My interest in mentorship programs was sparked by the program we launched in eMAG, the company I work for. I’ve always dreamed of doing this for our organization, as a means to diversify the learning methods we use and get people used to something else than training. The feedback was pretty great, and we’re working […]
My interest in mentorship programs was sparked by the program we launched in eMAG, the company I work for. I’ve always dreamed of doing this for our organization, as a means to diversify the learning methods we use and get people used to something else than training. The feedback was pretty great, and we’re working on launching a second iteration. Since I had a personal interest in learning about how others work with mentorship programs I thought others might have too. So why not make it public.
So a couple of months ago I dropped a post on LinkedIn. It sounded something like this:
I received dozens of messages from people who were willing to share their stories about creating mentorship programs. I was impressed and happy to experience how open L&Ds are to help others grow. 8 people took the time to answer my questions and I couldn’t be more thankful. So before going further, I have to mention and thank those who offered their time and energy to answer my questions:
- Eugenia Dabu
- Olla Jongerius
- Clodagh Logue
- Eveline Dicu
- Tijana Kovacevic
- Lucinda Bianchi
- Monica Barcan
- Sonja Polt
This article wouldn’t have been the same without you!
Now going back to mentorship, I hope you will take as much as I did out of this small guide I put together. It’s a guide that will help you in launching your own mentorship program.
Why should you start thinking about launching a mentorship program?
Support a culture of learning and inclusiveness
Let’s take a step back and look at the various definition of mentorship across dictionaries:
Just by looking at these two definitions a reason for building a mentorship program is already shaping in everyone’s mind. Passing the knowledge from senior people to junior people. And yes, this was a common factor in the answers of everyone I talked to. But it was more than that. Going beyond the transactional idea of sharing knowledge, one of the first reasons people deploy mentorship programs is to support a culture of continuous learning.
By stepping out of the training room and in the mentors’ or mentees’ shoes, you make people take a more active approach in their learning process. Moreover, you make them a part of someone else’s learning process. Both of which send the clear message that we, as an organization, always try to learn.
Moreover, mentorship can help your culture with becoming more inclusive, while supporting your DEI initiatives.
Personalized learning is all the fuss in L&D right now. It’s mostly related to tech, but I think it can go beyond that. What best way to make learning personal than to have someone guide you through your struggles, challenges, and needs of development?
Networking and human interaction
Another reason for building a mentorship program is helping people get to know each other, understand each other’s struggles, and supporting each other’s growth. Since the pandemic lowered the chances of individual encounters, facilitating networking helps them stay sane, and get out of their daily business. In return, this leads to higher engagement and productivity for businesses.
Of course, there are also transactional reasons for building a mentorship program. First of each is knowledge transfer. If you’re working in an agile organization such as the one I work for, you know knowledge management is such a pain in the ass! Yet, it’s one of the most important assets of an organization. When people leave your company, one of the things you’re grieving for is what they knew, their skills, and capabilities. Making sure people talk to each other and share the knowledge they have increases your chances of success because the knowledge will stay in your company for a longer time.
Cost effective learning
Another more transactional reason why is keeping L&D costs low. A mentorship program can be done fully in-house. No external resources needed. Hence, no huge budgets needed. Of course, if you want to use some tech providers, you will definitely need some budget. But a basic mentorship program can be done by you and your other L&D peers. The only costs you should take into consideration is the time spent by people in 1:1 meetings or preparing for their mentor and mentee role.
Now, a quick recap. This will help both with convincing yourself you need to develop a mentorship program and with selling the program to your stakeholders. Why should you build a mentorship program?
- It will support your learning culture, and make it more inclusive;
- It will personalize learning for your employees, and help them in their development journey;
- It will support networking and human interaction in this new remote world;
- It will help your company stay ahead of the curve by keeping its knowledge in-house;
- It’s a cost-effective way of support learning.
How should you structure the program?
The structure of your program can vary depending on how hands-on you can be.
If you’re running the program
You should give the tone in terms of selecting mentors and mentees for a time-bound period.
- For selecting mentors and mentees you can run two surveys in your organization. For example, in eMAG we send over a survey to mentors to see what they would be willing to share with a mentee, what they are looking for, and why do they want to be mentors. Another example is BerLearn, a Berlin-based L&D community. They currently select mentees by running surveys to check their needs, wants, expectations, and knowledge of the L&D field, personality type, learning style & desired type of mentor (gender, industry, experience, specialization, etc);
- As for the timeline, contributors to this article mentioned they ran their programs for 6 months and up to 1 year.
If you want people to be more autonomous
You can first set-up a spreadsheet where people give various details about themselves such as name, skills, function, role, why they want to be mentors, what are they looking for in their mentees, and their LinkedIn profile. Then share the spreadsheet with everyone in the organization, encourage people who are looking for mentors to reach out, and maybe check in from time to time to see how things are going.
Grasp, the mentorship platform is supporting such an autonomous process by using the tech behind the product.
Should you deploy it for the whole organization?
Run a pilot
Drawing from my experience and the experience of those who contributed to this article, if you’re just starting out, you should think of a pilot program at first. There are various considerations to do it this way, one of them being you can fail with less impact. Also, by running a pilot you can check:
- If your capacity (in terms of resources, time, know-how) is enough to run a mentorship program;
- What feedback do you get from both mentees and mentors?
- Who’s interested in such a program? Both as mentors and mentees.
- What support people need?
Deploy it where is needed
Depending on your needs, you might want to address your mentorship program to specific target audiences like new employees, people managers, potential managers, entry-level employees, and the list can go on.
Make it for everyone
You can always address your mentorship program to the whole organization. Before doing so, be aware of the following:
- Being able to provide support to a large audience;
- Having high-quality mentors for everyone’s needs. A large pool of mentees will come with a large pool of diverse needs;
- Be aware of specifics. How long have people been with the company might be something you should take into consideration. Their level of performance as well. If their contract is undetermined or determined. If they work part-time or full time.
No matter if you’re opening your mentorship program to the whole organization or just for a few people, knowing your audience will help with:
- Building confidence as you pitch your program to all the stakeholders;
- Crafting your message to communicate based on your audiences’ needs.
How do you attract mentees?
Since we’re talking about crafting your message to your target audience, I should mention this is the first tip in attracting mentees.
So first, know what your audience needs. Know their challenges, their ways of communicating, even the words they use. Also, brand your program, give it a name, craft a tagline, build a logo.
Second, you can apply the scarcity effect. Both us in eMAG, BerLearn, and ING communicated a limited number of seats to boost interest in the program.
Third, use all channels available. Do you have an Intranet? A learning platform? A newsletter? An All Hands meeting? Use them. Not only to promote your program through the “Come and get it” call to action. Add on quality content as well. In eMAG, we built an infographic with the results of the pilot program and the feedback we got and we’re building an article to showcase how everything happened. We expect this to attract new mentees to our second iteration.
Fourth, leverage word of mouth. Make sure the experience your mentees have is top-notch. This will make them talk to other colleagues and spread the word about your program.
Fifth, leverage your current relationships. Make sure HR Business Partners are kept in the loop from A to Z with what’s happening with the program. Tell the people managers you’re connected with about it. Use other interactions such as workshops or informal meetings to share the news.
How do you attract mentors?
Letting mentors know they are helping others is the key. Everyone is doing this and the result is attracting specifically those with the right motivation.
Public recognition. Let mentors know you appreciate their effort by using their names or the feedback they got from their mentees publicly.
Show them other benefits. Grasp wrote an article about other benefits mentors get out of this role such as career development, expanding their network, and others. Use those when sourcing for mentors.
Turn mentees into mentors. Who better understands the importance of being a mentor than someone who had one? Look for those mentees who can give back.
Supporting mentees and mentors throughout the program
There are various ways to support both mentees and mentors throughout the program. The most common ones I found while talking to companies such as Fitbit or ING or organizations such as BerLearn were:
- Publishing guidelines for both roles;
- Training on their role;
- Build communities around mentees and mentors;
- 1:1 meetings with mentors in their onboarding in the role.
What should mentors know about their role?
