5 Steps to an Effective Mentoring Program

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As small businesses continue to compete for skilled employees in an increasingly competitive and growing global marketplace, the ability to retain and develop talent from within is quickly becoming essential. Mentoring can improve employee satisfaction and retention, enrich new employee initiation, make your company more appealing to potential employees, and train your leaders. And the best part is – it's free! Unlike similar learning incentives such as training programs or offering to pay for courses, mentoring utilizes the resources that your company already has. 

Mentors develop a professional relationship with mentees who are usually individuals seeking to start or develop within their career or business. The role of the mentor is to share knowledge, skills, and experiences to help mentees develop their career or business through attaining new knowledge, building new skills, and in planning and achieving goals. Both sides develop a wide range of personal and professional skills including leadership and communication which can lead to an increase in morale and job satisfaction.

Organizations that foster a mentoring culture can also realize many benefits on a company level including reduced costs and increased productivity and efficiencies through increased employee satisfaction, retention and engagement. In fact, a recent Center for Creative Leadership survey showed 77% of companies reporting that mentoring programs are effective in increasing employee retention.

If you are interested in developing a mentoring program within your small business and are not sure where to begin, here are 5 basic steps to consider.

Identify Interest. The first step to developing and implementing a successful mentoring program is to gauge the level of interest within the organization as well as identify individuals who are potential mentors and mentees. Mentors should not only have the required skill sets, but also possess strong interpersonal skills and a commitment to helping others. Mentees can be high performers seeking advancement or who have the potential to advance in their field.

In addition, make sure that senior executives within the organization are on-board, endorse the program, and actively participate. If the C-suite is involved it says to everyone else: "hey this is important to the company and not another thing HR is making us do".

Design the Program. It is vital to develop a mentoring program that aligns with the culture of your organization. If your company is extremely formal, it's probably best to have a formal application process, minimum time requirements, and set durations for the mentoring relationship. If your company is informal, it might be okay to match people up and then let them figure out the logistics. Designate someone to champion the project and check-up on how well its guidelines are being followed.

No matter what degree of formality or structure your program takes on, it's important to put at least minimal guidelines in place or else the wheels could fall off the wagon very easily.

Make Good Matches. The programs in which the participants have some input are usually the most successful. One way of allowing input might be to have mentors and mentees fill out an information sheet about what they hope to offer or obtain from a mentoring relationship; your program can also include a questionnaire, phone interview, and committee recommendation for each mentor and mentee.

When pairing up a match, focus on the specific competencies of the mentee, and choose mentors with the required skill sets, as well as complementary personalities. Not every pairing will be a match made in heaven; if the relationship isn't working out, recognize it and move on.

Establish Clear Expectations. If you want positive results, it's a good idea to help those involved learn what "mentoring" means first. Instead of making the program mandatory, explain to people why they should participate – help them see the vision of why it matters. Educate mentors and mentees about the overall goals of the process, and encourage them to create meeting agendas, activities, and training plans that serve to achieve those goals.

Even though it's essential for companies to provide some level of guidance, mentorship programs are most successful when participants drive their own development plans. Mentoring pairs might choose to structure their time differently depending on their goals and preferences (typical programs last 6 months to 1 year with participants meeting 2 – 4 hours every month), but it is helpful for the organization to at least make a suggestion for how the mentoring pairs can get the most out of their relationship.

Evaluate. Find a way to measure the success of the mentorship – is your program making progress? Check in periodically with participants to make sure they've been well-matched, and change partners or help them revise their development plan as needed. After the mentorship period has ended, ask mentors and mentees how their experiences went (were their goals met?) and if they have any feedback on how to strengthen the program.

Having the ability to tap into the internal knowledge, skills and experience of existing employees to mentor and develop up and coming talent will be critical to retaining and engaging employees now and into the future. With proper planning and implementation, a mentoring program can offer many benefits for businesses and be a valuable and positive experience for mentees and their mentors.

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Guest July 27 2017
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