checkI remember the moment I swore that I would always value my employees. It was the late 90s, I was the head of sales and my boss was sitting across the table. “Sales people are a dime a dozen,” he said. “I could replace anyone working here tomorrow and not miss a beat.” That told me everything I needed to know about my value to the organization and it didn’t take long before I left and started my own company.

My boss’ thinking wasn’t atypical in the 1990s. Workers were plentiful and management could rule with a “my way or the highway” mindset. But not anymore.

With baby boomers – all 80-plus million of them – starting their exodus from the workforce and into retirement, the labor pool is shrinking. No, Chicken Little, that doesn’t mean the sky is falling. But it does mean that organizations that distinguish themselves as destinations for talented and valued employees will see their stock rise…and not just on Wall Street.

A quality organization requires quality people. In order to attract quality people – and keep them – an organization must create a culture that is attractive to the best and the brightest, not just in the short-term, but in the long-term as well. They have to become “destination” organizations, not stepping stones to bigger and better jobs. A quality mentoring program can help an organization do just that.

Mentoring can help establish an organizational culture that is attractive to the top talent clamoring for growth opportunities. Mentoring is a tangible way to show employees that they are valued and that the organization’s future includes them. Mentors provide career guidance, build skill sets and pass on organizational knowledge. Protégés are armed with career insight that can help them give and gain long-term value.

We have worked with numerous organizations, from larger for profit to small emerging to non-profits, that are traveling this path of attracting and retaining talented people with internal mentoring programs. Most mentoring programs are conducted within the walls of an organization due to the need for mentor-protégé pairs to be close enough to each other to facilitate meetings and projects. But advancements in technology and e-learning capabilities have made it possible for an executive in Boston to mentor a protégé in a far-flung branch of the organization as far away as Australia. With online mentoring, geographical barriers are eliminated so that organizations with dispersed workforces can match up the best mentor-protégé combinations regardless of location.

Online mentoring programs provide a systematic process for matching protégés with mentors and facilitate the best matches based on competencies, knowledge and goals – sort of like an online match-making service for mentors and protégés. Not only does it take the guess work out of pairings, it provides consistency, is non-discriminatory and cost-effective. Online training can provide customized protégé development plans, assist with scheduling meetings, and track and report results. For example, an online mentoring program has the capability to conduct evaluative surveys, analyze data and measure bottom line results so that you can quickly discern the value of the mentoring program to your organization.

Whether you establish an online or a traditional mentoring program, it’s important to follow tested practices. Not just anybody can mentor. The vast majority of mentoring programs fail because there is an implied simplicity in the core concept of mentoring. To develop a sustainable mentoring program, try following these five best practices:

  1. Set business goals. Don’t establish a mentoring program just because it is a good business practice.  Develop a mentoring program based on solid business goals such as increasing diversity or making your organization a better place to work.
  2. Find out why the talented employees you wanted to keep left you.  McKinsey and Co. asked top people what they look for when deciding which organization to join and stay with.  The answer: a great organization and a great job. Talented employees want exciting challenges and ample opportunities for development and growth. They leave because they are bored. Mentoring can provide growth challenges and retain talented employees.
  3. Hire a knowledgeable and talented guide. Don’t become a statistic and start a mentoring program that ultimately fails. Get the help of an experienced mentoring consultant to steer you in the right direction. It’ll save you time and money and result in a mentoring program that adds value to your organization.
  4. Show bottom line results. Losing talented employees and wasting talent costs money. Incorporate evaluative surveys along the way so that you can point out how mentoring helped with recruiting, retention, morale, productivity and growth.
  5. Get commitment from the top. Remember, whatever program you design, it will not be effective unless it has the visible backing of the leaders in the organization.

Mentoring provides the employee and the organization win-win relationship. Organizations can become employers of choice – destinations instead of stepping stones – and employees will gain valuable guidance, development and meaning in their careers.

So which one is your organization, a destination or a stepping stone for today’s and tomorrow’s top talent? A quality mentoring program can make the difference in your answer.

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