Employee mentoring is a popular way for businesses to integrate new employees into the organization as seamlessly as possible. But these programs can and should be so much more than that. Strong mentoring relationships not only provide support for new hires, but also help create an open, inviting culture that encourages all employees to contribute their ideas for improving the company.
In order for these programs to be rewarding, you must kick them off with a solid foundation. Here are some tips on getting started:
How to match mentors and mentees
Some employers make the mistake of having new hires shadow veteran employees in the hopes that key information will just naturally be transferred. However, this “follow Joe around” type of arrangement is typically an unproductive approach to onboarding, and certainly doesn’t qualify as a mentoring relationship — particularly if the mentor and mentee are a poor match.
To make a good match, you need data. One way to gain information is to create a questionnaire that asks interested employees about their career objectives, communication styles, and what they are looking for in a mentor or mentee. Then pair them up according to their responses. Successful mentor-mentee pairings are those where the participants have similar interests and personalities, as well as complementary goals.
How to establish roles and responsibilities
Mentoring relationships and programs vary not only from one organization to the next, but also from person to person. However, it’s important that all participants understand that “mentor” is not synonymous with “supervisor.” Mentors supply advice and guidance; they do not give work assignments nor tell mentees how to do their jobs.
After they’re paired up, encourage the mentor and protégé to grow their relationship by staying in regular contact. Check-ins by email or phone are fine, but occasional in-person meetings are critical. Some mentors and mentees have weekly coffee get-togethers, while others do lunch every month or two. For both parties to benefit from mentoring, they must meet consistently.
The person tasked with overseeing the mentoring program should check in with each participant a few weeks after they're paired up to make sure the relationship is going smoothly.
How to build strong employee mentoring programs
Make your mentorship program an integral part of the company culture. Promote it during the recruitment process, start matching new hires with mentors during orientation and make sure the pairs have the tools to succeed. This requires planning, internal marketing, training and plenty of follow up. Make sure managers at the highest levels talk up the program, emphasize its importance and are themselves participants.
In order for employee mentoring programs to be a success, there needs to be buy-in from both top management and rank-and-file staff. Kick it off during an all-company meeting or departmental retreat. Keep the communication clear, simple and positive. Make sure everyone knows participation is voluntary, but at the same time stress the importance of mentoring on career success and also the company’s bottom line.
Don’t expect the program to run on autopilot after launch. Request regular feedback from each participant and look for ways to improve processes. Be sure to collect success stories and testimonials for future program promotion.
How to highlight program benefits
The benefits of mentoring go beyond onboarding new employees. Mentoring relationships can result in:
- Increased knowledge transfer
- Smart succession planning
- Development of leadership skills
- Motivation for professional development
- Stronger internal networks
- Increased teamwork
- Improved employee retention
But mentees aren’t the only ones who benefit from mentoring relationships. Employees who take an active role in guiding and counseling others have the opportunity to develop their leadership skills, and show senior management their readiness to take on greater responsibilities. Mentors also note the satisfaction of helping others — paying it forward — as one of the biggest benefits of mentoring relationships.
What’s more, the learning goes both ways. For example, tech-native Millennials may be able to teach Boomer mentors how to harness the power of social media, though mentoring has less to do with age and is more about transferring knowledge. By purposefully matching employees of different generations and areas of expertise, you help employees diversify their skill sets.
As you put together an employee mentoring program, remember that it’s much more than simply a prolonged orientation. By making strong mentoring relationships an integral part of your corporate culture, every participant can benefit, which will only strengthen your department or company.