How to Easily Launch and Scale an Employee Mentoring Program
From increasing productivity and diversity to reducing employee turnover and upgrading the skills of everyone involved – employee mentoring programs do bring in a host of tangible benefits to public and private organizations. With an emphasis on communication, such programs are also particularly important at a time when remote work is becoming increasingly popular.
Of course, to truly experience the above-mentioned benefits – and a host of others not described here – a company needs a well-thought and well-executed employee mentoring program.
What is an employee mentoring program?
Employee mentoring programs pair people from across an organization in a bid to promote mutual learning and skill sharing. The interactions are structured so that the mentor and mentee (or mentees) form lasting professional bonds through which both parties develop and grow. In most companies mentoring is a voluntary activity.
In traditional programs, the mentor is more senior than the mentee but this does not imply a one-sided relationship. Both parties benefit by learning and practicing new skills. In fact, a successful program is not based on hierarchy and seniority. More and more companies are recognizing the value of peer monitoring (more on this later). In addition, valuable professional interactions and relationships can also be cultivated beyond the confines of formal mentoring programs and within the scope of a person’s wider professional network.
Why is mentoring important in the workplace?
Mentoring is a valuable tool for companies looking to develop a leadership pipeline. For employees it means a chance to upgrade skills and acquire knowledge which in turn could improve career prospects. In fact, according to a study by Sun Microsystems, when compared to peers, mentors are six times more likely to get promoted following their participation in a program, while mentees are five time more likely to move up the career ladder.
An equally important aspect of mentoring is the tremendous impact it can have on employee engagement. Research shows that employees are more engaged if they believe their employer supports them and their development. Mentoring does provide ample opportunities for development and growth and in addition it allows for employees to connect on a more personal level. All of this combined can potentially increase feelings of safety, confidence and belonging. Employee mentoring is also an important tool in a strategy to boost diversity and inclusivity.
What’s the challenge of mentoring at the workplace?
Of all the challenges to creating a successful mentoring program, pairing the mentee with the right mentor (and vice versa) is the most difficult, according to the authors of Designing Workplace Mentor Programs. Oftentimes, the professionals who are most admired and sought after can be very busy and unable to dedicate enough time to mentoring. A match could also fail because the mentor and mentee do not have enough in common in terms of interests or skills they want to explore together. Differences in communication style are yet another reason that could make hte interaction not enjoyable and productive for the parties. A lot hinges on how the mentor and mentee are paired and, as we will see later, technology can offer invaluable help in producing successful matches at a fraction of the time required for manual matching.
What you should consider when designing a employee mentoring program?
The first questions to answer is why the program is necessary and what purpose it is expected to serve. Is it to help new employees settle or to cultivate the future leaders of a company? Will it aim to remove barriers, increasing diversity and inclusion, or will it target all employees looking for growth? The main aim could also be increasing team cohesion in the aftermath of a merger.
Role management is another important factor. Besides the traditional mentor-mentee relationship based on seniority, it is also possible to offer peer mentoring or even reverse mentoring which is particularly valuable if knowledge sharing between generations and digital transformation are the desired goals.
Additional helpful questions to ask:
- What is the best group size?
- Does the result require continuous mentoring or can it be achieved with a program?
- Will participants be formally evaluated following the mentoring?
- What are the eligibility requirements for those who wish to apply?
- Could external mentorship support prove beneficial?
Regardless of the format and the type of mentorship chosen, a program is not likely to be successful if it feels too bureaucratic. It should be personal, leaving plenty of room for the participants to make it fit their schedules and needs. At the same time, structure is required to ensure participants meet regularly. Face-to-face communication is still the most beneficial but short virtual check-in sessions could be added to accommodate busy work schedules. Remote mentoring, too, is becoming a popular option.
Use the power of peer mentoring
While traditional mentoring programs pair seasoned managers with less experienced and typically younger employees, peer mentoring encourages people at similar levels within the organization to exchange skills and experience. It is used very successfully to help new recruits find their bearings, or to boost creativity by teaming up people from different departments.
Everyone's a winner in a well-executed peer mentoring program. Companies experience increased engagement and motivation among staff. A peer mentor can help an employee learn new skills and valuable information, thus enhancing career prospects. The psychological aspect of having the support and guidance of someone who has been through similar experiences should also not be underestimated.
