Would Your Employees Benefit from a Mentorship Program?
Chances are the answer to that question is yes. Mentorship programs offer a plethora of benefits to companies that use them as they were intended. Often businesses think of such programs as an added expense rather than what they are: an investment in your employee pool and your business’s own longevity. The following are a few things to keep in mind when considering mentorship programs…
First, your mentorship program should be run just like any other endeavor your business begins. It should be treated as a formal project, rather than as an informal addition. While personal relationships will undoubtedly bloom during a mentorship program, they are the cherry on top – not the sundae itself.
Second, mentorship means something different to every company. In fact, a unique system must be built from the ground up—or rather, from the goals up—for each individual company. There is no one-size-fits-all program that you can simply “plug and play.”
Lastly, mentorship programs aren’t static systems. They have to change with the times in order to stay relevant and continue to produce the positive benefits and results you’re looking for. So what exactly are those benefits and results?
The Benefits of a Formal Mentorship Program
Mentorship works as a sort of incubator – it plays an integral part in onboarding, talent development, and employee retention. It can supplement many such existing programs. In the words of Insala, a professional mentoring business, mentoring can often “provide a cost-efficient alternative for getting your employees up to speed.”
By pairing the employee with a coach, they’re brought into the fold on a very real level. They’re no longer learning from the outside in. This feedback relationship not only builds the new employee’s skillset, but also begins to create for them a tangible personal bond with the company – which is crucial for employee engagement and retention.
But it’s not all about new hire. In fact, mentorship can be used most effectively with existing employees. By carefully selecting mentor/mentee pairs, a business can groom certain employees for existing or future positions, solidify a desired skillset, and bring a fresh pair of eyes to an existing problem. Of course, this hinges partially on the fact that mentorship isn’t a one-way street. The relationship that’s constructed (even if “by force”) must be a mutually beneficial one—almost symbiotic.
When existing employees become mentors, the benefits reach far beyond their mentees. Being asked to become a mentor naturally boosts employees’ ego and confidence within the workplace, making them stronger employees. It also lets them know that all of their hard work—whether over the past few years or months—has been recognized and is appreciated.
In addition, these employee mentors will be able to see the company and their role within it through the eyes of someone less experienced – giving them a fresh perspective on common problems. Undoubtedly, this will further strengthen the employee/employer bond and improve work-relationships across the board.
In this way, mentorship becomes a win-win situation for the company. Not only are more experienced employees passing on skills that benefit the whole, but they’re receiving gratitude and gaining feelings of self-worth that don’t come from a simple pat on the back. In essence, they’re building a team-oriented culture for your company.
How to Start a Mentorship Program of Your Own
If you want to start a mentorship program at your company, there are a few things you must first consider:
Define the Goals You Want to Reach
Jim Welp (writing for techrepublic) says that any mentorship program is only as good as the goals behind the idea. Just because a mentorship program may sound “new age-y” doesn’t mean it should be implemented in such a manner. Your program can’t be vague or “mushy” – it has to be concrete and definable or you’re just wasting time.
After all, you wouldn’t enter into a fiscal year sales drive with the goal of simply “doing more than last year.” Instead, you’d set reasonable, concrete goals with a timeline with consequences for both failure and success. Do the same for your mentorship program.
Make the Mentorship a Priority – Not an Option
You shouldn’t force cooperation with your mentorship program, but if you let it be pushed to the back burner, you won’t see any traction. Instead, make the program a company priority. Dedicate adequate resources in order to market the program and its benefits internally as best you can.
Reward participants with public recognition for their achievements—employees have to know they’re getting something worthwhile from the program or they’re not likely to “waste” the effort. Again, don’t make these benefits vague and uninteresting. “Learning new skills” isn’t going to turn a single head, but “possible advancement to [insert title here]” just might.
Pair Mentors and Mentees Wisely
If you want to get the most traction from your mentorship program, think carefully about how you’ll pair your employees together. Don’t pair openly antagonistic employees together or those who already have a deep personal or professional connection. The former is a recipe for disaster and the latter a waste of resources. Instead, think about which employees offer the most desired skills and which employees could most benefit from learning them.
While matchmaking should be a factor, there’s also evidence that a random approach will be equally effective. In fact, executives at Nationwide found that somewhat random pairings netted unexpected results. While it’s good to be aware of obviously poor matches, you simply can’t plot every variable in complex interpersonal relationships—even “professional” ones.
It’s great to say that you have a mentorship program, but if your employees don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing, the program is useless. Schedule regular meetings between mentors and mentees and plot a logical progression toward your goal—just like you would with any other business-related goal. If necessary, create constructive activities or suggest certain standard practice elements so that you know your program is actually achieving something.
Monitor the Results
You can’t actually be sure that your program is successful, however, without some way of monitoring that progress. Just like any other program, your mentorship program should be monitored for productivity, cost versus benefit, and employee engagement. If something isn’t working, don’t hesitate to fix it.
Maybe it’s time for the learner to become the master – or maybe it’s time for mentees to learn afresh from a new mentor. Ultimately this is your choice as the employer, but routinely rotating mentors can help to keep people from getting “stuck” in the system. Preventing this kind of stagnation will continually improve the programs results.
Knowing When Enough is Enough
Every good thing must come to an end. No matter how successful your mentorship program is, it must either end or make room for new classes of incoming employees. Obviously the best time and place to stop is when you’ve achieved all the goals you laid out for yourself. However, if you’re not getting any closer to your goals, it may be time to redesign the program or simply pull the plug on it.
Again, no single program can meet your needs – no matter what some of those mentoring experts will try to tell you. Only you can truly tell when your program is top-notch, when it needs a little tinkering, or when it needs to be given walking papers. If you set it up well, you’re likely to get one of the first two results. If you don’t, there’s always time to start from scratch.