounded mentorship program that offers tangible benefits for employees, and measurable outcomes for the business. This process should involve a few key stakeholders from across your organization who will make up a mentorship committee.

Here are ten steps you should follow:

1. Define the mentoring program’s goals.

Your first step is to decide what the desired outcomes are from your mentorship program. Better performance? Increased retention? Boosted engagement? Choose objectives that are clear, measurable, and attainable. Next, pull benchmark stats for each metrics so that you know where you’re starting from.

2. Decide who the program is for.

Next, identify the employees that you want to participate in the mentorship program. Is this for all interested employees? Senior leader? Potential leaders? New hires? Do you need unique mentorship tracks depending on the employee group? Think through where each employee group is in their professional journeys, and what development needs they have. This will help set you up for the next step.

3. Decide what types of mentorship you want to offer.

Depending on who the program is for, and what the goals are, you’ll likely need different types of mentoring programs. At this stage, you should think through the needs of each target group, and match them with the most suitable style of mentorship.

4. Outline the mentoring process.

Once the mentorship types are selected, you and your committee should outline - in detail - how the process will work. How will mentees apply? How will mentors be selected? Who will own the program? How long will the mentorships last? How will you measure results? How, where, and when will mentors and mentees meet?

Work with your committee to clarify each of these details, and write them down into a mentorship program process document. Get internal buy-in and resource allocation from senior leadership, if needed. Lastly, create an internal communications process for how you will announce the new program to your employees.

5. Outline how mentors will be selected.

Create detailed criteria for what is needed to be a mentor. Ensure this criteria aligns with your organization’s values and goals for the program. Some examples or requirements include: A desire to work with someone and share information. Strong two-way communication and collaboration skills. A willingness to accept mentees’ input and to provide guidance and support. A specific length of tenure at the organization.

6. Determine how mentors and mentees will be matched.

This should include considerations like employee development goals and relevance to the mentor’s skillsets. Ask mentees to share their career goals and aspirations. As mentors to outline their skill sets and areas of expertise. Find mentee and mentor groups who work in the same field, or have matching interests.

7. Provide guidance on how the mentor-mentee relationship will work.

Will the mentorship involve weekly conversation? Hands-on working relationships? Project? Assigned training and reading? How will learning and skills be imparted? Create examples of different training scenarios that apply to different roles. Allow mentors to select the teaching style that works best for them based on the mentee’s needs and desired outcomes.

8. Decide how you will collect data to track progress.

Using the metrics outlined in step one, decide how you will collect feedback and data that tells you how the mentorship program is progressing. If engagement is a priority, then long form and pulse surveys to participants might be the way to go.

If retention and performance are a focus, then you likely need some time to see noticeable changes. Look for movements in retention rates, feedback in exit interviews that mentions the mentorship program, and positive feedback from managers about mentee performance.

9. Launch the new program.

Send your internal communications to the entire company letting them know that the program has launched. Hold a Q&A meeting to get feedback and gauge interest. Explain how people can participate. Begin collecting applicants, and working through your pre-defined process.

10. Gather feedback and refine the process.

After your first round of mentorship placement, use surveys and direct feedback to gauge sentiment about the program. Take that feedback into consideration, and use it to improve the next round of mentorship. Measure the result, adapt your approach, launch a revised version of the program, and measure again.

Conclusion

Of course, these ten steps may not all be applicable to your organization. And, you may need to add a few stages to your own process. This is especially true if you plan to create different types of mentorship programs depending on department, seniority level, and so on.

What’s important is to keep lines of communication open between your planning committee and participants in your mentorship program. They will offer great insights into how you can improve your program over time, and maximize impact for your employees and the company.

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