As growing professionals, we will never be too successful to benefit from having a workplace mentor. No matter your tenure or status, there is always someone out there from whom you could learn a thing or two. You're looking for someone who has faced decisions that you haven't yet, navigated a tricky circumstance you're now facing, or already made the professional missteps that you'd love to avoid.
We run thousands of employee engagement and satisfaction surveys each year. When we run analysis calls for our customers at the end of each project, one area that often needs improvement is leadership. Being a strong leader is oftentimes a learned skill, and many individuals who are promoted to management based on strong job performance simply lack the skills and acumen of truly strong leaders. Establishing a mentorship program is one way you can arm emerging, new, and existing leaders with a support system to grow as leaders and as professionals. After all, the best mentors seem to care less about creating a following for themselves and more about developing other leaders.
Tip #1: Make matches based on actual data.
Start out by surveying your employees to gather data that will allow you to make informed mentor-mentee matches. Ask them questions about their strengths, weakness, interests, career goals, and communication styles. You can also ask them what qualities they'd ideally like to have in a mentor or mentee. Then, based on this data, match your participants as best you can. If doing so manually sounds overwhelming, take advantage of a mentor-matching software like Chronus or Insala that use algorithms to pair employees.
An ideal match consists of a mentor and mentee who have similar interests and goals. In contrast, strengths, weaknesses, and communication styles do not necessarily have to align, as differences in these areas can offer a fresh perspective for the pair. Another consideration when making a match is the experience gap. Most mentorship programs aim for an experience (not age) gap between mentor and mentee of 5-10 years at most so that the mentor can still clearly remember and empathize with once being in the mentee's shoes.
Tip #2: Don't exclude anyone who wants to participate.
Your new mentoring program should be all-inclusive. Why? Because if you exclude even one person who is interested in the program, you've just done more damage to morale than good. From the intern to CMO, everyone's career and growth aspirations should be respected and fostered. Every new person you bring onboard should be educated about your company's mentorship program, how it works, its purpose, and its benefits. And don't forget about your C-Suite. The Harvard Business Review reports that of CEOs in formal mentorship programs shared that mentors had helped them make better decisions (69%) and become more capable at fulfilling stakeholder expectations (76%).
Your new mentoring program should be all-inclusive, yet optional for the mentee. You cannot force growth and development onto someone who is not comfortable achieving it in this format. True leaders in your organization shouldn't have any issue participating in the program as mentors, however, it should be optional for them as well. A leader who cannot fully commit the time required should be given a pass, but encouraged to prioritize that time if possible for future participation.
Tip #3: Advertise the benefits.
Gain the support of your leadership team and regularly communicate the benefits of the newly launched mentorship program. Create collateral for the program to be shared with any and all new employees. Reiterate to existing program members the benefits of continuing on in the program. Put your marketing cap on and promote the program to your employees to generate excitement and interest. Try out a fun and informative email series or promotional poster campaign to help get the buzz started about the program and its advantages.
Tip #4: Clearly communicate the program structure and guidelines.
Great. You've established your mentorship program and determined that Sarah should follow Michelle around and hopefully some of Michelle's expertise and business acumen will just rub off, right? Of course not. For your mentorship program to be successful, you need to clearly communicate guidelines and structure to both mentor and mentee to create a program more fruitful than basic "shadowing." Some example guidelines for structure might include:
- Establishing a meeting cadence of weekly or bi-weekly sessions
- Tasking the mentee with creating a meaningful meeting agenda and sharing it with the mentor in advance of each meeting
- Offering sample/suggested discussion topics and goals for those who aren't sure where to start
- Mapping out "checkpoints" for the mentor and mentee to periodically provide feedback to the program manager
Tip #5: Emphasize goal setting.
The mentee should identify goals at the onset of the matching process; these goals can often be aligned with the employee's perceived weaknesses. Perhaps the employee would like to become more comfortable being direct, authoritative, and persuasive. Or, they'd like to be considered for a promotion or leadership position. Clearly defining individual goals can help steer the focus of the mentor-mentee meetings. At the same time, the program manager or human resources stakeholder can assign overarching program goals such as increased productivity, continued education, volunteerism, internal promotions, or employee retention.