Mentoring Tips

Tips to help you create a successful mentoring program.

Just click on a question below - to jump to its answer down the page.

1. What should the mentor and mentee focus on in their mentorship?

If you've never been in a formal mentorship, you may be wondering what exactly you should do with your mentor or mentee after the mentoring relationship begins. The key to choosing the best mentoring activities actually depends on your mentorship focus areas. Below are some of the most common mentoring focus areas:

  • Skills Development
    Mentorships that focus on skills development help the mentee learn specific skill sets in order to develop him or herself, add value to the organization and progress on his or her career path. For example, if the mentee is in sales, a possible mentoring activity could be practicing cold calling.
  • Goal Setting/Career Planning
    Mentorships that focus on goal setting and career planning help the mentee identify his or her professional and personal goals, as well as think about his or her long-term career path. An example of a good activity for this type of mentoring objective is discussing the mentee's early career dreams and possible career moves.
  • Problem Solving
    Mentorships that focus on problem solving help the mentee develop cognitive skills in order to strengthen the mental process of discovering, analyzing and solving problems to overcome obstacles. An activity example for this mentoring objective would be to identify a real problem with his or her mentor and then brainstorm solutions together, as well as discuss pros and cons for each option.
  • Networking
    Mentorships that focus on networking help the mentee expand his or her professional connections and networks. An activity example for this type of objective would be for the mentor and mentee to attend a professional conference or event together.

2. What are some tips for starting a new hire mentoring program?

Starting a new job can be stressful, and having a new hire mentoring program can help ease your new hires' fears and give them an additional resource to get that strong connection with the company right from the start. There are many things you need to do to get a new hire mentoring program off the ground and make it a great success! Below are some tips to get you started:

  • Determine your main objectives.
    Some new hire programs are designed to assist with training or succession planning, while others work to give employees a broad feel of the corporate culture.
  • Find your executive champion to support and sponsor the program.
    This person should be easily recognized by new hires and encourage new hires to join. Look for an executive who had a great mentor in the past that contributed to his or her success.
  • Identify your mentors.
    For new hire mentoring, it's usually beneficial to have mentors who work in a similar job function or in the same location as the new employee.
  • Communicate about the program.
    Let new hires know about the new hire mentoring program during the recruitment process and make sure your managers are encouraging new employees to join the program. Research suggests that higher-quality job applicants are more likely to accept a job offer if a company includes information about their mentoring programs in their recruitment literature.
  • Measure your success.
    Ask your mentees to rate how well mentoring helped them get assimilated to the company, understand their new roles, and help solve problems. Track and compare retention rates, promotions and employee evaluations between new hires that participated in the mentoring program vs. those who did not.

3. How do you find an executive champion to help support a corporate mentoring program?

If you're considering starting a new mentoring program, or simply want to re-energize a current program, having an executive champion can be the key to unlocking your program's success! Executive champions work to encourage participants to join the program among many other things. They should be identified at the beginning of the planning process so they can help move things forward. Below are some tips to get you started on your search:

  • Look for someone in a high-visibility position.
    The ideal person will usually work outside of the Human Resources and Training departments, and should be easily recognized by employees. For example, the VP of Marketing might be a good fit.
  • Look for someone who attributes his or her success to having had a great mentor.
    ce of the mentoring program.
  • Problem Solving
    Look for someone who will encourage participation and publically acknowledge the importan He or she may send employees the mentoring program invitation email, contribute content to internal communications and/or speak about it at company-wide meetings.
  • Look for someone who will participate in mentoring activities.
    This may be anything from conducting job shadows or hosting networking events to being a mentor in the program.
  • Look for someone who will help fund the program.
    This is an essential characteristic in an executive champion, as this person will be your voice when it comes to annual budget meetings and securing financial sponsors for the program.

4. What should mentors and mentees do to create a successful mentorship?

Successful mentoring partnerships are advantageous for everyone - the mentee, the mentor and the organization. But what makes a mentorship outstanding? While every mentoring relationship is different, there are some key items that all mentoring pairs should keep in mind. Here are some tips from award-winning mentoring pairs:

  • Set Clear Ground Rules for the Mentoring Relationship
    During your first meeting, talk about items such as the frequency of meetings, level of confidentiality, exit plan, etc. When you talk about these things at the beginning of the mentorship, you avoid future problems and issues.
  • Define Mentorship Goals and Objectives
    Determine the objective for the mentorship such as skills development, career growth, networking or life balance. Once you've figured out the purpose for the relationship, you can then identify 1-3 goals to work as part of the mentorship. Mentees should take ownership when setting these goals, while mentors can encourage their mentees to break down their goals into manageable steps and action items. Track progress toward the pre-set goals and make changes as necessary.
  • Plan Useful Activities
    After you've figured out the main objective of the mentorship and defined the main goals, work together to create activities that will help you achieve them. For example, if you're mentorship objective is to improve skill sets, you could practice a specific career-related skill, such as sales or a mock interview. If the mentee would like to work on career growth, the mentor could conduct a mini-360 review with the mentee's supervisor, peers and subordinates to identify areas for development. If the mentee wants to work on networking skills, the mentor could introduce his/her mentee to appropriate senior leaders or both the mentor and mentee could attend a local conference together.
  • Find Your Own Unique Approach to the Mentorship
    While some mentoring programs feature strict rules, tips and worksheets, excessive reading materials and formality are not always necessary. In fact, the majority of people do not want lots of reading materials and excessive rules. The best approach is actually a mix of formal and informal with basic guidelines and resources. No matter the preferred approach, whether it is formal or informal, a successful mentoring relationship is built on trust, respect and confidentiality.

