How to Start a Mentor Program in the Workplace

A mentoring program allows you to invest in your employees without spending a dime.

A mentoring program allows you to invest in your employees without spending a dime.

A mentoring program can help you retain new employees, develop leadership skills among veteran employees, improve morale and communication and potentially avoid spending thousands of dollars on a consultant’s services. Companies of all sizes establish mentoring programs to help indoctrinate new hires or cross-train employees so they can comfortably step into their coworkers' job duties. Whatever your objective, a mentoring program allows you to capitalize on and your very best resources: your employees.

Define the objective of your mentoring program. Consider whether you wish to welcome and retain new employees, develop leadership skills among your veteran employees or cross-train as many employees as possible. While you may have more than one objective in mind, the objective will help shape your mentoring program.

Identify the employees who will participate in the mentoring program, based on your objective. If you wish to pair all new employees with a seasoned veteran, seek out those veteran employees who are most amenable to and enthusiastic about the concept so your program has every chance to succeed.

Design the structure of the program to suit your company culture. A “formal” company might establish an application process, a specific timeline for the program, goals and objectives, requirements and a regimented reporting process. An informal company might match people and then give them a greater say in how the program will function day to day. In the latter case, establishing at least minimal communication guidelines and expected outcomes is important so that the program doesn’t languish.

Set guidelines for the mentoring program by meeting with the pair and outlining how the program will work and how long it will last. Be sure that each person understands what is expected of her. At the same time, build some adaptability into the program, understanding that it should be somewhat fluid in nature. For example, if you expect a new employee to “shadow” a veteran employee two afternoons a week and she believes she would benefit from three afternoons, alter the program accordingly. Listen to both employees and try to accommodate their ideas as long as they are productive and advance the objective of the mentoring program.

Manage expectations and “take the pulse” of the mentoring partnership by meeting with both the mentor and mentee on a regular basis, perhaps twice a month. Assess its progress and the satisfaction of both parties and make minor tweaks that are mutually beneficial. Communicate that either employee can come to you individually to discuss the mentoring relationship, but underscore another important benefit of mentoring programs: Employees learn to communicate with each other and mitigate their own conflicts without outside intervention.

Evaluate the success of the program at its conclusion. Some mentoring programs last six months while others last two years. Realize that no two employees function alike, so focus on the most important outcomes: greater employee confidence, productivity and morale.

Spread the word about your mentoring program so all employees know that it exists. Share your success stories by holding informal sessions so the mentor and mentee can speak from personal experience about the program’s benefits. Over time, you should convince even the naysayers that this human resource initiative really works and reaps huge dividends.

Tip

  • Consider launching your mentoring program gradually, perhaps by starting with two employees and then adding more pairs as you build your confidence in managing it. Slowly and carefully building upon small successes can be more productive than launching a wide-scale program that proves to be unwieldy and unfocused.
 

About the Author

With education, health care and small business marketing as her core interests, M.T. Wroblewski has penned pieces for Woman's Day, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal and many newspapers and magazines. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.

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