From school-age children to the C-Suite, everyone can benefit from having a mentor at some point in their journey. Whether it is helping to figure out a new career path or how to become a people manager for the first time mentors teach, support, and challenge their mentees to help them achieve their goals.
What does an effective mentorship program look like?
The Center for Creative Leadership defines mentorship as “an intentional relationship where a more tenured and knowledgeable person nurtures the professional and personal growth of a less tenured and experienced person.” Keeping this definition as a foundation, mentoring can benefit both employees involved in the process. Developing a mentorship program at work is not a new trend – according to Forbes, around 70% of Fortune 500 companies have a formal mentor program.
Even though mentor programs exist across many industries, research has shown that cookie-cutter program styles can actually have the opposite effect on employees than what is intended.
For example, an HBR study analyzed 30 firms across size, global footprint, and industry and found that as these companies grew, they became more corporate and bureaucratic, leading employees to feel like “just a number” instead of an individual. Whitnie Low Narcisse, Senior Vice President at First Round Capital provides questions that mentors and mentees can ask themselves before committing to ensuring that their match is mutually beneficial:
- Can I be helpful to this mentee?
- Is this mentee willing to be transparent and honest?
- Is this mentee prepared?
- Do they give (or drain) my energy?
- Does this mentor remember things about me?
- Do they generally understand my role within the company?
- Can they give me actionable guidance?
- Does this mentor seem engaged and willing to help me?
How can organizations maintain consistent, effective mentoring in hybrid work environments?
The unprecedented increase in hybrid workplaces makes traditional mentoring programs harder to use. Your organization’s mentorship program must include guidelines around supporting the relationship while working a hybrid or remote schedule. Marianna Tu, CEO of America Needs You (ANY), offers some suggestions for how organizations can maintain their mentoring program in a hybrid world by building rapport and creating purpose:
- Utilize a holistic mentoring approach.
As part of the program guidelines, encourage all participants to discuss topics other than work. This helps mentors and mentees know each other as their complete selves and builds a deeper personal investment in the mentorship.
- Migrate from happy hours to 1:1 meetings.
Virtual group events can make creating connections challenging. If your mentor program is based virtually, one-to-one meetings can help ensure that both people receive each other’s undivided attention and provide a space for openness that may not occur in a group setting.
- Provide multiple avenues to connect.
Part of migrating away from cookie-cutter mentor programs is providing as many connection opportunities for your pairings as possible. Within your organization’s expectations for the program, ensure that both parties know what communication tools they can utilize and document their chosen modality and cadence to build their shared accountability.
- Lean into the advantages of remote mentoring.
Virtual mentoring removes certain physical biases, such as weight or height. Engaging without these biases allows people to create equitable relationships and foster a more inclusive company culture. Virtual mentoring also helps organizations pair employees regardless of their office location, creating better matches and internal networking opportunities.
- Align the mentoring program with organizational core values.
Throughout your organization's mentoring playbook, ensure there is language on why this is important to the company and how it benefits your employees. Aligning the mission of the mentor program to the organization's core values helps strengthen the connection in employees' minds of the investment the organization is making into developing its people and creates a shared expectation to make the program a success.
What impact does mentoring have on employee retention?
As a defining piece of the Great Resignation, employees want to work for a well-rounded employer. They want to feel that companies care about their personal growth and well-being, not just their ability to get the job done. Employers of choice recognize the impact mentorship and career coaching can have on retention.
One of the most pivotal times for mentoring is during onboarding and the first few months for a new hire. Your employee’s initial experience with the organization sets the tone for how soon they feel part of the company culture. Add in the remote work dynamic, and it becomes even more crucial for new employees to feel a sense of belonging.
By bringing in employees from different levels and functions within the company and creating a structured program, organizations can help employees feel connected from day one and establish an internal network they can draw on for support throughout their journey. Forbes suggests taking a team-centric approach to your mentorship program and offers some implementation ideas:
- Make the mentor program employee-driven and ask someone to create a reoccurring meeting and hold the team accountable. Also, gain buy-in from executive leaders and encourage them to promote the program company-wide.
- Mentors should agree on the program's purpose, tactics, content, and logistics. This includes establishing rules surrounding the overall cadence and length of the mentor relationship.
- Connect with HR to build the mentor program into the onboarding plan
- Ensure all new employees are assigned a mentor to ease the onboarding transition and serve as a go-to resource from day one
- Establish a standing meeting for mentors to connect and discuss successes and challenges
- Create check-in points throughout the program to gather feedback on how things are going and where to improve
In addition to fostering a people-centric and growth-oriented culture, an inclusive mentoring program helps enhance company-wide equity and diversity efforts by providing marginalized groups access to personalized, 1:1 career development and the opportunity to build a relationship with someone in leadership. These mentorship programs can also increase diversity in the organization’s talent pipeline, by giving visibility to these employees and preparing them for leadership roles.
A strong mentorship program is an invaluable resource for employee development. Providing internal career and personal growth must be part of strategic plans and your company culture. In a world where organizations constantly compete for talent, stand out with a mentorship program that reaches all employees- whether it is their first day or year 10.