How to Build Mentorship Programs That Last and Build Connection

Posted in Best Practice Thoughts & Culture

The upsides of an effective mentorship program can’t be understated:

  • A full 25% of employees who participated in mentorship programs earned raises (compared to only 5% of workers who didn’t), and mentored employees are promoted five times more often than their non-mentored counterparts.
  • On top of that, employees who are involved in mentorship programs have a 50% higher retention rate, and 87% of them reported feeling empowered by their mentoring relationships and said they’ve developed greater confidence because of them.

But, while the benefits of mentorship meetings abound, there’s one thing that completely thwarts their effectiveness:

When they don’t happen.

Many mentorship programs fail, despite being built with the best intentions.

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It’s a common tale:

HR departments invest days and weeks collecting executive buy-in and sponsorship, building out the “bones” of the mentorship program (the schedule, goals, and guidelines), encouraging participants to join, and then setting up the pairings.

But then, when it’s up to the mentors and mentees to keep the program going, participation drops, and the program slowly falls apart as “real work” gets in the way.

And you can see this happening all over the place — 100% of Fortune 50 companies and 84% of Fortune 500 companies boast a formal mentorship program, yet only 37% of employees report having a mentor. Big disconnect.

What’s worse, poor mentoring experiences have actually been shown to have the potential to cause lasting physical and psychological effects on their participants.

Clearly, the issue isn’t getting the program set up. The real struggle is keeping the program constructive and keeping employees engaged.

How to build mentorship programs that don't fizzle

Ok, we’ve already shown that the logistics of setting up a mentorship program aren’t the biggest challenge, so we’re going to focus on the more important bits:

For a mentorship program to be successful, mentors and mentees need to feel that the program is meeting their expectations, fitting into their flow of work, and adding value, and these elements are best achieved through consistency and reinforcement.

When you first realize the need for a mentorship program, you might be tempted to dive right in and start pairing people up, but haste often leads to a program that doesn’t last past the first couple of meetings.

Before you start pairing up your mentors and mentees, there are a few steps you should consider:

1) Create an intake questionnaire or survey.

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What are your mentors’ and mentees’ goals? What are their skills? What are their communication styles? What are they hoping to get out of the experience?

To establish a firm foundation, you need to ask for this information upfront and be thoughtful in the way you match up your mentors and mentees.

Also, once your partners are paired, you shouldn’t just toss those surveys in the bin! Keep them around and use them during low periods to remind your employees of their goals and the reasons why they wanted to participate in the program in the first place.

2) Determine what kind of connection your company needs in order to grow.

How to Become a Workplace Culture Leader

Does your business need to strengthen the relationships within your teams, or do you need to foster new relationships across your organization?

Remember that mentorship programs are primarily designed to help your people, but they can also help your company accomplish its goals too.

Make sure to check out our research on the four quadrants of connection and establish mentorship relationships that will produce the results that your people — and your business — are expecting.

3) Consider a mentor training program.

As we discussed, a poor mentorship experience has the potential to cause more issues than it solves, so we need to treat mentorship as the skill that it is and help equip our mentors with proper training before they begin the mentorship process.

Remember, when creating this training, you should incorporate best practices like breaking the training into smaller, manageable pieces, making it collaborative, and encouraging manager involvement throughout the process.

The mentorship program fits into my flow of work.

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Let’s face it: Making time for mentorship is hard — especially between employees in different departments with different work schedules and working arrangements — but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Here are three things you can do to help your people prioritize their mentorship time and realize its value in conjunction with their typical workload:

  1. Ensure your managers and executives regularly voice their support of the mentorship program and lead by example by participating.
  2. Integrate mentorship-related metrics into employees’ expectations and KPIs so mentorship doesn’t feel like “fluff” or an extracurricular activity.
  3. Use a people engagement software like Enboarder to send your mentor/mentee pairs relevant nudges at the right times to help provide topical suggestions, keep them on track, and keep mentorship top-of-mind, despite their busy schedules.

Our employees have no shortage of work, so to keep them engaged with their mentorship relationship, we need to be sure that we continuously stress the importance of the program to their personal and professional growth and allow for flexibility.

The mentorship program is adding value.

From topline industry statistics, we know that good mentorship programs add value to our people and our businesses, but how well and how often do we format and share our business-level success with our mentors/mentees, executives, managers, and the rest of our organization?

Case studies and testimonials are a great and simple format for sharing this information (Be sure to build collecting these testimonials into your mentorship process!), but you can also use other creative methods to get more overarching data — like using your work communication platform (Slack/Teams) or employee engagement software (Enboarder) to track meeting frequency and duration between mentorship pairs and tying this to other data like employee retention and performance numbers.

It’s easier for mentors/mentees to stick with the program (as well as for the executives and managers to buy in) when the program benefits are being shared regularly, so make it part of your regular routine to check in and ask for this information often.

To run a successful mentorship program, you can't take your hands off the wheel.

A successful mentorship program is never truly “set it and forget it,” no matter how it may look from the outside.

Building your mentorship program is truly only half of the battle. Maintaining the program is where the real effort comes in, but thankfully, it’s where the real payout lies for you, your mentor/mentees pairs, and for your business.

To help ensure your program is a success, remember to properly collect and remind your people of their initial expectations, help your people prioritize their mentorship meetings, and regularly broadcast your wins with your mentorship pairs, your executives, and your business.

Without a doubt, a successful mentorship program takes work, but oh, how it’s worth it.

(Hey, look at that! Click here to see how Canva used Enboarder to successfully onboard an additional 50% of their workforce during a period of explosive growth!)