How to Build a Successful Employee Mentoring Program

Sustained success is the goal of any business. In the sports world, a great example of this is the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, NCAA champions in 2014 and eight times since 2000.

The team knows how to win basketball games, and that knowledge has been successfully transferred from roster to roster for well over a decade, with hundreds of players flowing through the program.

Your business can build that same kind of chemistry and lasting productivity with the help of an effective employee mentoring program.

(Net-cutting ceremony optional, of course.)

Why mentoring?

A successful employee mentoring program can create a variety of positive outcomes. But it should exist for one reason – to address an organizational need.

Such needs might include:

  • Leadership and management development
  • More effective onboarding/acclimation of new hires
  • Knowledge transfer when employees retire
  • Boosting retention
  • Enhancing customer service

After all, if there’s not a solid need behind the effort, how would you measure its success?

Getting more bang for your buck

Small businesses can benefit greatly from mentoring because it’s relatively cheap compared to formal training and development programs.

Mentoring can also be more effective than formal training, which is often built as a one-size-fits-all solution for any business. Unlike formal training courses, mentoring often results in much deeper, personalized conversations and feedback.

Additionally, mentoring increases an organization’s “bench” strength, making it easier to keep things moving when a team member is out of action.

Follow the leaders

Now that you’re ready to get a mentoring program up and running, where do you start? To develop your company’s future leaders, you’ll first need to get buy-in from today’s leaders.

Try tying the program to the company goals expressed by your decision makers. These goals can help you uncover that all-important need mentioned earlier.

Other reasons for the company brass to back a mentoring program include:

  • Programs based on a particular needs tend to have better adoption rates
  • They want to engage employees in a different way
  • They may have been mentored themselves

But leadership’s involvement doesn’t stop after they say “Go.” That’d be like a coach showing up for practices but skipping the games.

Your leadership team should be vocal in their support of the program – or even volunteer to BE a mentor. This will help ingrain mentoring upon the company culture, making it a powerful development tool for years to come.

Don’t go shooting airballs

As with any other developmental endeavor, there are ways to quickly derail the whole thing. Your mentoring program will be less likely to miss the mark if you avoid the following pitfalls:

1. One-way mentoring – Mentoring should never be just the tenured teaching the new. It’s a great way to get new hires used to the company’s workflows and processes but can also re-energize and re-engage workers in the middle of their career.

2. Haphazardly choosing mentors – When looking for candidates, make sure they have the necessary communication skills. Do they listen to their mentees? Avoid those who might take the “sit back and let me show you how I’ve done it for 30 years” attitude.

3. “Match-making” – Pairs shouldn’t be chosen only because their personalities are compatible. It’s not a blind date. A match should be based on the skills of the mentor and the needs of the mentee.

4. Not taking a practical approach – Let the mentee get involved in the actual work. This helps the learning take hold while building confidence in the mentee and trust in the mentor and supervisor. In customer-facing roles, this helps forge new relationships with customers and keeps them at ease in the event of a “handoff.”

5. Lacking a referee – Somebody, the program’s administrator or each participant’s supervisor, should monitor the relationship and ensure that the mentor is choosing activities that benefit the mentee and the company. Management’s involvement will be crucial to keep the program running smoothly.

6. Letting it look like a fast track – Mentoring shouldn’t be perceived as a springboard for promotions. Participation doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t guarantee anything either.

7. Using it as a crutch – Mentoring doesn’t replace poor performance management processes or day-to-day leadership. The mentor shouldn’t become the mentee’s de facto supervisor. That would undermine the authority of their regular manager.

Wrapping things up

A business doesn’t ever reach a point where it has enough people fully developed. And, arguably, mentoring should be an ongoing leadership competency in our rapidly changing world of work.

But if you’ve given people some new experiences and they’ve done well, there’s no problem in bringing the mentoring cycle to a close.

When the mentorship has run its course, hold a wrap-up meeting or graduation ceremony to mark the occasion. This is another great place for senior leadership to step in and sing the program’s praises, cheering the efforts of all those involved.

Want to learn more about creating effective employee development programs that set your business up for success? Download our free e-book, How to Develop a Top-notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business.