It could be argued, though, that even greater psychological benefits are experienced by the person who is providing the support. Peer mentors typically experience increased confidence, higher job satisfaction, and a better understanding of themselves. Their communication skills improve and so do their career prospects. More on how to be a good peer mentor (spoiler alert: one needs to be a great listener, not a know-it-all) is available here.
Mentor matching - how does it work?
Traditionally, employees joining a corporate mentorship program tend to have very little say in selecting their mentors. The task of matching participants is usually up to a program manager who reviews a set of formal criteria and makes the call. This type of manual matching is random, unsystematic, and takes up considerable amounts of company time and resources.
A more sophisticated approach to mentor matching engages the mentor and mentees in the selection process. Mentees are invited to give feedback on what it is that they want to learn and who they think could be a valuable mentor for them. In addition, not all employee mentoring programs need to last 18 or even six months. If the goal is to encourage skill sharing around a particular skill or subject matter, on-demand mentoring is a better option.
Increasingly, companies are taking advantage of the capabilities of automated matching solutions. In contrast to manual matching, automated matching allows for a deeper look into participants’ interests and skills, resulting in better matches between mentors and mentees.
Mentoring KPIs: measure the performance of mentoring programs
Mentoring program KPIs typically focus on participant satisfaction and learning and development goals. With regards to the latter, one approach involves asking participants to outline a set of learning goals prior to joining the program. At the end of the program, progress is measured against that checklist.
A key point is to design KPIs which measure the actual business impact of an employee mentoring program by focusing. A well-designed program should have helped increase employee engagement as well as retention rates. Many companies also measure changes in inclusion and diversity, for example by tracking numbers of underrepresented groups at various levels within an organization.
For an exhaustive picture, information should be gathered via surveys, reports, and analytics tools with the latter particularly effective in tracking changes in complex variables like employee engagement.
How can mentoring programs be sustainably integrated into the company?
All the best ideas will remain just this if they are not properly implemented. The successful integration of employee mentoring programs boils down to three critical factors: purpose, peers, and platform.
Purpose: It is important that the goals of the program and its potential benefits to employee wellbeing, productivity, and the corporate bottom line are communicated across the ranks. Everyone, from junior employees to mid-management to executives should be made aware of the benefits that participation can bring. The awareness-raising can take the form of special events where staff is introduced to the program and its objectives in a more relaxed, less formal setting.
Peers: Everyone can be a good mentor and this is well understood by companies that run peer mentoring programs. Such initiatives are particularly useful if the end goal is inclusivity and a heightened sense of belonging among employees.
Platform: A technology solution is a great way to recruit participants, make sure they stay engaged, and measure the effectiveness of an employee mentoring program. Technology solutions surpass manual matching in their ability to match participants based on specific skills and interests, creating opportunities that would not have existed otherwise. They also increase transparency and accountability. Last but not least, sometimes mentors lose interest if a match was not great, or they get preoccupied with work once a mentoring cycle is over. A mentoring platform has all the mentor profiles and data easily available and this makes it easier to keep them engaged with the program over many cycles.
Use Mentessa to scale to 100% with automated mentor matching
"Matching is a burden I wouldn't miss for a second," says an HR Manager from our community. Indeed, manual matching is repetitive, boring, and time-consuming. This is why mentoring programs relying on manual matching can only reach one percent of employees! Add to this the fact that, like anything done by human beings, there is plenty of room for bias.
In comparison, automated matching can quickly scale mentoring to 100% of the workforce, freeing up the program managers to focus on program promotion, alignment, and community-building activities – a much better use of their time.
Now on to human bias. Firstly, algorithms can be designed to be more fair and inclusive than program administrators. More importantly, experience has shown that employees are more honest when filling out online matching forms about their skills and knowledge gaps. When the need to look good in front of others is removed, employees share their needs more authentically and this presents management with a more realistic picture of the actual challenges that need solving.
Mentessa is a software company on a mission to remove barriers to diversity and collaboration in the workspace. Used by clients on three continents, its platform is flexible, easy to use, and offers all types of matching flexibly to accommodate different mentoring needs:
- on-demand self-matching by employees
- automated matching based on a matching survey
- automated batch matching for mentoring programs.
Program managers can easily adjust the solution to meet their needs as Mentessa’s matching algorithms are packed in ready-made templates. These templates can be easily turned on or off, or they could be adjusted, offering the kind of flexibility much needed in a VUCA world.
Book a demo now to see how Mentessa can help you launch your employee mentoring program: