It’s no secret that a strong and robust mentorship program can be an invaluable asset for any business. Workplace mentorship programs are designed to encourage the personal and professional development of a mentee through the sharing of skills, experiences and insights. Employees presented with opportunities for growth are shown to be more engaged, dedicated and motivated towards their work. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that successful companies like Deloitte, Facebook and AirBnB have implemented world-class mentor programs to aid internal learning and development. A mentorship program can help new hires find their feet and gain a better understanding of how to achieve their career goals. The purpose of having a mentor is to keep mentees on track with their learning and guide them through their professional journey.
What is a workplace mentor?
Typically, workplace mentors are highly knowledgeable and qualified professionals who dedicate their time to helping others. They achieve this by offering advice, providing support and answering questions. Put simply, their role is to help foster the growth and development of less experienced individuals through challenging tasks, resources and encouragement. Working with a mentor can help employees reach their short and long-term career goals, while simultaneously building a more supportive workplace culture. However, a mentor does not necessarily have to be from the same company, they can also be influential figures within the industry. Either way, it’s a person who is willing to share their expertise and advice for the long-term benefit of the mentee and organisation. Although mentors may offer a variety of useful tools, tips, tricks and insights, it’s ultimately down to the mentee on how they wish to absorb and apply their teachings. While the experience is often highly rewarding for mentors and mentees, it can still pose a number of challenges. Therefore, both parties must use clear and concise communication in order to extract the most value.
What are the benefits of a mentorship program?
Mentorship programs are highly beneficial for all walks of life – whether it be for those who have only recently entered the workforce, or those looking to upskill. Not to mention, these kinds of programs can help businesses nurture and retain top talent, boost workplace engagement and foster organisational growth. By offering long-term support, both mentors and mentees stand to gain a number of benefits, such as:
- Stronger leadership and people skills
- Effective communication skills
- Alternate perspectives
- Broader networks
- Increased confidence
The most successful mentorship programs are those which acknowledge the importance of a strong mentor/mentee relationship. Without understanding how both parties can be beneficial to each other, the teachings lose their effectiveness. Mentorship programs should really be seen as a learning opportunity for everyone involved. Traditionally, these experiences were seen as a way to transfer information from a mentor to a mentee. However, through their own unique insights and perspectives, mentees also have the potential to provide value in return.
Successful mentoring does not take a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Each organisation and its workplace is different, meaning your mentorship programs should reflect those differences. Although it’s important to tailor each initiative to your organisation’s individual needs, there are a few points that are relevant to all working environments. So we’ve picked out the top five steps to help you get started –
1. Define the program’s goals
To get started, you need to define the parameters of your mentorship program and what you want to achieve from it. These programs are typically designed to nurture talent and improve employee performance. Perhaps you want to create a mentorship program that makes your workplace more appealing for potential recruits. Or maybe it’s one that focuses on integrating onboarding activities to help new hires build their confidence in the workplace. Another option could be developing a mentorship program that nurtures people into leadership and management positions. You want to focus your energy on where your business will benefit most. This means identifying who will be involved and why they are key to achieving your goals. By setting measurable, clear and attainable objectives for your mentorship program, you will have a better understanding of what needs to be accomplished. For all of this to be possible, you need your leadership team on board. Without their support, it can be difficult to plan effectively and fund resources for the program. Encourage management to get involved and reach out to mentees looking for advice. This not only proves to your employees that you care for their learning, but also helps foster a more inclusive work culture.
2. Describe how it will work
Well-organised mentorship programs offer structure and support to maximise its value. As we mentioned earlier, each program will be different, so it’s important to outline:
- How can employees access the program?
- Who can be a mentor (what level of experience or qualifications are required)?
- The duration of the scheme
- Whether it will be in a one-to-one format, group setting, in person or online?
- How will the program’s success be tracked and measured?
While mentors and mentees are encouraged to meet on a regular face-to-face basis, modern technology has allowed for the transferral of knowledge and resources through a variety of useful online platforms. This includes video conferencing tools like Zoom or communication channels such as Slack. The best part about these resources is they allow parties to effectively meet any time, anywhere; meaning remote employees can also join in on the fun. By tracking progress from enrollment through to completion, you’re able to evaluate the effectiveness of the program both parties and your business objectives. This also allows for greater reflection on the positives and negatives of the experience. Be sure to reach out to mentors and mentees for feedback. This information can help you restructure or improve future mentorship programs so they are more reflective of the current needs of the company.
3. Select each participant
Mentoring thrives on diversity. If you want your mentorship program to be effective, it needs a diverse set of mentors and mentees to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences. By doing so, both parties can identify strengths and weaknesses for improvement, and how they can work together to achieve this. Start by reaching out to staff to see who is interested in participating. Once you have an idea of who might be involved, you can gather useful details about each participant, such as their industry background, key skills, values and challenges. Ask your prospective mentors what it is they’d most like to provide their mentees and how they intend on delivering this. It’s vital businesses choose mentors who are dedicated, passionate and respected either within or external to the company. Select mentees based on their commitment to furthering their careers or upskilling their core competencies. To do so, ask yourself:
- What stages are our mentees and mentors at in their professional journeys?
- What educational needs and goals will the program address?
- How can we motivate people to participate?
4. Pair mentors to mentees
The strengths and weaknesses of a mentee should be complimented and balanced by those of a mentor. To facilitate an enriching experience, it’s important to be mindful of who you’re pairing and why. Mentees should be matched based on a number of criteria, for instance:
- Diverse yet complementary interests and hobbies
- Compatible personality types (can be identified through personality assessments)
- Generational similarities
- Experience, skills and insights that meet the mentee’s future career goals
One way of allowing input could be involving your mentors and mentees in the selection process. This could mean filling out a survey, meeting for an interview or providing options for both parties to choose from. Allowing participants to contribute to the final selection will provide them with a greater sense of comfort and inclusivity.
5. Provide continuous support and training
Before, during and after the program, you should provide mentors with ongoing training and development to help them support their mentees. Mentors must also learn how to balance their own expectations and company objectives. To facilitate this, start by discussing:
- What is a workplace mentorship program?
- What are the benefits?
- What skills are needed?
- What is the program’s duration?
- What is the structure?
These questions can be addressed one-on-one or in a classroom-style discussion. There are many different ways to structure a mentorship program for your workplace. It involves having a mentor demonstrate a new skill to their mentee, then watch and observe them in action to issue constructive feedback. Remember that the majority of people learn by doing, so keep this top of mind when developing a mentorship program. Although a mentee will see how an action or task is done, they also need to put theory to practice. Try to encourage as much involvement from both parties as possible.
The goal of mentorship initiatives is to equip your employees with the necessary tools for success. Having a structured and organised program will allow goal-oriented employees to advance their skills and broaden their skill sets. The best part is, you’re able to utilise the resources and connections your company already has. This means it’s a far more cost-effective learning incentive for your business. Providing opportunities for growth will help your company build a stronger, more connected and collaborative work culture. These programs continue to provide a wealth of benefits to employees, leaders and business owners. Although it can be a challenge to find the right mentorship program for your workspace, having a well thought out plan can help your business get a headstart on the path towards success. Why not find out what Australian employees really want from workplaces?