How to Structure a Mentorship Program

How to Structure a Mentorship Program

Sharing advice, perspectives, experience, and knowledge helps employees build strong relationships with one another. This experience also helps groups gain more meaning from their work and extends their skills outside of their day-to-day jobs. A proven way to foster this kind of collaborative environment is through a mentorship program. If you’re looking to engage your employees in a meaningful and rewarding way, here’s how to structure a mentorship program that’s a right fit for your organization.

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Why Does Mentoring Matter?

If designed and implemented thoughtfully, a mentoring program can:

  • Increase employee satisfaction
  • Build leadership skills
  • Foster connections among employees
  • Improve employee retention
  • Create a competitive advantage in the labor market
  • Boost company morale and improve company culture
  • Elevate skill sets across the organization

What Kind of Mentorship Program Should I Start?

There are several different types of mentorship programs to consider for your organization. Your first order of business will be to decide on the type of program that works best with your company structure and culture. Here are a few to consider:

One-on-One Mentoring

One-on-one mentoring is the most traditional type of mentoring, in which two individuals are paired up and encouraged to meet regularly. Typically, the structure is an older, more experienced employee paired with a younger, more junior-level employee. The purpose of this specific mentorship structure is to build connections across generations of work. This connection gives younger employees the chance to “manage up,” improve their knowledge, get advice on the professional world, and challenge their work.

If you’re looking to cultivate a strong entry-level workforce and help older employees feel valued, one-on-one mentoring programs are the best option. When you’re pairing employees, be sure to ask specific questions about their interests, goals for the mentorship, and preferences for a match.  

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Reverse Mentoring

Similar to one-on-one mentoring, reverse mentoring also pairs up more established employees with more junior employees. However, in this type of structure, the younger employee typically takes the lead, teaching the older employee about new programs, technologies, or ways of working.

Reverse mentoring programs are more common at tech organizations or companies that are on the cutting edge of innovation, with younger employees bringing in necessary new skills. Reverse mentoring helps ensure the older, more established employees remain relevant and marketable in a rapidly changing work environment, while still building intergenerational relationships at your organization. 

Project Mentoring

If your workplace is project-focused and you’re hoping to improve efficiency and productivity, consider forming mentorship programs around specific projects. This could mean pairing up a person who has worked on a similar project with someone new to the project. It could also mean setting up mentorships within a project team to help build a stronger group. The idea of this mentorship program structure is to share best practices when it comes to specific projects and related challenges.

Speed Mentoring

Similar to speed dating or speed networking, with speed mentoring, employees match up to discuss challenges and advice. Every five minutes, the pairings change, allowing larger groups to mix and mingle and share insights. Speed mentoring is an excellent ice-breaker activity for a company-wide meeting or a larger group. This practice also works best if a structure is in place that encourages matches to continue meeting if they hit it off.

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How To Structure Your Program

Your program can be formal or informal, depending on how embedded in the company culture you’d like to make it. Informal mentorship programs typically offer up the opportunity to be paired, so employees know it’s an option for them if they choose. A more formal structure may require regular reporting on goals and progress. It may even be required as part of performance objectives.

There are pros and cons to each structure. An informal structure is less daunting to implement, but without accountability, it may be less likely to stick. A formal structure helps ensure a more ingrained mentorship program but is also a lot more work on your end to keep up with and ensure continued effectiveness.

What’s Your Goal?

When thinking about creating a mentorship program, it can help first to consider what your goal is. This may help you decide on the best type of structure and how formal to make it. The goal could be anything from increasing employee satisfaction and retention to improving advancement opportunities for minority employees. No matter the goal, be sure to be clear on it from the outset. This will help you make a clear case to management and will also help you design a more relevant and concise program.

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How to Make it Stick

In order to establish a culture of mentorship, employees will need to participate actively and regularly, in addition to advocating for the program and expanding it. Consider some of these ideas, especially at the outset, to encourage mentorship in your organization:

  • Create a small ambassador group: Try rolling out the mentorship program with a select employee “cohort.” This will allow you to try your ideas in a small sample size and garner feedback on how the process is going. Creating a small group first also helps build camaraderie around the program. If it goes well, and their feedback is taken into account when designing the program, these individuals will be enthusiastic mentorship ambassadors across the organization.
  • Give some shout outs: Consider spotlighting a mentor pair regularly to the entire office. Not only does this recognize the great successes of mentorships and boost visibility for participating employees, it also gets the word out that the program exists.
  • Incentivize meetings: If it’s in your budget, consider providing every mentor pair with a gift card to a coffee shop or local restaurant to use regularly. When coffee or food is already paid for, what reason would they have not to meet?
  • Embed objectives and reviews: Consider making mentorship a part of annual employee objectives, and create annual evaluation criteria that incorporate mentorship. If you don’t want to add “mentoring” into objectives overtly, then consider increasing the emphasis your evaluations place on “leadership skills” in general by positioning mentorship as a powerful way to achieve that objective.

Your Turn

We hope this guide on how to structure a mentorship program has been helpful. Business mentoring is about helping employees become more effective—and supporting and involving employees in the process. Explore the coaching skills training materials available at HRDQ to help you build powerful mentors at all levels of your organization.

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