One of the simplest, easiest paths to success and productivity for businesses, in almost any industry, is through a robust mentoring program. Mentees (those being mentored) have the opportunity to learn from experts, understand their job duties more clearly and gain valuable insight into the innerworkings and “unwritten rules” of the office. Mentors are fulfilled by the responsibility bestowed upon them and they also gain valuable managerial and supervisory skills. Mentoring programs not only provide benefits for individual employees but also the company as a whole, generating a more cohesive team that produces higher-quality work at greater rates of productivity.
But mentoring programs also have the potential to go horribly wrong if not properly organized. Unless mentors are carefully trained and matched to well-suited mentees, these relationships can go awry and threaten the stability of the team. These pitfalls are easily avoided if higher-level professionals invest time and energy into building a sophisticated mentoring program and preparing everyone for their involvement. Here are some tips for doing just that.
Start at the End
Backward design is an important concept whenever one is planning a program of any kind. Often used in education, this strategy simply means that you identify the desired outcomes and goals of the program before making decisions on the strategy and method you will use to get there.
Backward design can easily be applied to your mentorship program. Consider your company’s needs. Why have you decided to employ a mentorship program in your office? Some potential desired outcomes might be:
- Quicker, more efficient job training for new hires
- Improved employee retention
- Improved team cohesion and culture
Starting with identification of these desired outcomes allows you to create a program that is responsive and detailed in its approach to achieving those outcomes.
For example, if you know the primary goal of your mentorship program is to improve job training for new hires, then it’s important to connect mentees with mentors who are intimately familiar with their job requirements. Alternatively, if your goal is improved team cohesion and culture, it might be preferable to connect mentees with mentors outside of their department to improve relationships across the board. Either way, identifying the final goals of the program has provided you with a framework for how you will match up employees—an integral part of the program’s design.
Don’t Force It
Like most relationships, the mentor/mentee relationship will not be successful if forced. This might seem like a basic concept, but many companies make the mistake of assuming a program will only be successful if it is employed for the entire team. In actuality, the program will only be successful if employed exclusively for those who want to participate.
Participation should be encouraged and accessible, but not required or even incentivized. If a mentor or mentee joins the program because of some additional benefit—say, an extra vacation day or a monthly bonus—their motivation will be misdirected, and they might not contribute to the program’s purpose.
Rather than forcing engagement with your mentorship program, make the intrinsic benefits (i.e., emotional support, superior job training, career advancement) explicitly clear to your employees so they are eager to participate. Additionally, make participation relatively simple: provide structured time for mentors and mentees to meet in the office on a weekly or monthly schedule.
Change and Adapt
Your mentorship program is never “finished.” Even if you see an immediate improvement in your desired outcomes, there are always ways to make your program better. Alternatively, if your outcomes aren’t immediately apparent after employing the program, don’t scrap the new program just yet.
Solicit feedback and assessments from those involved in the program. Monitor the progress of the program closely with an eye for how it can be improved. Try to identify problem spots. Are the mentors poorly matched to their mentees? Do the mentors seem ill-prepared to address the needs of their mentees? Do the pair simply not have enough time to build a fruitful relationship? These problems are easily addressed; it’s just a matter of identifying them first.
Mentorship programs are not a “set it and forget it” project. They require continual attention, even after they have been deemed successful.