Mentoring Programs Take Work to Start, But the Payoff Is Great

Successful people often thank mentors when recognized with an award or congratulated on an accomplishment. Mentors guide us with knowledge and advice to help us reach success. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell outlines the 12 stages of the hero’s journey. One of the stages is meeting the mentor, who provides guidance, training, and confidence so the hero can set out on a journey and fulfill their quest to greatness.

In life or even the workplace, mentorship can be purposeful or accidental. Research from the Association for Talent Development shows that only 29% of organizations surveyed had a formal mentoring program in place. We know that mentorship supports the workplace learning mission, so it seems absurd that more organizations would not have a formal program in place to encourage and further learning initiatives.

The truth is mentorship programs can be difficult to develop, get leadership’s buy in, and actually recruit participants. With the right structures in place, these missing pieces can fall into place and reinforce your L&D program.

Establish a plan

The action of mentoring can come naturally when mentors and mentees are given a structure. Without a plan, facilitating a mentorship program in the workplace is doomed to fail. Just like an organization formulates a plan each year for how it will use its funds through a budget, you should set goals to outline a structure for your mentorship program.

Your plan should cover everything from initiation to developing the next generation of mentors. During creation, identify what your organization wants to accomplish and how it helps you achieve business goals. Consider how you will develop mentors and find mentees. Evaluate the skills gap and how each employee plays a part in the sharing of knowledge. The program should foster what your employees are learning through your LMS and corporate training.

Remember that mentorship isn’t just one-directional, from leadership to entry-level. Younger employees can help educate leadership on modern trends that might influence the business, technology, and even the importance of diversity. Experienced employees can help develop soft skills in the incoming workforce or just basic instruction on how the working world operates.

Once organizations have outlined their ideal mentorship plan, it’s time to propose it to your executive team.

Sell the program

Put your sales hat on. Why does a leadership audience want to “buy” a mentorship program? If it seeks to fulfill their goals, they’ll hop onboard. Your pitch should revolve around three aspects: business objectives, learning and legacy.

Tie your plan to business objectives. Gallup research suggests that employees with the opportunity to continually develop are twice as likely to spend their career with the company. A Deloitte survey indicates that 28% of millenials are looking to leave their jobs in the next two years because of a lack of learning or development opportunities.

As a Brandon Hall study suggests, the result of learning shouldn’t just be learning, but should be tied to a business result. Research available shows that mentorship programs influence employee engagement and retention. These are big-ticket items a CFO or CEO can get behind.

The big concept in learning right now is what Deloitte calls learning in the flow of life in its HCM Trends 2019 report. What better way to achieve this learning objective than to develop a mentorship program that reinforces what the organization is already doing. Mentors help extend their mentees’ knowledge and answer questions that pop up along the way. They can also teach application in real-time.

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Lastly, sell your executive team on their legacy. Though executives don’t always like to think of a time when they won’t be with an organization, they want to leave the organization on the path to success and in the hands of smart and capable employees. Establishing a mentorship program can ensure that their legacy lives on in the years after they retire.

Pull your executives in to be part of the program and establish a succession plan with learning at the forefront. Learning should help guide the future of the organization and supported with mentorship for success in the long-term. With leadership on board, it’s easier to win over all of your employees.

Make good matches

The humble mentor sometimes doesn’t believe they are a mentor at all, but their knowledge and expertise is tremendously valued by the organizations they serve. Mr. Miyagi wasn’t always the sensei. He was molded into a leader and instructor. Companies can’t always expect employees to step forward and volunteer. Many don’t believe they’re capable or have the knowledge and wisdom necessary to take the extra step to help a younger employee grow in their career.

A Gallup poll indicates that 59% of millennials look at their jobs as development opportunities. Younger generations in the workplace expect their employer to provide learning opportunities. What better way to support learning and growth than to pair them with a career veteran to show them the ropes?

There are three steps you should follow when getting a mentorship program started:

  1. Identify your strongest assets and encourage them to participate. Look to your LMS to provide content on mentorship to cultivate mentors. With this knowledge, they can guide others.
  2. Match mentors with their mentees. Consider things like career knowledge, job descriptions, personalities, and skills gaps to connect the right mentor with the right mentee.
  3. Connect each mentor with their mentee. Just announcing who’s partnered with whom isn’t enough to carry the program through the initial process. You will need to help facilitate initial communication so it’s not an awkward experience. All employees should understand that their role is to build each other up and have an ally to guide them through their work experience. Once the program is initially launched, you can begin the process by pairing new hires with mentors.

Your mentorship program should be part of the in-person learning experience that is social in nature as opposed to being one-directional. This is an opportunity to engage employees of every generation in the learning experience.

Getting a formalized mentorship program started takes a little bit of work, but pays tremendously for everyone involved. Mentors can support your organization’s learning objectives and develop talent on every level. To get started, create a plan, sell it to leadership, and establish a program that guides young employees in their career with your organization and helps leadership establish a legacy.

Jerry Cox is president at Brainier Solutions, a Minneapolis-based subsidiary of BI Worldwide. Mr. Cox has more than 30 years of general management experience. Since 2001, he has been the president of Brainier Solutions, a Minneapolis-based company that provides technology-based training and development products to corporations worldwide. Mr. Cox holds a BBA degree from Cleveland State University and has additional studies in electrical engineering and computer technology. In his spare time, he is an accomplished musician and avid reader, and offers volunteer leadership on several boards and associations.

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