Most organizational leaders will tell you that their people are their greatest asset. Developing your employees’ talents, building their loyalty, and helping them excel in their jobs are all good ways to attract high-quality talent and encourage good people to stay. Mentoring programs can help accomplish all of these goals, and launching or improving a successful mentoring initiative may be easier than you think.

APQC’s recent, large-scale study on workplace mentoring identified a wealth of best practices that you can use to design, implement, and sustain an effective mentoring program at your organization. You can read all the details in the Workplace Mentoring Best Practices Report, but to give you a quick overview, here are six tips for mentoring success.

#1: Define a Broad Vision of Success

The first step in starting a mentoring initiative is to clearly define what you want to achieve. Then you can design a program tailored to that outcome. At some organizations, the goal is to pass along specific discipline knowledge from senior experts to the next generation of workers. However, many mentoring programs focus on a broader set of goals related to helping employees develop their careers, business acumen, and soft skills. 

Once you have specific learning objectives and a business purpose in mind, build your mentoring program to serve that purpose. For example, mentorships designed to transfer technical knowledge might need a more rigorous structure and closer management monitoring than would partnerships designed to build employee loyalty and dispense career advice. 

Like many of the best-practice organizations APQC studied, Cardinal Health has separate mentoring programs to address different goals. Its open mentoring initiative covers everything from specific knowledge and skills to general strategies for career management and personal effectiveness, whereas other programs are tied specifically to leadership development, diversity, or knowledge transfer within specific business units.

#2: Market Your Mentoring Program

To recruit qualified mentors and mentees within your organization, use formal outreach through information sessions, manager and peer recommendations, and direct appeals to qualified candidates. Many organizations have more people seeking mentors than mentors to fill the need, so it pays to use a combination of approaches to entice potential mentors. 

Keep participation requirements loose to address diverse learning objectives and get more people engaged. And remember, the best recruitment tool is often positive word-of-mouth from current and former participants. 

#3: Seek Mentees’ Input When Pairing Them With Mentors

Before making a match, find out what mentees want to learn and what qualities they seek in a mentor. If the focus of your program is career or soft skills development, let mentees pick their preferred mentors from a pool of available candidates. Creating a little organizational distance—such as pairing a mentee with someone in another department—can help to broaden perspectives. 

But if your goal is to transfer job-specific knowledge, it makes sense to create pairs within the same area. In these situations, get managers and mentors involved in the pairing process to ensure that the mentor has the knowledge and experience to help the mentee with specific learning needs. 

#4: Train Mentors and Mentees

Define expectations for each role, and then equip both parties with tools and techniques to guide conversations and help them get the most out of their professional relationship. Training should cover communication strategies, as well as the expectations tied to participating in a mentoring relationship. 

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Mentors must learn how to talk to mentees and build trust, whereas mentees need to know how to ask the right questions and do their part to build the relationship. 

#5: Create Mentoring Agreements Up Front

Require mentoring pairs to outline their goals at the outset and establish written action plans for how they will accomplish those goals together. By agreeing on learning objectives first, mentors and mentees can keep the focus where it belongs and create a shared sense of purpose. 

Encourage mentoring pairs to meet regularly, and set ground rules and a defined deadline for each partnership to achieve its goals. 

#6: Collect Outcome Measures and Success Stories

To gauge the success of your mentoring program—and to recruit more people to participate—measure what mentees learn, how satisfied they are with the program, and the impact that mentoring has on their professional development. Most best-practice organizations also ask participants for feedback on the program, looking for opportunities to make improvements.

Your measures for success should be tied to the objectives established for your mentoring program and should include a combination of activity, process, and outcome metrics to gauge your program’s health and impact.

For mentoring programs focused on knowledge transfer, it makes sense to measure the growth of mentees’ skills and competencies in the target areas. Praxair, for example, has documented that its technical mentoring program has significantly reduced the time it takes for recent graduates to become fully competent in high-profile, technically demanding, safety-intensive positions.

For career development and soft skills mentoring, employees’ stories and anecdotes may be the best way to measure impact. When you combine documented learning outcomes and employee satisfaction data with anecdotal evidence and success stories, you can build a solid business case for the value of mentoring. 

What are the objectives of your organization’s mentoring program? What practices have made it a success? Let us know in the Comments.