A mentoring program is a tried-and-true tool that you may want to consider implementing in your office. “Why,” you ask? The benefits are numerous. Among other things, professional mentoring programs can:
- Help to train new employees
- Build leadership, interpersonal, and development skills for both senior and junior employees
- Help employees connect with their coworkers, which allows them to feel more willing speak their minds and communicate ideas.
- Contribute to a dynamic office culture
- Build employee loyalty and building team morale
It’s a win-win: making efficient use of resources the company already has — talented employees — to make your employee base even more talented. Any type of company, big or small, new or old, can benefit from mentoring. So how do you start a new mentoring program at your office, or revamp an old one?
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Define Your Mentoring Program Objectives
First, it’s important to define the objective of your mentorship program, and what you want to get out of it. Would its primary purpose be to teach newer employees skills over time, or do you want more cross-departmental collaboration? Maybe you’d like a more cohesive workplace, or for your employees to grow professionally.
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A great way to find out what your office really needs is to take an office survey. Send an anonymous questionnaire around asking what people might want to get out of a professional mentoring program. Try asking questions like:
- What skills do you feel you need to improve upon?
- What do you admire about your coworkers?
- What are your professional goals, and what do you see as the company’s goals?
- What skills do you have that you feel you could teach others?
Pick The Format
Once you’ve determined the goals of your mentorship program, it’s time to pick the format.
When you think of mentoring in the workplace, you may be a one-on-one, with a seasoned professional guiding a young, eager-to-learn newbie. That could work out well for your business. But keep in mind that you’re not restricted to that typical mentor-mentee relationship structure.
Consider other options, such as:
- Group mentoring: One mentor, multiple mentees
- Peer mentoring: A mentor/mentee relationship between people on the same job level
- Reverse mentoring: A senior employee as the mentee, and a junior as the mentor. This can be useful for teaching senior employees about newer technologies, as well as encouraging deeper communication across generations. These kinds of mentor relationships do more than teach — they build a relationship of openness and “dissolve barriers of status.”
- Team mentoring: Multiple mentors working with a single or multiple mentees. This is similar to group mentoring, but there are more mentors contributing knowledge and ideas.
- Supervisory: The classic, one-on-one mentor/mentee relationship. The guidance could be very structured, meeting once a week or once a month, or it could be relaxed, with the supervisor contributing their guidance whenever they see fit.
- Or, a combination of any of the above
In considering all of these options, it’s important to match the format to the culture of your company. If you work at a cool, casual startup with limited resources, where no employee is over the age of 26, you might want to consider a group mentoring program. The batch of new hires who just graduated last spring can learn all at once from someone more seasoned. Peer mentoring is also a great idea in a more casual workplace, where participants can bounce ideas off of each other and grow together.
If you work in a more traditional corporate environment, it may make more sense to consider classic supervisory mentoring in a structured environment with a set schedule. Or, you could mix it up and implement some reverse mentoring, which could breathe new life into the office culture.
Once you’ve picked the basic structure that fits within your culture, figure out the details. Plan out how long the program will be, how often participants will meet, and whether they will work on specific projects together.
Of course, the more structure your program has, the more work goes into the planning of the program. It’s important to create a program that not only fits your company culture, but also fits with your ability to manage it.
Top people at your company should advocate for the mentoring program, and participate themselves.
Emphasize The Program's Importance
You’ve created a great program, and now it’s time to get people to participate. Employees may be hesitant to join in for a number of reasons. They may not feel as if they need a mentor, or might think they don’t have the time to be one. Or, the whole prospect might sound dry or awkward to them.
Let people know about the program well before you’re going to implement it, and explain why it’ll be great for all involved. Tell them about the benefits of mentoring. Top people at your company should also advocate for the program, and participate themselves.
It’s also important to assure your employees that the mentoring meetings will be efficient, effective, and fun. One idea to ramp up the fun factor is make the meetings potluck style and encourage participants to bring their favorite foods to share.
Pair People Up
Pairing people together as mentor and mentee can also be a challenge, so this is another instance in which an office survey can come in handy.
Asking participants what they hope to get out of the program, what their goals are, and who they admire at the company could make it easier to pair people up. You might also want to consider asking employees what their hobbies are. Then, you can pair people who may be compatible and have something else to talk about besides work.
There are many strategies you could use for matching mentors and mentees, but keep in mind it’s important not to pair people at random. Put some thought into the generational differences, skill sets, and personalities of your employees in order to foster better bonding among team members.
Get Feedback And Evaluate
After your program is up and running, make sure to evaluate how it’s going. Regular check-ins will help you determine what participants are getting out of the program, and what they think could be improved. From this feedback, you can then tweak and tailor the program so it works best for employees.
When the program is finished, look back at the goals you set. Has there been improvement at your company in the areas you were hoping to improve? Have you gotten positive feedback? Has team morale gone up?
It may take several iterations to create the professional mentoring program that works best for your colleagues, but companies often find the benefits of mentoring make it all worthwhile. Employees will learn from their colleagues, feel closer, and care more about their work. And employees who care will be happier, and be great assets for your company.