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Mentorship Program

Workplace Mentor Programs: A Detailed Look

What Is a Workplace Mentor Program?

Are you looking for an effective way to engage employees and foster a more productive workplace? Consider starting a workplace mentor program! From increased employee engagement to improved retention rates, a mentor program can generate invaluable benefits for any organization.

Establishing a workplace mentoring program is a complex, involved process, but one that’s well worth investing in. Luckily, we’ve got you covered with the information needed to realize the benefits of workplace mentoring.

Discover what workplace mentor programs are, what they can do for your workforce, and how to set up mentoring in your organization.

Workplace Mentor Program 101

A mentoring program in the workplace is an extension of your professional development offerings and typically connects junior employees with more experienced colleagues who can help them grow. Mentorship programs can be formal or informal, with varying degrees of structure, length, and content.

Mentors generally are more seasoned employees with an interest in supporting younger talent and relevant information and advice to share. Their primary role is to help their mentees develop new skills and knowledge. Mentors can help mentees develop professionally through career advice and introductions to influential and relevant people, among other resources.

The mentee’s primary role in this relationship is as an active learner. Mentees share their professional goals with their mentors, and together, they develop a plan to facilitate goal achievement. It’s important for mentees to bring ideas and questions to the relationship, especially initially. As the mentorship unfolds, mentees should look for opportunities to apply what they learn.

Although many organizations have begun to train managers as coaches, managers and mentors don’t serve the same role. Generally speaking, managers provide employees with the structure and support they need to be successful, while mentors offer insights and guidance to help them reach their career goals.

3 Types of Mentoring Programs

Mentoring programs come in many shapes and sizes to meet different workforce needs. You can design a program that’s specific to what your organization wants to achieve. Check out some of the most common types of mentoring programs and how they drive business value.

One-on-One Mentoring

One-on-one mentoring is the most traditional type of mentoring, where one mentor provides personalized guidance and advice to a mentee. One-on-one mentoring focuses on the individual, helping them reach their goals by providing support and resources. Employers typically rely on this type of mentoring to help team members develop skills, boost confidence, and increase motivation.

While some one-on-one mentorships may be based on the mentor’s experience and expertise in a particular subject or industry, they tend to provide more general advice on career development. Mentors don’t typically require deep subject matter expertise, but they should be empathetic, good communicators, and able to help employees apply the concepts they discuss.

Peer Mentoring

Peer mentoring is a type of mentoring relationship between two individuals who are peers, i.e. they are at the same level or rank. Peer mentors can provide meaningful insights on topics such as workplace culture, networking, and career advice.

Peer mentorship can be especially helpful for employees hoping to make lateral moves. In this case, having experience in the role their mentee hopes to move into can help mentors provide more targeted advice. A mid-level manager in the marketing department who wants to shift to HR would benefit from a mentoring relationship with a mid-level manager in the HR department, for example.

Reverse Mentoring

Reverse mentoring is a type of mentoring program where a senior executive is paired with a junior employee to help them learn about the latest technologies or trends. It’s often used to bridge generational gaps between the two parties, as the senior executive can gain valuable insights from the younger employee.

Traditional one-on-one mentoring and reverse mentoring aren’t mutually exclusive. One relationship between a junior and senior employee can easily produce benefits for both parties. While receiving career advice from a higher level employee, for example, a younger employee also can provide valuable perspective into what their generation values most in the workplace.

3 Benefits of a Mentoring Program in the Workplace

When implemented and maintained effectively, mentoring programs deliver several benefits across the workforce. From supporting employee engagement and growth to fueling business evolution, take a look at some of the top benefits of workplace mentoring programs.

Increase Employee Engagement

The top three drivers of employee engagement, according to Gallup, are purpose, development, and a caring manager (or mentor) to coach them — all of which a mentoring relationship provides to mentees.

Workplace mentor programs can effectively engage by highlighting learning moments in an employee’s current role and prompting thoughtful action toward long-term career development.

Conversations with mentors give employees a chance to think out loud about their goals and collaborate with a senior employee to bring them to life. Typically, mentors and mentees discuss specific skills and knowledge the employee needs to qualify for the next stage of their career journey. Mentors also can help employees find opportunities, within their existing role, to practice and perfect the skills they need.

If an employee wants to make a lateral move from engineering to project management, for example, their mentor can help them identify ways to practice communication and collaboration in their engineering role.

Mentor programs can fuel engagement for mentors, too. Offering ‌colleagues guidance and support to build their careers infuses their daily work with a greater sense of purpose. Being part of something bigger than themselves provides mentors with meaningful and rewarding experiences that motivate them to continue contributing their time and expertise to the program.

Help Employees Grow Personally and Professionally

Personal growth at work focuses on someone’s growth as an individual, helping them achieve the self-improvement, skills, and abilities they need to move forward on their career journeys. Mentoring conversations provide an opportunity to talk through things, and employees gain clarity on their career goals and objectives. Mentors can help employees grow personally by identifying their strengths and aligning them to their career goals, creating a roadmap to success.

Professional development refers to an employee’s career trajectory within your organization — improving their performance, sharpening their job skills, and achieving higher levels of responsibility. Mentoring programs provide employees with the opportunity to learn from experienced professionals who can provide coveted access to valuable resources and advice. Since mentors tend to be employees who have been with the organization longer, they have valuable institutional knowledge they can pass on to mentees to help them navigate their path forward.

Mentors also learn important skills from the mentoring experience ‌— such as active listening, emotional intelligence, and organizational awareness — that they can bring back to apply within their primary role.

Identify and Develop Future Leaders

One of the greatest benefits of mentoring programs in the workplace is the succession planning pipeline they can create. Since senior leaders often serve as mentors to junior colleagues, they can provide insights into which employees have the most leadership potential and even begin priming them to take on the role.