5. How to Choose a Mentor Matching Methodology

Mentor matching doesn't have to be a challenging or difficult process, yet the fear around how to match mentors and mentees is one of the biggest factors that hold back organizations from setting up a mentoring program. The key to success is choosing a matching methodology that fits your organization's size, type of mentoring program, and the needs of your administrator(s). Here are some common types of mentoring programs, along with their recommended matching methodologies:

  • General Mentoring Programs
    Research suggests that the greater the involvement of the mentee in the selection of their mentor, the better the outcome of the mentorship. Therefore, general mentoring programs should be structured in such a way that mentees choose their own mentor. This not only makes for more successful mentorships, it also makes managing a mentoring program easy. For small programs this can be done with paper profiles or electronic documents that include background about each mentor. Mentees can review mentor profiles and alert program administrators of their choices.

    Programs with 100 or more participants will benefit from mentoring technology that takes the self- matching process online. With an online mentoring program, participants complete online profiles about their background, experience and strengths and areas for development. Mentees then search and connect with mentors themselves. Mentors review requests from mentees and choose to accept or decline the mentorship. This allows administrators to manage the process rather than the matching. Time can be spent on reporting and measurement while allowing mentees to drive the selection process.
  • High-Potential Mentoring Programs
    Mentoring programs specifically geared toward development of high potential employees require greater oversight from the mentoring program administrator. It's important that high-potential mentees are exposed to mentors who will provide the right skills, experience and support that will ready them for rapid advancement within the organization.

    Matching high potential mentees with mentors can begin similar to self-match with mentees reviewing online profiles of mentors. These high performers can then select and submit their top choices for mentors. Program administrators or mentoring committees can then review the choices of each mentee and determine the best mentor match to help the mentee reach the mentorship goals.

6. How do you setup mentoring programs for high potential employees, diversity, new hire mentoring and knowledge transfer?

January is National Mentoring Month, and there's no better way to celebrate it than by starting your own program or creating multiple/specialty programs. Many organizations choose to have multiple programs for their high potential employees, diverse employees, new hires, knowledge transfer and much more! If you are considering expanding your general mentoring program into specialties, consider the following:

  • Make sure your mentoring program goals align with your organization's HR strategic goals.
    Define set objectives for your multiple mentoring programs. Specialty programs can support:
        • Management development for high potential employees
        • New hire employee orientation and speed to productivity
        • Employee engagement for positions with traditionally high employee turnover
        • Knowledge transfer and succession planning
        • Workplace diversity initiatives
        • Executive leadership development
  • Pick a program(s) that will help you meet those already-established goals.
    For example, if you are having high early turnover (when employees leave within the first 1-2 years) in specific positions, then you may want to set up a new hire mentoring program to engage those high-risk employees from day one.
  • Identify employees to participate in the specialty programs.
    Specialty programs may be as small as 50 participants. Decide if you're going to allow your employees to participate in more than one mentoring program, as well.
  • Determine your mentoring program structure.
    Define the length of the mentorships (anywhere between 9 and 18 months), required/suggested mentor-mentee meetings and activities, program eligibility, and maximum number of mentees per mentor.
  • Plan your mentor matching strategy.
    You can allow for self-matching, in which mentees select their own mentors, or you can match up participants yourself. If your specialty program will have more than 100 participants, using an online mentoring software like Mentor Scout can be extremely helpful.
  • Decide how you will measure the success of your specialty mentoring program BEFORE you start it up!
    Set quantifiable goals, such as looking at the retention or promotion rates of program participants vs. non-participants.

7. What should a mentor and mentee do at their first meeting?

One of the most commonly-heard questions about the first mentorship meeting is, "What should we do/talk about?" While every mentoring relationship is different, there are some key things that all mentoring pairs should cover in that important initial meeting. One of the first things you can do is get to know each other. Learn about your mentor/mentee's professional/educational background, as well as his or her preferred communication style, personality type and expectations for the mentorship.

Some organizations have questionnaire tools already in place that allow the mentor/mentee to think about these items after the mentoring relationship has been established, but before the first meeting. Learn how your mentor/mentee feels about who should drive the relationship and the mentor/mentee roles. Set some ground rules together that include the frequency of meetings, level of confidentiality and an exit plan if goals are achieved early or the mentorship is just not working out. You can also discuss any potential conflicts of interest at the first meeting.

Talk about both the mentor and mentee's goals for the mentorship. You can focus on choosing activities to achieve those goals at your next meeting!

8. How do you choose the right mentor or mentee?

Start by completing a self-assessment that identifies your specific strengths and weaknesses. Think about your overall goals for entering a mentoring relationship. There are no right or wrong answers, as everyone is unique! Some people want mentors outside of their own divisions in order to explore different career paths or to have someone with whom they can discuss personal challenges they are facing their own departments. Others want mentors who have careers they want to emulate.

Think about your preferred communication style, and if you'd like to be able to meet with your mentor in person as well as over the phone and Internet. You can seek out a mentor from a similar culture and gender or expand your network with someone who is different than you. Focus on your objectives and listen to your inner voice when deciding what type of mentor will be best for you.

9. How Can a Mentoring Program Improve Employee Retention?

Want to learn how top organizations like Toyota, ConAgra, American Cancer Society and AHLA retain their employees? They have mentoring programs! These cost-effective tools can help reduce employee turnover by giving employees opportunities for career development, visibility within the organization, increased promotions and higher salaries.

You can learn about their mentoring stories, best practices and tips at a FREE webinar that will feature a panel discussion with these top organizations' mentoring program administrators. They're going to share valuable information about how to set up and manage a successful mentoring program, from general mentoring programs to specialty programs, including programs for high potentials, diverse employees and much more.

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