Participants make a mentoring programme. You could have the best designed and structured mentoring programme going, but if mentors and mentees are not keen to get involved, it's not going to be successful. Recruiting mentors and mentees can be challenging, so we've compiled a number of suggestions from what we've seen working at Guider.
Firstly, it's important to bear in mind there are a number of different use cases for mentoring, and depending on the purpose and objective of your programme, the way you recruit mentors and mentees will differ. For example, getting sign ups for a graduate career development programme will be different to one aimed at those returning after parental leave. This should be factored into your planning stages to make sure you allow enough time for promotion and recruitment prior to programme launch.
Here are our suggestions on how to recruit mentors and mentees to your mentoring programme:
One of the most crucial factors in the success of any mentoring programme is leadership buy-in. Having the senior leadership team advocating for the importance of mentoring will have huge impact in how the programme is received throughout the business. Those who hold authority, on both a seniority and a personal level, have the power to influence sentiment within the workforce, and so it's important to get them on side.
Megan Taljaard, L&D Manager at NTT Data UK, reiterated this learning on a recent webinar after their CEO became a mentoring champion:
“Buy in from the senior leadership team is really important, because they’re the ones cascading it down and holding other senior leaders to account.”
This is particularly important if the mentors you are trying to recruit are very senior. Leaders are able to set a precedent around mentoring so that it comes to be expected of all senior managers. Factor this in during planning stages so you're not trying to convince people once the programme has already launched.
Before trying to recruit mentors and mentees, run a promotional campaign aimed at the senior leaders and those with influence in the business. Make sure they are bought into the vision of mentoring, specifically in the context of your organisation, and you will notice higher uptake.
An important part of promoting your mentoring programme is articulating the value. Mentoring is a voluntary activity which takes place on the side of your day to day role, and so if you're asking people to give up their time, you need to be able to explain what's in it for them. It will help to have clear and consistent messaging around mentoring so that everyone has the same idea of what it is and why they should care.
We'll cover what the actual value is next, but firstly you need to understand how you are going to reach the mentors and mentees you are trying to recruit. Some ways could be:
You can use multi-channel promotion to successfully raise awareness and remind people about the programme. Have a dedicated place for wider information that you can direct people to if they are interested in learning more, such as a PDF, a landing page, or a blog.
Involve your internal comms team at this stage to support you in reaching the right people, in the right way.
Now for the messaging itself...
Recruiting mentors is notoriously challenging. One reason is the common misconception around who qualifies as a mentor (clue: it's not only the most senior managers in your business) leaving many people feeling like they don't have enough experience.
Another is the idea that 'giving back' is the only thing you gain from mentoring someone else. While that is a hugely rewarding benefit in itself, leaving people feeling like their job is more meaningful and reducing anxiety, there are also a host of career and leadership development benefits for mentors.
We've listed a number of benefits for mentors below to help you articulate the value for your mentoring programme:
Depending on your programme and who is involved, some of these benefits might be more key to your messaging than others. For example, with a Diversity & Inclusion programme discussing race or LGBTQ issues in the workplace, you would highlight 'exposure to new perspectives' and 'self awareness'. Whereas a leadership mentoring programme might be more linked to promotion rates and paying it forward. Choose your messaging carefully to increase interest.
Where possible, speak with previous or existing mentors about the personal benefits they've experienced to help you articulate the value directly.
The benefits for mentees are more widely acknowledged, but that's not to assume that everyone will be aware of them, particularly if you are new to mentoring. There might also be some educating to be done here around what is expected of a mentoring relationship in case people feel intimidated or uneasy about what would be required of them.
The real value of mentoring is often not fully understood until you have personally experienced it, so make sure you articulate the benefits available to mentees, such as:
Similarly, your messaging will vary depending on the participants and objective of the programme. For example, growing a personal network will be a big driver for a new joiner or graduate programme, whereas being advocated for would be more valuable for a programme supporting under-represented or minority employee career development.
As above, try and collect testimonials from mentees who've had positive experiences with mentoring.
On that note...
Messages resonate most when we can relate to the people telling them. Based on the tips above, ask around and find success stories from within your organisation that can help you promote the programme.
Personal stories have the most impact, such as someone getting a promotion, overcoming a fear of public speaking, or hitting a career milestone. Ultimately, mentoring is about people, and so the more people you can involve in articulating the value, the easier recruitment will be – of both stakeholders, mentors and mentees.
Video has the biggest impact here, so approach individuals and ask if they'd be happy to share their story with you on film.
During the programme, if anyone has particularly positive feedback or anecdotes, ask them if they're happy to film or at least write it down. That way, when it comes to recruitment of future programmes, you already have great content you can use.
To create a buzz around the programme, schedule a kick-off event and invite all key stakeholders and potential participants. Event invites act as another comms channel, and you can use this time to articulate the vision and value of the programme face to face with your participants.
At Guider, we support our partners in this area by running onboarding webinars for mentors and mentees, covering benefits, best practice, and how to get the most out of the platform. We find this helps to provide an official start to the programme, and catch any questions or concerns before attentions drift.
Don't stop at a launch event, but schedule in a mid-way point and wrap up event too. This will help create a sense of community around the programme, maintain momentum, and provide a platform to celebrate success. For tips on effectively starting out, you should check out this article on starting mentoring programs.
If you've tried all of the above and are still struggling to recruit mentors and mentees to your mentoring programme, it could be worth revisiting the design phase to make sure there is no misalignment between what you're trying to do and what you're offering.
It's essential that the people you are aiming to support with the programme are involved in the design stage, so that you end up building a programme with that group in mind. This is particularly crucial for any mentoring programmes connected to Diversity & Inclusion initiatives.
At Guider we're always happy to talk mentoring, so feel free to also email me if you are experiencing challenges.