What makes a good mentoring program?

It’s amazing how much the world has changed.  It used to be that learning through mentorship was so common that we barely noticed it was happening.  It’s only by comparing how we now live, communicate and work, that it becomes apparent how much we previously relied on mentors. 

When I was growing up, I learned how to cook from my mum.  I learned how to change a flat tyre from my dad.  I had teachers at school and university who guided me towards my career.  I had managers in my early career that shaped me and primed me for future challenges and endeavours.  That was the way it worked back then.   Now however, things are different.

Nowadays, people are more likely to learn how to cook from a Jamie Oliver book.  They are more likely to teach themselves how to change a flat tyre from YouTube.  Google is the modern day repository of knowledge, cutting out any need to go directly to your community (whether that is family, friends, colleagues or leaders) for the answers.

And so it follows that while people nowadays are more self-sufficient than ever, the concept of mentorship, particularly in business, has been lost along the way.  This is not an indictment of businesses; this is just a sign of the times.  With the average tenure of employment decreasing and job hopping or career changes more prevalent, people are simply not around long enough in one business to receive mentorship naturally.  Potential mentors are not around long enough in one business to offer their expertise and knowledge.

Those that are driven and smart about their career strategy will actively seek out a mentor; however it can be a difficult task to find the most appropriate person.  This is where having a formalised mentoring program can really help.

Of all the decisions made in business, the decision to offer employees a formalised mentoring program will be one where there can be no negative impact.  That’s a pretty big statement to make but think about it:

  • Every employee that undergoes mentorship will learn, grow and become a more productive worker. 
  • Mentees gain insight beyond their own education and experience and can be primed for leadership.  Those already in a leadership role can hone and improve their leadership skills.
  • Studies have demonstrated that employers stand to increase their rate of employee retention by 35%.
  • Retention of staff keeps valuable knowledge and IP secure in the business.
  • By offering mentorship, businesses improve their branding as employers of choice.
  • Employers will see a drastic improvement in ideas, performance, innovation and productivity – all positively effecting the bottom line.

Essentially, it is a win-win for both mentees and employers.

But what makes a good mentoring program?

Firstly, like any program or strategy implemented in a business, it is imperative to understand the objectives.  

  • What is the business trying to achieve?
  • What is the mentee trying to achieve?
  • How do these two objectives align?

Secondly, a business must ensure that the participants of the program understand the mentoring process, its benefits and are willing to commit the time and energy to be mentored.  The buy-in from participants is crucial and without it, the business will be wasting time and resources.

Thirdly, managers and the leadership team of a business should not only support the program prior to implementation but also be seen to support the program throughout its course. This inspires the participants, creates a positive environment for post mentoring action to take place and for new ideas to be heard and discussed.

The last aspect of a successful mentoring program is possibly the most important.  It is critical to find the right match between mentee and mentor.  The personalities of the two parties need to balance each other; not necessarily be the same, but be complimentary.  Ideally, the mentor will have the characteristics that the mentee either lacks or would like to strengthen. The experience of the mentor also needs to be relevant to the career journey of the mentee. There needs to be a high level of trust and respect in this relationship as a good mentor will need to have courageous conversations with their mentee, providing constructive critical feedback or bringing to the table a healthy dose of reality.

The process of matching mentee with mentor is often the most difficult as the success of a mentoring program is heavily dependent on the relationship between the two parties.  Connecting the right people together requires a high emotional intelligence as well as a vast network of professional contacts.

Formalised mentoring programs are a win-win for both individual employees and the business; however it is crucial to get all the elements right for the desired outcome. It is also important for businesses to understand that mentorship is an investment in a journey.  The benefits will be different in each case and one cannot expect a specific and direct correlation between mentoring and ROI.  If a business decides to invest in its people, there needs to be a long-term outlook of personal and professional growth.