Establishing a mentoring program at your organization
Features, benefits and logistics of setting up a formal program
Sep 5, 2018
Mentorships can be particularly helpful for newly appointed leaders, high potential employees and succession candidates, members of special populations and career changers. Shutterstock
By Brian Kreissl
I’ve never really had a mentor. While I certainly have had very good managers and other senior colleagues to look up to, ask for advice and learn from, I don’t think I have ever really had a mentor in the true sense of the word to show me the ropes.
While it is possible to be successful without one, having a mentor can help people learn and grow in their careers. Mentoring can be a great way to pass on business, career, organizational and professional knowledge.
Mentoring relationships differ from coaching in that the mentor is generally a more senior-level person who passes on knowledge and insight gained from experience (although “reverse mentoring” also exists), while coaching in a business context is mostly about asking all the right questions and helping the coachee or protégé find the right answers within themselves through self-reflection and discovery.
While there is a lot of overlap and someone can act as both a coach and a mentor, a good business or executive coach doesn’t necessarily have to possess much subject matter knowledge, whereas a mentoring relationship is mostly about passing on specific knowledge, experience and expertise. Direct managers can and do act as mentors, but formal mentoring programs generally pair people who aren’t in a direct reporting relationship (although managers-once-removed can often be a great source of career knowledge and inspiration).
There are a number of potential problems in establishing formal mentoring programs with the mentee’s manager acting as mentor, including the manager seeing the mentee as a threat, the manager not wanting to lose the individual to a promotion or lateral transfer, and the mentee not being interested in a role similar to her manager. A mentor need not even be someone in the same organization, and it may be difficult for individuals to approach potential mentors themselves and ask for mentoring (either within the organization or elsewhere).
Because of these challenges, it is usually a good idea to have some sort of matching process as part of a formal mentoring program. This can help identify suitable mentors and mentees and ensure there is a good fit.
Mentorships can be particularly helpful for newly appointed leaders, high potential employees and succession candidates, members of special populations (especially where an organization has the goal of increasing diversity among its cadre of senior leaders) and career changers. Establishing mentoring programs can help with these types of talent management initiatives and more. Mentoring can help improve employee productivity, retention and engagement, and help build “bench strength” for leadership positions within the organization.
Starting a mentoring program
So, how does an organization go about establishing a mentoring program? According to a forthcoming book on the subject, Human Resources Guide to Mentoring Programs by Bobby Siu, developing and implementing a mentoring program generally follows a four-step process: (1) preparation; (2) design and planning; (3) implementation and maintenance; and (4) monitoring and evaluation.
Preparation involves several tasks such as evaluating organizational readiness, conducting a needs assessment and procuring the necessary resources for the program. It also includes determining the goals of the mentoring program.
Design and planning are fairly straightforward concepts, but should be guided by five principles: (1) organizational vision; (2) organizational culture; (3) diversity and inclusiveness; (4) stakeholder engagement; and (5) model differences. The fifth principle relates to different models or types of mentoring programs and determining which ones are right for the organization.
Implementation and maintenance are again quite straightforward; the focus is on getting the program up and running and continuing to maintain the program on an ongoing basis. Organizations should determine the scope of the initial launch and decide whether to begin with a pilot or full launch.
Monitoring and evaluation focus on evaluating the efficacy of the mentoring program in alignment with its stated goals. Evaluation should focus not only on organizational needs, but also on employee needs. It is also important to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of any software or other tools used to administer the program.
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Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.