Mentors can help leadership candidates develop critical skills such as decision making, communication, problem-solving, and managing conflict. As mentees “graduate” from the program, you can follow up with their mentors for recommendations into where those employees might be the most successful leaders.

Mentoring allows emerging leaders to gain valuable insights into leading teams and organizations. Mentors can provide insights into what leaders do and what their lives are like, so promising employees can make informed decisions about whether leadership is right for them.

4 Challenges to Successful Mentoring Programs

Workplace mentor programs can be an effective way for organizations to foster employee development and engagement. But developing a program this involved isn’t without challenges. Here are some of the challenges you’re most likely to encounter when establishing a mentoring program in the workplace and steps you can take to overcome them.

Gaining Executive Buy-In

Executives may hesitate to allocate resources to a program that doesn’t have a clear return on investment. To gain executive buy-in, it’s important to emphasize the value a mentoring program can drive for the business, such as increased engagement or higher performance. By tying the program to the company’s bottom line, executives can more easily see its worth.

Share your vision for the program and outline metrics for success. Provide a timeline for implementation and regular progress reporting as well as a projected budget for implementing and maintaining the program.

Finding Participants

Matching the right employees and mentors can be a challenge. First, you’re dependent on volunteers to mentor employees. Try to recruit participants who are patient, engaged, and passionate about supporting their colleagues. Once you have a list of qualified and willing participants, assess their particular strengths and unique offerings.

Develop a “catalog” of mentors to match with employees who want a mentor. Consider each employee’s interests and career goals when assigning them a mentor. For maximum benefit, try to pair mentors and mentees with complementary teaching and learning styles so both parties can make the most of the relationship.

Providing Consistent Support

A workplace mentoring program isn’t a one-and-done deal. You need the time and resources to continue providing support to mentors and mentees for the duration of the program. Decide whether the program will be a fixed length with set milestones or an ongoing conversation between mentors and mentees. Establish expectations for both roles based on the type of mentor program and its purpose.

Develop a structure for checking in and providing feedback between both parties. Consider using your workflow management software to deliver program timelines and conversation starters, for example. Look to other HR programs, like performance management, for ideas for facilitating conversations.

Participants also should have a line of communication with you to provide feedback or ask for additional resources or support.

Selecting Mentoring Software

Finding the right technology to support your mentoring program can be challenging, but it’s integral to facilitating successful mentorships and capturing data to measure your success.

Start by researching marketplace solutions, where you’ll come across a mix of broader employee management software and standalone solutions. Broad-based human capital management systems may offer some features for supporting mentorship programs but likely won’t be as specialized or customizable as standalone solutions.

As you evaluate your options, identify the core features required to meet the needs of your mentoring program. Explore options for customization and integration with existing systems so you can pull program data into your larger human resource information system (HRIS) to evaluate its impact. Finally, consider the scalability of the software and its ability to accommodate growth.

5 Steps to Starting a Mentoring Program

Now that you understand the different types of workplace mentoring programs, the many benefits they can produce, and some potential challenges to overcome, you’re ready to get started launching your own. Here are five steps to get you started.

Define Your Program’s Purpose

Not every mentoring program has the same goals. Some employers may use mentoring to help team members understand and achieve their career goals within the business, while others implement a mentoring program to identify leadership candidates.

Be specific about your mentoring program’s intended outcomes. Look to the business strategy to understand how mentoring could drive business growth, and align its purpose as closely as you can to the business’ bottom line.

Identify Potential Mentors and Mentees

Putting mentors and mentees together requires a thoughtful process that considers fit. Identify characteristics that make for a successful mentor or mentee so that your recruitment and pairing are more effective.

Canva has a robust workplace mentor program that starts on the employee’s first day. The secret to this program’s success is tapping into the strong company culture and the fact that people genuinely want to help new hires. Once new hires reach the six-month mark, they can become mentors themselves. If they have had a great onboarding experience, and particularly if their mentor was incredible, they’ll want to give that gift to someone else.

Create a Timeline and Goals

Identify the necessary steps for program implementation and set specific deadlines for each step. Assign someone to hold your implementation team accountable for staying on task. Make sure the timeline is attainable. Consider who’s involved in launching the program (such as members of your HR team and prospective participants) and account for their priorities and workloads. Leave room to plan for contingencies if the timeline needs to be adjusted.

For example, Canva’s team invests a lot in making sure that they have great mentors. The expectations are made clear via the program platform, including specific milestones and ideas for how mentors can better support their mentees. Mentors are expected to commit to a specific time period, and the platform also adjusts the level of support for mentors depending on how much experience they have.

Set Metrics to Measure Success

How will you define a successful mentorship program? Try to go deeper than simple participation metrics. Plan to use a combination of survey, performance, and learning and development data to determine whether employees feel the program is useful and whether it improves overall performance or organizational capabilities.

Launch a Pilot Program

When you’re ready to launch, start on a small scale with a handful of participants. Use the metrics you’ve set to assess whether the program is meeting its goals. If the mentoring program isn’t on track to produce the predicted outcomes, or you find that you need to change direction, you can experiment until you get it right. Once you perfect the pilot program, you can roll out the mentorship program on a larger scale.

Fuel Business Value With Workplace Mentor Programs

Workplace mentor programs are a win-win for everyone involved: mentors, mentees, managers, and business leaders. Mentoring not only provides employees with a valuable resource to help them grow and develop but also creates a more positive and productive work environment. A mentoring program facilitates a web of connections across the workforce, helping employees find their communities of support. And the better supported employees feel, the more engaged and productive they’ll be — and that’s great for everyone.

Want to learn more? Check out this webinar we hosted with Canva.