We see this all the time, don’t we? L&D takes the accountable, responsive step of giving the people what they want, but no one participates. What these well-intentioned plans fail to account for is that strategy and preparation are only half the battle. Poor engagement in your mentoring program often results from making three common mistakes.
#1. Failing to Build the Right Learning Culture
Humans are naturally curious and innate learners. We pick up on cues within a group of people. We read feelings and can sniff out the normal operating rhythm of an organization pretty quickly. This means that whatever engaged or unengaged atmosphere your workplace is currently projecting is being absorbed by your workforce, whether they know it or not. All of this stands to reason that a learning culture already exists in your office. But is it the one that you want?
How to avoid this pitfall: A high-functioning culture requires good examples of company values from the leadership team down. Employees need to see good examples after which to model behavior. This includes participation in your mentoring program. Participation from all levels of the organization illustrates the importance of this activity, and the usefulness at every stage of an employee’s career.
Beyond participants, identify key leaders and stakeholders who have high credibility within the organization. They also need to know about the program, understand the benefits, and believe in the strategic value to the organization. These people can become ambassadors for your program, soliciting more prospective participants’ interest and eventual involvement. Perhaps you can go as far as to ask them to sign-up themselves, or actively encourage their direct reports to participate. Improving overall work and learning culture will better position employees to take advantage of mentoring.
#2. Neglecting to Communicate Expectations
Often times, mentoring program owners do a good job of enticing prospective participants to the idea of mentoring, but they fall short of getting them to participate because they don’t provide enough detail and explanation. Telling people the program exists and where to register is not enough to push them over the edge.
How to avoid this pitfall: You need to communicate how long the program will last. How much time weekly or monthly will be required of mentors and mentees? What should each employee hope to achieve by the end of the program? Also, what training will they receive in order to help them interact and progress in their mentorships?
Give potential mentors and mentees a well-rounded view of the program. This will help them adjust their schedules, bandwidths, and mindsets in order to be able to commit to joining the mentoring program. Whether it’s leadership mentoring, diversity mentoring, or reverse mentoring, employees need to be able to reconcile why they would put time and effort into a the program. Understanding these two trains of thought and the details of the program will enable employees to see how and why they should fit this commitment into their current routine.
#3. Forgetting to Market Your Program
When introducing a mentoring program, there’s generally a fair amount of excitement around the fact the organization is responding to the wants of employees. But don’t expect that enthusiasm to automatically equate to high participation rates. The “if you build it, they will come” mentality will no longer suffice. In order to properly promote and market your program, you need to tell your audience about it repeatedly.
How to avoid this pitfall: If you want to engage the modern workforce with your mentoring program, you’ll need to meet them where they’re at. What aspects of your workplace and internal systems are they interacting with? You’ll want to make your program known through these places, platforms, and channels. Send emails. Print flyers. Insert an announcement in the monthly newsletter. Create an informational webinar. There are toolkits to help you organize your promotional plan and determine how to reach your target audience. Make sure people are hearing about the program before it launches and continue to hear about it throughout the process.
Highlight the goals of the program, and showcase what employees will get out of it. How will it make them more productive? How will it help them get to know the rest of the organization? Focusing your marketing materials on illustrating these points will help people create natural pros in their internal pros and cons list. A consistent, direct promotional campaign will keep your mentoring program top of mind for your target audience.
You’ve listened to your employees and created a mentoring program. Don’t let that hard work go to waste by committing these common mistakes. Plan ahead, and make sure you’re executing your program efficiently and strategically for the better of the entire organization. Building your foundation on a strong, healthy workplace culture will allow you to convince employees of the benefits and expectations of your mentoring program that, if marketed properly, will lead to greater engagement and productivity.