Was your mentoring program built to succeed? Read our dos and donts.

Posted by Andy Holmes on Wed, Dec 11, 2019 @ 10:35 AM

“Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t have to.” - Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group. 

Your company may have patents, exclusive technologies, high-paying clients, real estate or other assets but your most precious resource is and always will be your employees. Most companies aren't built by the work of just one person. A dynamic CEO or founder may be the driving force behind growth but they are usually backed by a talented team getting things done. Further developing a talented team with an employee mentoring program using resources you already have leads to a plethora of benefits.

Mentoring nurtures innovation, creates company growth and increases profits. It also shows employees that their employer values them by investing in their potential future.

According to a Deloitte survey in 2016, millennials are twice as likely to stay with their employer for five years or longer when they are mentored. On the opposite end of the spectrum, millennials without mentors or access to employee development programs have shockingly short employment times. Not only do employee development programs boost retention rates, but they also improve employee job satisfaction and productivity.

What Does A Successful Employee Mentoring Program Look Like?

There are many different types of mentoring programs and approaches. At first glance, the sheer volume of different programs and tools can be overwhelming. The easiest way to understand how a mentor program works is to first define the specific goal of the program and to observe how other companies have achieved something similar.

For example, Intel is a massive enterprise. Intel has multitudes of entry level and veteran employees who have been around the block. Intel wanted to implement an employee development program that was centered around knowledge transfer. Matches were made and veteran employees started “transferring” what they knew to their mentees. The result? Entry level employees gleaned information and key skills rapidly from the upper echelons of Intel within the framework of their existing jobs without having to go through outside educational courses.

Deloitte had a much different approach. The Deloitte mentoring program focuses on Emerging Leaders. Deloitte approached mentoring with the goal of building a leadership talent pipeline. Employees were assigned to a mentor for at least two years and they were helped to build their future careers.

The goal can be a general one such as “increase retention and productivity” or something more people-centric like “increasing retention rates and developing a company culture while boosting income.” Many companies struggle with bridging the social and professional gap between trainees and senior leaders. One successful approach to this problem is targeted one-on-one, peer-to-peer mentoring, coaching and development.

Mentor Resources has worked with countless companies and HR departments. Usually, there is a specific goal or problem a company is running into and a tailored employee development program is developed based on the issues at hand. Sometimes, companies aren’t sure how to isolate what the problem is exactly and we can help diagnose the situation. One thing to keep in mind when implementing a mentoring program is to be sure your mentors and mentees are well armed with the information they need to be successful. At MR, we have developed tools to supervise and guide the mentoring process. As the program is implemented, surveys gather feedback so programs can be tweaked for best outcomes. Mentors are given clear requirements from the onset, mentees set measurable goals, the frequency of meetings can be tracked and analytics are put in place to observe how the mentoring program is achieving its designated goals.

These tools can improve retention rates, build an employee-centric culture and of course all this adds up to business growth.

Elements of an Effective Employee Mentoring Program

Like anything, there is a right way to implement a mentoring program and a wrong way. There are countless “wrong ways” to do it and only a few correct ways. In order to get the desired results from your program the following elements are of the utmost importance.

The Program Purpose must be clearly defined

Before anything happens, the objective of the mentoring program must be laid out. What are you trying to accomplish? Write it down. Try to get the program purpose communicated in one simple sentence. Use this sentence as the base of your program from which all facets will be built. The sentence will define the structure and provide the blue print to achieve the results you’re after.

Now, it is important to keep in mind that what works for certain sectors of the company might not work elsewhere. For example, a program developed for salesmen won’t work for internally-focused employees. You may need two separate programs for each sector with different goals. For the salesmen, the goal might be “knowledge transfer” because the bulk of the production is being done by a handful of veteran salesmen and newer employees aren’t closing due to lack of knowledge. A “knowledge transfer” program could permeate the skills the veterans have throughout the team boosting moral and increasing sales. The internally-focused sector might have a huge turn-over rate. So the program purpose would be to “increase retention and build culture.” This could be accomplished through an employee development program that focuses on team building and connection so employees feel more attached to the company, work harder and build careers as opposed to clock-punching.

Management must be worked with to clearly define the purpose of the program before anything is implemented or created. Time spent on this step is worth it. With the proper diagnosis of the problem and communication of the goal, a program can be tailored with clear mentor requirements, graduation timelines and application processes laid out.

Get Everyone to Participate

So, you’ve identified a specific goal. The blueprint of the program has been drawn up. Everything is accounted for. You push the go button and no one enrolls. The program won’t produce the desired results unless people actually do it!

Participation and support must come from all levels of the company. We have found that programs are most successful when they are driven from the top down. Executives and those at management levels need to be vocal about why they think the program will be beneficial to employees. The message can’t just come from HR, it has to be voiced by the upper echelon as this is usually where the company opinion leaders reside. Executives and management should encourage direct reports on how employees are doing with the mentor programs.

Be thorough in the “matching” process

Mentors must be properly paired with mentees. Compatibility is essential in pulling off a successful program and achieving set goals. Skimp on this step and outcomes will suffer.

When matching mentors with mentees several factors are taken into consideration on both sides of the equation: skill sets, experience, cultural background, age, sex, career goals, etc. Wide-spread surveys can be done to gauge the interest and size of the mentor and mentee groups. With this information in hand, mentor interviews can be setup with the employee’s immediate superior, along with all department heads and program decision makers.

Mentees are also surveyed and interviewed to find their best match. Correctly assessing all essential factors in the match making progress will make or break your employee development program. If matches are wrong you will get unrest and divide. If they are spot on, culture will be built, knowledge will be transferred, people will grow, retention will improve and company goals will be obtained. Mentor Resources ranks number one in the industry for matching so let us know if you need help.

Implement monthly and quarterly assessments

It is vital that assessments are frequently done or you won’t be able to see whether the program is working or not. Mentor Resources provides you with detailed analytics, surveys and software so you can evaluate how each pairing is doing and measure the overall effectiveness of the program.

The form these assessments take largely depends on what the program goals are and what works best for your business. Sometimes personalized feedback surveys electronically sent out are best if personal phone calls aren't a reasonable option.

Mentor Resources can help you set up the best assessment system based on your needs, but the key thing to know is that they need to be done. You can work hard to create an employee mentoring program and think your work is done. This is a grave mistake. To be effective, regular check-ins and updates are required to ensure the program remains impactful and continues to align with your business goals.

Lastly, don’t try to do all this on your own. It’s impossible. Your HR department is likely busy and asking it to take on such a vast project without help is likely unreasonable. Mentor Resources offers cloud based software and blueprints for employee development and mentor programs to fit any mold. Our technology works in tandem with HR and management to implement all the above steps. You are provided with configuration tools so you can participate.

Our program is an investment in your teams development and future. Any company worth its salt would put money and attention on its most valuable resources – its employees.

“I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people not on strategies.” - Lawrence Bossidy, former CEO AlliedSignal