MentorMentoring can be a powerful tool for retaining and nurturing great employees, encouraging internal promotions, and creating a more inclusive work environment. A quarter of U.S. companies now offer peer-mentoring programs, according to a Corporate Executive Board survey. That’s a pretty dramatic increase from 2007, when only 4-5 percent of companies reported having peer-mentoring programs.

There’s good reason for the increase in mentoring. Most millennial workers — currently the largest population in the workforce — want mentors, so these programs are especially popular at companies looking to attract and retain millennial talent. One type of mentoring, known as “reverse mentoring,” pairs a seasoned professional with a younger worker so the younger worker can teach the pro about technology, social media, and other topics that pertain to today’s ever-shifting business landscape. Other types of mentoring include e-mentoring and group mentoring. 

Whatever format of mentoring a company chooses, an effective program requires good communication and planning. According to research conducted by MBA@UNC, here are some of the key steps involved in creating successful mentoring programs:

1. Set Program Objectives

Before a company implements a mentoring program, HR and talent management professionals should identify what needs the program will help meet. Will the program provide technical training or pass on institutional knowledge to emerging leaders? Will it address a specific organizational need? Get as specific as possible in defining program objectives. Use SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goal formatting and link these goals to the company’s defined business objectives. Companies should also create governing committees with senior leaders and representatives from different departments or locations to help shape the program and identify potential mentors.

2. Determine the Program’s Structure

During this stage, you’ll want to consider the organization’s culture and the people needed to meet the program’s goals. Also decide on what metrics you’ll use to measure the program’s success.

BuildFor instance, if your goal is to increase the promotion rate of high-potential employees, then you might compare employees participating in the mentoring program with a control group of non-participating employees. Also consider how you’ll match mentors with mentees and what you’ll do if a pair doesn’t hit it off as hoped.

3. Communicate Prior to Launch

Clear communication before the official start of the mentoring program will help get initial and ongoing support for the program from upper management, as well as the company at large. Introduce the program to employees at all levels so that everyone understands the program’s goals and objectives, as well as who is eligible and how to sign up. Be clear about why a specific group was selected for mentoring. Promoting the program to all employees also helps identify interested mentors and mentees.

4. Launch Program and Train Participants

Don’t just leave mentors and mentees to their own devices. Train pairs or groups in a formal, classroom-style setting so they can learn more about their responsibilities and the skills and behaviors of great mentors. Ideally, they’d learn from a professional trainer with expertise in mentoring. After training, HR should check in periodically to make sure that pairs are meeting objectives, recording milestones, and generally benefitting from the mentoring relationship.

5. Evaluate Effectiveness

MeasureEstablish check-ins at the two-, four-, six-, and eight-month marks — and then a final meeting upon completion of the mentorship experience. At the end of the program (often 12 months), several people within the organization will likely want to know about the program’s effectiveness. Senior leaders will want to know how the program met organizational objectives. Those on the committee will want to hear if participants met their personal objectives. HR and talent management will want to consider how the program structure worked and how it could be tweaked to be more effective in the future.

Evaluate the program using mix of qualitative measures — like surveys or interviews — and quantitative measures, such as the number of mentor/mentee applications received, the number of successful matches, and the number of promotions. 

By carefully engineering a mentoring program structure that fits the needs of the individuals and the organization, employers can create mentoring programs that benefit everyone involved, from mentors and mentees to the organizations for which they work.

To learn more about building a successful mentoring program, download the full guide from MBA@UNC.

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