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Small Business Tips

How to start a mentoring program

MileIQ Team

Want to see retention rates in your business climb by up to 22 percent? Want to watch promising employees reach their potential?

You should consider introducing a mentorship program. Here’s our rundown of what’s involved.

What is a mentor?

A business mentor is someone who guides a less experienced person by building trust and modelling positive behaviors.

Typically, the mentor tends to be older than the ‘mentee’ (the person being mentored). That’s simply because they usually have more experience, knowledge and patience.

There are subtle differences between coaching and mentoring. Coaching is usually short-term and task-based. Mentoring is more of a long-term prospect.

What are the benefits of mentoring?

An American Society for Training and Development study found that 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs. They know it’s an investment in performance, productivity and innovation.

World-leading research company Gartner conducted probably the most famous study of business-mentoring programs.

This five-year research into Sun employees found that:

  • One quarter of mentorship participants enjoyed a salary change, against five percent among non-participants
  • Mentees gained promotions five times more often than non-mentees
  • Retention rates rose 22 percent among mentees and 20 percent among mentors

Similarly, in 2015, the Harvard Business Review found that, among CEOs in mentoring programs:

  • 84 percent said their mentor had helped them avoid major mistakes
  • 84 percent became better in their roles sooner
  • 69 percent made better decisions

How do mentorship programs work?

Business-mentoring programs can be short or long term. They might begin in a broad way but evolve to tackle just one issue. Or they could go on for years and deal with a range of issues.

How does it all work? The mentor and mentee will usually meet at agreed places and times to talk about issues, decide how they’re going to resolve them, and then review progress.

Sessions can be as formal or as informal as participants like. But each one should have a defined purpose.

Mentorship programs in the workplace offer support for new staff and potential stars and also result in an open, welcoming culture. One in which all workers chip in ideas to improve working processes.

How to start a mentoring program

Ever asked an employee what they plan to be doing in five years’ time? It’s a good question, but your business has to help them get there. If people are to develop and gain promotion, they need a mentorship program to accelerate the process.

But how do you set up a mentoring program? You can’t just decide who’s going to be a mentor and who’s going to be a mentee, then sidle out for a cup of coffee.

This kind of approach depends on the willingness of mentors to make it work. Chances are, though, they’re busy and might not have time to get involved in a mentorship program.

Here are a few ways you can build a successful mentorship program into your company’s processes.

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1. Define mentorship

If you’re going to ask someone to take part in a business-mentoring program, you’re going to have to define it. They won’t want to be involved if they don’t understand it. What’s expected of them? What are the goals? How are mentors paired up with mentees?

2. Pick your mentors

You can’t simply make all your directors mentors. They might not want to do it. Would you want a mentor who wasn’t fully committed to the job? Try to get people to volunteer.

Mentors don’t need to be higher level. A good middle manager might be all you need to help a new junior recruit fulfill their potential. Find people who believe in the idea of mentorship.

3. Pick your mentees

You should look for volunteers here, too. But make sure you prioritize. You don’t need more than you can handle. Maybe start with those who are already seen as future stars. Or begin with a particular department.

Whatever you decide to do, don’t discriminate. Try to get a balanced gender and racial mix, or you might end up in trouble.

4. Decide how often they’ll meet

Whether your mentors and mentees meet once a week or once a month will probably depend on their locations. Someone who’s always on the road will have trouble committing to a regular date and time. You may need to build in some flexibility.

5. What about confidentiality?

Clearly, mentors and mentees should trust each other. Where the mentee has issues, the mentor should know that they’re talking confidentially. If the mentee says they’re having difficulty getting their head around something, it’s unprofessional for the mentor to report that to their supervisors.

There are a couple of instances where confidentiality goes out of the window. The first is anything that affects the program that the mentor and mentee agree should be shared. And the other is anything that breaks the law, such as the mentee reporting that their boss is a bully. Either party should report this.

How to be a good mentor

Being a good mentor starts with providing the right environment. Find somewhere private with comfy chairs, good lighting and plenty of refreshments. Make sure you show up on time and block out all interruptions.

Kick off by acknowledging that your mentee will be apprehensive. Perhaps open up with some friendly small talk. Follow this up by explaining how you think the sessions will go and promising that everything they say will stay within the four walls. This will help them be honest and open up more.

It will pay you to clear up some early questions. These might include why they want to be mentored, what they’ve already tried and what’s stopping them doing what they need to do to move forward.

You’ll then want to set some goals. Consider using the SMART technique and make them:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

When you’re done, summarize the session and the actions that you expect from your mentee. If you’re meeting monthly, a quick phone call after two weeks should help keep them on target.

In summary

Remember that you can entice new employees into the business with great pay and top perks. But that’s not enough to keep them.

They need to feel valued and heard and that they’re contributing meaningful work that chimes with the ethos of the organization. This is where you can score highly with your mentorship program.

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