Mentorship programs can motivate your employees, develop their leadership skills, and improve productivity. But setting up an effective mentorship program isn’t always easy.
In fact, there are many limitations on the traditional mentorship model. The programs of the past, which paired an older employee with a younger one and spanned the course of the latter’s career, can be difficult to scale. Furthermore, if a mentor isn’t a good fit for a mentee, the experience can be disappointing and ineffective for everyone involved. For these reasons, the mentorship model of old is in dire need of an update. Fortunately, new models are emerging to bring mentoring programs into better alignment with the needs of modern organizations—especially those that are in early stages or experiencing rapid growth.
Reinventing the Mentorship Model
Aside from sharpening skills and boosting output, an effective mentorship program can lead to career advancement, improved job satisfaction, and more engaged employees. But this requires businesses to change tack.
While the traditional mentorship model has its benefits, a mentor needn’t be older in order to share expertise. Any employee who can pass along valuable insights and relevant experience gleaned from his or her own career is in a good position to mentor someone else. If an employee is interested in learning about other parts of the company, he or she can be paired with a mentor from another department. This often enables mentees to discover new career paths that are well suited to their interests and skills.
At Dataminr, for example, mentorship programs are focused on cultivating meaningful connections to achieve specific career outcomes. Many of our mentoring scenarios unfold when mentees are eager to amplify their voices within the company. In a case like this, we match mentors and mentees based on their personal goals, as this provides the mentees with a clear picture of the path they’ll need to follow to achieve their career objectives.
Because different mentors bring different wisdom and experience, we encourage employees to participate in the program more than once. This is a great way for them to enhance their knowledge while developing key relationships. From a company perspective, it helps to promote business growth and retain talent.
Executing the Ideal Mentorship Program
Following a series of best practices will ensure that your mentorship program is as successful as possible, from the perspective of both your mentees and your business.
- Set expectations and guidelines. One of the challenges associated with mentorship programs is that mentees often don’t know what to expect from the experience. They may look to mentors to define their goals for them or discover that the parties involved don’t share the same ideas about how often to meet.
Establishing an optional, employee-driven mentorship framework can help mitigate these risks. At Dataminr, we’re clear about the time commitment involved and require that participants meet at least once a month for 6 months. Participants undergo a structured application process and training program, and we offer tactical templates and a monthly budget for off-site meetings, all of which creates a more personalized and productive experience.
- Seek support from leadership. Another issue many companies face is that their mentorship programs don’t receive enough stakeholder support. Busy mentors may not prioritize the commitment they’ve made to their mentees, which can negatively impact the program’s success rates, along with employee morale.
That is why it is important to gain the support of the senior leadership that is on board with the program as soon as possible. Whether these leaders are providing a budget, advocating for employees to participate, or encouraging other senior leaders to sign up, leadership support is the lifeblood of these types of programs and shows employees how much senior management values their success.
- Gather feedback early and often. Aside from their regular meetings, program participants must be encouraged to provide feedback about their experiences. Companies that aren’t establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) and collecting comments are missing out on an opportunity to optimize for better outcomes.
For our part, Dataminr collects both qualitative and quantitative feedback every 8 weeks via 3 feedback moments in each 6-month program. We recommend using short surveys to gauge participant satisfaction, determine how much they value the program, and assess the degree to which it’s impacting their work.
- Give ownership of your program to a specific team. For a mentorship program to run smoothly, it has to belong to a particular team within your organization. It’s up to these team members to become champions for the program, monitor its progress, and take accountability for its results.
More often than not, this role aligns with the work of Human Resources (HR). By facilitating the application process, making meaningful matches, overseeing the program’s orientation training, and ensuring that participants prioritize their involvement, HR—or an equivalent people-focused team—can pilot its success.
If your mentorship program hasn’t worked in the past, odds are that it lacked the structure and accountability necessary to promote the desired level of engagement. By embracing these best practices, you can turn this opportunity for learning and growth into a strategy for boosting employee satisfaction, commitment, and retention—and in doing so, position your organization for future growth, as well.
Veronica Tucker is the Senior Director of HR Operations & Organizational Development at Dataminr.