Creating a Successful Corporate Mentorship Program

Very often employers implement mentorship programs without much forethought or planning.  They simply pair senior staff with new recruits and consider their work complete. While this type of ad hoc mentorship may work for some employers, more often than not, these types of mentorship program design produce spotty results, create negligible benefits, and falter or fade after a few months.


For many employers the slap-dash nature of their mentorship programs reflects the low priority they place upon programs of this sort. However, failing to provide meaningful opportunities for growth and development of young workers will invariably come back to haunt these employers.


Millennials are now entering the workplace at a rapid rate. Moreover, this highly sought employment group is highly discerning in their employment choices. Recent studies show that millennials place a very high priority upon both opportunities for advancement and workplace development. Additionally, millennials are a fluid and fickle group who will change employers freely, as their needs warrant. For these reasons, attracting and retaining this desirable demographic, relies upon the creation of a robust and effective mentorship program.


However, mentorship programs are valuable for all workforce segments. Employees that participate in mentorship programs (as both mentors and mentees) report higher workplace satisfaction, exhibit greater productivity, and express substantially more employer loyalty.


So what steps can you take to produce a mentorship program that works?


Structure your Mentorship Program


Structured mentorship programs are demonstrably more effective than undirected mentorship relationships. This is not to say that mentorship should be a rigid and mandated process. To the contrary, mentorship relationships that are imposed and must adhere to rigid mandates typically do not produce the positive outcomes affiliated by mentorship relationships that derive from natural affinity and personal interaction.


However, creating a structure for: training participants, pairing mentorship groups, setting expectations, and evaluating results allows productive mentorship relationships to arise and flourish.


The degree of structure imposed may vary. Some employers use mentorship vendors to create programs. Others create highly structured mentorship programs that employ advanced technology and precise guidelines. Others still lay out only a few instructions, in order to help mentor groups decide upon their own goals and means.


However, even the most informal of programs typically have institutional controls in place that provide a process for 1) pairing; 2) expectation management; 3) goal setting; and 4) evaluation. By creating this structure, employers can demonstrate commitment to the process and promote “buy in” at all levels. Moreover, a structured program is less likely to suffer from some of the ills that can derive from mentorship, namely cronyism, favoritism, and workplace segmentation.


Manage Expectations and Formalize Pairings


Often mentees misconstrue the nature of a mentorship relationship. Some mentees expect their mentor to be their workplace advocate or means to corporate advancement. Likewise, some mentors perceive their mentees as personal apprentices. While mentorship should create incidental advancement opportunities for all parties, it should never be a program’s explicit focus.


Blurring professional and personal boundaries in this setting can be fraught. This dynamic can promote quid pro quo entanglements or make mentees beholden to their professional benefactors. Often programs of this type cause internal divisions where cliques develop and junior employees are manipulated to serve senior staff’s professional aspirations.


For this reason, a formal mentorship mission statement should be formulated and understood by all parties. Often times a mentorship agreement is formulated between the parties at the relationship’s outset. While the participants frequently set the agreements terms, certain core conditions are typically required. Specifically, the parties should understand that the relationship: 1) is founded upon mutual respect; 2) is for a limited term and purpose; 3) and will not create direct opportunities for advancement.  Workplaces that allow mentors to influence their protégées advancement place themselves at risk of the ills described above as well as potential legal liability.


Additionally, allowing mentor pairs to self-select without any form of external guidance is not usually a good idea. For one, a recent survey by the Corporate Leadership Council has shown that mentorship programs that provide external pairing guidance promote higher participant satisfaction and create the most desirable results.


Moreover, by providing external guidance to mentorship pairings employers are able to militate against both favoritism and conflict.


Pairing methodologies vary widely, from survey-based pairings that employ complex algorithms to select desirable matches to panel selected match options based upon interviews and personal knowledge of the parties. Regardless of the method employed, a few common features should be respected.


First, if at all possible, direct reports should not be paired with their supervisors. Second, participants should be given a choice to anonymously approve or disapprove of their selections. Third, except where closely monitored diversity mentorship is involved; pairings should not be founded upon prohibited demographic factors such as race, sex, national origin, or religion. Finally, participation and pairing should be voluntary throughout the mentorship relationship’s tenure.


Train and Evaluate


Mentorship is both a skill and an art. Not all people are suited for it and even those that are require at least some instruction on how to best interact with their mentee in order to further shared corporate objectives.


Through a training program, all participants can gain a shared understanding of your mentorship program’s goals and methods. Not every mentorship program will work for every workplace. Some employers want their workers to gain technical skills through informal instruction. Other employers want to provide new workers with encouragement and leadership training. Still others use mentorship to indoctrinate and transition workers into a specific workplace or professional culture.


Regardless of your mentorship programs objectives, at least some form of training will serve to ensure that all parties are working toward the same ends and all parties are equipped to provide their wards with appropriate and competent support.


Training may consist of nothing more than a two-hour meeting where the programs format is described. However, training can also include counseling instruction, ethics discussions, leadership guidance, and formal skills refinement. Your mentorships programs objectives will dictate the type of training required, but at least some form of instruction should be supplied.


Additionally, mentorship relationships should be monitored and evaluated. Participants should have a setting through which their satisfaction can be assessed, at all stages of the mentorship relationship. Ongoing evaluation will allow for failed pairings to be revised and failed methods to be reformed.


Moreover, evaluation allows the parties to feel engaged with the process. By allowing the parties to assess benchmarks and goals through the mentorship relationship, you make them accountable for their own progression and development. When participants feel engaged by the mentorship relationship, they are more likely to imbue the experience with value and worth.


Of course, as noted at the outset none of these factors need to produce a rigid and bloodless mentorship experience. The mentorship relationship is a personal one. Successful mentorship derives from personal connection and investment. The best mentorship relationships are unforced and organic. However, while it seems counter-intuitive, setting up a nominal mentorship structure will give these relationships a better chance to form, grow, and thrive.