A mentoring program can help you build stronger relationships with your employees, giving them the career skills and knowledge they need to grow with your organization. Given the value employees place on professional development and learning opportunities, getting them engaged in mentoring should be a no-brainer. So why do some organizations struggle to get people into their mentoring programs and keep them there?
Organizations with successful mentoring programs tend to employ these four best practices when recruiting participants and matching mentors with mentees.
#1: Choose Mentors Based on the Core Goals of the Program
At many organizations, “mentoring” is synonymous with career development. The goal of these programs is to help employees advance in their careers and learn the soft skills that will help them—and their organization—succeed.
Such broad mentoring programs can be instrumental in driving employee engagement and satisfaction, but they tend to create high demand for mentors. Everyone wants to be part of the program. To keep up, many organizations set broad parameters for who can be a career or soft-skills mentor and then actively recruit them at every level.
When recruiting mentors, remember that they don’t have to work in the same department as their mentees. In fact, many programs prefer to have some organizational distance between mentors and mentees, pairing people from different disciplines or departments. This takes reporting relationships out of the equation and pulls people out of their day-to-day experiences to think about things differently.
For more targeted mentoring designed to train people to take on specific jobs, you’ll need to recruit mentors who really know their stuff and have the instructional capabilities to teach it to others. This means establishing firm guidelines for exactly what knowledge needs to be passed along and what qualifies an employee as an “expert.”
At chemicals company Praxair, for example, human resources starts by looking for experienced employees with strong job performance ratings and interpersonal skills. HR then interviews interested candidates to identify mentors who are passionate, well-regarded within the organization, and willing to share their knowledge.
While there may not be one individual who knows it all, recruiting multiple mentors can help cover the gaps. If you’re worried that your resident experts may not have the people skills to serve as mentors, training can beef up their instructional abilities.
#2: Choose Mentees Based on Their Learning Needs
If your goal is to help your employees develop soft skills or advance in their careers, you’ll likely find that the more inclusive the mentoring program, the better participation will be. Keeping entry requirements low allows more people to engage with mentors and lets the program grow organically to become what people need it to be.
For example, healthcare services company Cardinal Health makes mentorship broadly accessible with an enterprise-wide mentoring initiative that includes nine formal mentoring programs, each with its own admission requirements and selection process. The most expansive of these programs is an open mentoring initiative that enables employees to learn about almost anything that they believe would help them in working at the organization. To get in, an employee just needs six months of employment at Cardinal Health and manager approval.
In career and soft-skills mentoring programs, participation criteria tend to focus on an interest in learning and growing professionally. The idea is that if employees are excited to participate and willing to commit their time, they have already overcome the biggest obstacle.
If your goal is to transfer discipline knowledge within your organization, you’ll need to be more selective about who can participate. This type of mentoring program is about fulfilling employees’ learning needs, so you first need to establish strong guidelines or requirements that will steer decisions about who needs instruction in a specific area.
#3: Give Mentees a Say in the Pairing Process
Mentees know what they want to get out of mentorship and are familiar with their own personality quirks and preferences. When you give them a choice, they tend to choose mentors with whom they can form trusting, productive relationships.
For career and soft skills mentoring, most successful programs let mentees pick their own mentors from a pool of available candidates. Cardinal Health is one of several companies using a technology-enabled approach to help mentees select mentors who are well suited to their individual development needs. After completing an online survey about what they want to learn and their own personalities, mentees are presented with a list of matching mentors and can rank their top three choices.
When mentoring focuses on the transfer of discipline knowledge, managers and mentoring program leaders tend to get more involved in matching mentees with mentors who can help them with specific learning needs. Still, most of these programs take mentees’ preferences into consideration.
At Praxair, HR tries to match mentees with qualified mentors who work in the same business unit and region, and who use the same technical applications, so mentors can target mentees’ immediate development needs. But before making final pairings, HR interviews the mentees about what they want to learn and the qualities they’d like in a mentor.
#4: Proactively Market the Mentoring Program to Employees
It’s common for organizations to have plenty of people wanting mentors and not enough mentors to go around. A successful program is more likely to attract new mentors, but proactively working to boost awareness can help.
Many organizations host regular information sessions to raise the profile of their mentoring programs. Additional tactics include enlisting managers to recruit qualified mentors, reaching out to mentor candidates directly, and encouraging the spread of positive word-of-mouth from former and current participants.
For example, at Boeing, engineers who are nearing retirement or at a certain level may be required to mentor others as part of the organization’s technical mentoring program. To recruit additional mentors, HR works to communicate the benefits of participation and maintains a community of practice that brings together past and current mentors to collaborate, share tips and tricks, and support one another. The mentoring program manager uses the community to post information about the mentoring program and encourage more experienced employees to act as mentors. Messaging focuses on what mentors can learn from their mentees and how mentoring can take some burden off the expert engineers within each work group.
How does your organization recruit and engage participants in its mentoring program? Let us know in the Comments below.