Tips For Building A Successful Mentorship Program

By Liz Reyer
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In this great Q&A, Liz Reyer, a credentialed business coach with more than 20 years of experience gives her tips on how to start and foster a mentorship program.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Q: I’ve had the benefit of good mentors over the years, but have heard from a lot of people that it’s been hard to find that type of support. I’m in a position to help promote mentorship at my firm; what suggestions do you have?
-Adele, 52, VP of service operations

A: Kudos to you for your commitment to giving back! To create a lasting initiative of any kind, you will need all the elements of a good plan. Start by determining your vision. It may seem intuitively obvious why you want to promote mentorship, it is just a good thing to do. However, there could be a variety of underlying reasons why your company may now be interested. For example, it could be about attracting or retaining certain employee groups, or building your company’s reputation as a good place to work.

Also consider the scope of the program, recognizing that a smaller one may be easier to manage but may leave people feeling excluded. This will be heavily influenced by the level of resources available to support the program, particularly in terms of day-to-day support.

At the heart of the program’s success will be the approach used for selecting participants, both mentors and mentees. Again, this will tie back to your company’s objectives, as well as the difference you hope to make for the people involved.

With that in mind, consider the characteristics of a desirable mentor. While you want the candidates to have experience and perspectives to share, it also could be an excellent developmental opportunity for a less senior, but still experienced, team member. There are also some traits to watch out for: Some may take an overly ego-driven top-down approach, while others may be already overcommitted and not able to follow through. A good mentor will have high levels of emotional intelligence, a willingness to be candid and open and a commitment to supporting his or her mentee.

Now, for the ideal mentee. The defining feature is interest in developing and growing. People who don’t want to challenge themselves will find little value. External characteristics such as level of experience or specific goals are less important, unless there is a specific corporate preference.

Matching the mentor and mentee can be sensitive, and achieving a good match is extremely important. Develop a process to give both parties input, and have some flexibility to fine-tune if the initial match doesn’t work out.

Your program should have a defined process, with specified duration (a year is common), frequency of meetings, and materials that can be used for goal-setting and documenting progress. Note, also establish confidentiality so that mentees will not feel constrained.

Training is important, keeping in mind that this process will be new to both mentees and mentors, and you want to set them up for success. Think through the challenges people may face, and prepare possible solutions.

Finally, establish standards in advance to determine success for each relationship and the program as a whole. Placing your emphasis on the personal successes for mentees and the positive experience of the mentors is your best bet for putting an enduring and valuable program in place.
Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes.

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