Covid-19 Update: We have written a separate article on running virtual mentoring programs to support remote workers during these uncertain times.
With more and more emphasis on workplace wellbeing and self-improvement, companies need to be investing in development opportunities for their employees to keep them fulfilled and happy at work.
Mentoring is one way to do that.
You probably already know the importance of mentoring in the workspace – but if you need reminding, check that link for a full list of benefits and statistics.
So now you're looking to find out how to start a mentoring program in your organisation.
Luckily, you’re in the right place. In this step by step guide we’ll walk you through the entire process of starting a mentoring program – from inception through to execution – highlighting challenges and tips along the way.
Let’s get to it…
Step 1: Define the Purpose & Goals
Firstly, what are the main reasons for wanting to start a mentoring program from an organisational point of view?
Is employee engagement low?
Are talented graduates leaving?
Is your gender balance in leadership highly uneven?
Whatever the reasons are, clearly define them with your team and make sure you keep them at the forefront when designing and running your mentoring program.
Secondly, identify key reasons and motivations for people to sign up to the mentoring program. These will naturally differ from the business' reasons, but are vital to define in order to attract people to the program and deliver value.
a mentee might sign up because they’re looking to get a promotion, or build their confidence.
a mentor might sign up because they want to hone their leadership qualities.
Thirdly, what are you looking to achieve from the mentoring program? And how can you measure success?
In order to tackle a challenge such as low employee engagement, you must define the metrics and KPIs you will be tracking in advance. You can use these KPIs to set goals in order to have a definition of success for your program.
a diversity mentoring program may track promotion rates and self-confidence of participants compared with non-participants.
This step is crucial to get right, as program managers will often have to report ROI of the program to senior management.
This being said, it's not all business goals and objectives. You must also outline what success could be for the mentees and mentors and how you can track and measure their goals as well.
💡 TIP 💡 Don’t make assumptions when it comes to the mentees and mentors involved in the program. At this planning stage, conduct some research to find out the key reasons for interest in mentoring amongst your company, and what they would be hoping to achieve by taking part. This way you can design your program to fit both your needs as a business and the needs of your people. It will also help when it comes to attracting participation!
From this first step, you might decide to design a whole mentoring program around a specific goal, as LVMH have done with increasing gender diversity.
Step 2: Design the Mentoring Program
Time for the details. Some things to outline at this stage:
How many spaces are available?
Is it exclusive or inclusive? (i.e are you choosing participants)
If it’s inclusive, how can people sign up?
What is the sign up process?
How will you encourage sign ups?
How will you launch the program?
How long will the mentoring relationship last?
What is the commitment expected from participants?
How will you monitor progress?
How will you report success?
There are a whole host of other questions to help design the specifics of your mentoring program, with a lot depending on the type of organisation and the objectives of the program.
The trick is to try and be as detailed as possible here, and map out your whole mentoring program from start to finish.
Step 3: Onboarding Mentors & Mentees
A key challenge for mentoring program organisers is doing all of the work above, and then getting low participation rates. Mentoring programs can only scale if the promotion and onboarding is working effectively.
How to attract people to your mentoring program:
1. Communicate the benefits for mentors and mentees Don’t assume people will already know why they should care about mentoring. To drive interest you need to really highlight what’s in it for them. If you need a reminder, we have some killer statistics.
2. Remove as many barriers to entry as possible People may not sign up to a mentoring program because of a lack of time, or a fear that it will double their workload, or that they won’t be able to commit.
These are all valid concerns, so anticipate them in your promotion by highlighting the flexible nature of your program. Be transparent about expected commitment because ambiguity will dissuade people from signing up.
3. Offer training and preparation materials For many, this could be their first experience of mentoring. To encourage as many people as possible to sign up to your mentoring program, try offering training and preparation materials so people feel informed, and therefore more comfortable to commit.
4. Get key stakeholders and leaders on board Find the people in your organisation with the most influential weight and sell them the dream first. If you can get them signed up to the program and talking about it with others in the business, they will act as ambassadors for the program and encourage sign ups.
If you can do all of the above, you shouldn't have a problem attracting participants to start a mentoring program.
Step 4: Matching Mentors & Mentees
This step also raises a lot of issues for HR and L&D teams. You’ve done the hard work of designing the program and onboarding lots of eager participants – now, how to match them?
The details the participants were required to enter upon sign up – such as skills, experience, interests and so on – can be used to match mentees with mentors who can best help them reach their goals.
Most of the time, this is done manually by the program organisers, as they have the best knowledge of the objectives and participants. However, this manual matching is naturally subject to human bias, as they are choosing who gets to be mentored by who (or ‘playing God’ in a slightly dramatic analogy).
To avoid this, businesses can use mentoring software to match their employees. Guider is powered by AI and makes smart mentor matches based on data from existing mentoring relationships. This removes bias and democratises mentoring within organisations.
Step 5: Maintaining Mentoring Momentum
Now the mentors and mentees are matched and connected, your mentoring program is well under way. But if you thought this is where you can sit back and let the mentoring relationships blossom, you thought wrong.
Mentoring can easily lose momentum, typically because it’s new for both parties and not part of their routines yet. Without structure, guidance, and inspiration – such as reminding them why they signed up – you can expect a number of your participants to drop off.
It’s therefore important to check in with mentors and mentees, as well as ask for reports and feedback!
💡 TIP 💡 At the beginning of a mentoring relationship, make sure the mentee outlines clear goals to their mentor for what they want to achieve. This will give the relationship direction and objective, as well as hold both parties accountable for reaching the goals.
With mentoring often happening offline, it’s also hard for program managers to have visibility over the success of the relationship, or even know if it's happening at all. That’s why using a mentoring software can help eradicate these issues, as all communication and goal setting takes place on the platform. Making it easy for the participants and the program manager to keep track.
Creating a community around the mentoring program will also help maintain momentum. Send a regular newsletter to all participants of the mentoring program, featuring content about getting the most out of the relationship, as well as personal development tips.
This is also a great place to celebrate any successes and make everyone feel part of something. If you have an end date for your program, why not host an event to get everyone in the program together to thank them for their participation. Rewards and community benefits will reduce drop off.
Step 6: Measure Success & ROI
The final stage of starting a mentoring program is measuring its success against its objectives. Running these programs (as this guide demonstrates) takes a huge amount of work, and so program managers will often have to report back and prove ROI.
It’s important to measure success across all areas of the mentoring program, as even if you haven’t quite hit your targets as a business (employee engagement for example), the positive outcomes for the mentees in terms of their personal development could still be overwhelming, and so you can’t rule it out as a failure.
Things to measure:
The business objectives outlined
Have you hit your KPIs as a result of the mentoring program?
Mentee personal development
Did the mentee achieve their goals? What impact did the mentoring program have on them?
It’s also crucial to ask for feedback from all participants at this stage. Were the mentors satisfied with the outcome of their relationship? Would they mentor again? What could be improved about the program? What were the biggest challenges? And so on.
If it’s the first time you’re starting a mentoring program, you will learn endless amounts on how to improve and iterate for future cohorts.