I was recently talking to someone in my team about the idea of giving mentors a greater perspective about their role. I got the idea out of an HBR article on sponsoring junior talent and was pretty inspired by it. Although they are not emphasizing the role of the mentor as being more than one of an advisor and coach, I think it’s an amazing opportunity for mentees when mentors wear more hats:
- Being a mentor. Provide advice, support or coaching;
- Strategizer. Share “insider information” about advancing;
- Connector. Make introductions to influential people;
- Opportunity giver. Provide a high-visibility opportunity;
- Advocate. Publicly advocate a promotion.
Still, for a mentor to be able to do all this, they need awareness about their role, training on how to do it, and the appropriate environment. It’s not mandatory for them to fill all those shoes, but if they have the potential to do so, why not encourage them?
Other useful resources you can share with mentors and mentees
- 6 Things Every Mentor Should Do
- Five Questions Every Mentor Must Ask
- How do you build a successful mentor-mentee relationship?
- We Studied 100 Mentor-Mentee Matches — Here’s What Makes Mentorship Work
- What Mentors Wish Their Mentees Knew
- How do you build a successful mentor-mentee relationship?
- We Studied 100 Mentor-Mentee Matches — Here’s What Makes Mentorship Work
- Craft a Career That Reflects Your Character
- A Simple Way to Map Out Your Career Ambitions
Of course, just like any other learning program, a mentorship program comes with its own challenges. Some already familiar to us, L&Ds, some fresh on the table.
Making the right match
Clodagh Logue, Human Resources Director (Devices & Services) at Fitbit presented a rather interesting and particular challenge of such a program. One that I went through myself, in eMAG, together with my team. Making the right match between mentors and mentees. When you deploy such an initiative throughout departments, and across timezones and geographies, you should expect the complexity of the matching process to be higher. Moreover, the matching process being one of the most important factors of a successful mentor-mentee relationship, this should be your focus from day 1.
In order to overcome it, Clodagh mentioned to me an interesting solution: setting clear matching parameters. I took the idea with me and I now think of it as designing your own algorithm. You can set yourself to match people:
- Only from different functions or countries;
- Based on sex and age;
- Based on personal interests.
Don’t expect this to make your life easier. As long as an AI won’t do your job, this will be a challenge you’ll encounter.
A way too familiar challenge of a mentorship program is continuous engagement. Everyone will experience it and as we already know it doesn’t feel good. To overcome it you can set regular check-ins with both parties. If you want to run a more loose mentorship program just acknowledge that it’s ok for some people to loose their interest.
Still, in both cases, you should know why they gave up and try to design the program to avoid those disengagement triggers.
If we build it will they come? No, not always. Sometimes just putting the program out there won’t do the job. You have to convince people it’s worthy. Use the attraction tactics mentioned above to bring onboard both mentors and mentees.
Asking for feedback
How else would you know what to improve if you don’t ask for feedback, right? Of course, this depends again on how loose you’re running your program. As a common ground, our contributors use surveys, focus groups, and informal talks with other stakeholders involved.
Apart from asking for feedback, knowing what to investigate is just as important.
- How much would you recommend the mentorship program to your colleagues? – a common NPS type of question
- Followed up by: What worked well? or What did not work for you?
- What suggestions do you have for future iterations?
- How clear was your role in the program?
- What were your main responsibilities as a mentee/ mentor?
Matching & relationship questions
- How would you score the matching between you and your mentor/ mentee?
- If they score low, follow-up with: Tell us more
- How often did you meet?
- How would you rate the communication with your mentor/ mentee?
- Did you reach the goals set for the program? If no, why so?
- What did you learn in the process?
- How supported do you feel now in your development journey?
- Has your network grown since the beginning of your program?
You can dig into these questions in the middle of the program, at the end of it, or on each opportunity you have to reach participants.
Measuring return of investment
Knowing your program has the desired impact goes beyond the feedback you get. The important thing here is to define what’s your desired impact. Depending on your goal you can track:
- Engagement surveys and questions about career development support;
- Retention of participants;
- Internal transfers or promotions;
- Performance KPIs.
Still, it’s up to you how closely you look at data!
Other useful thoughts
In my conversation with Clodagh, she also touched on the idea of reverse mentorship, where senior people get to be mentored by more junior ones. The benefits are endless, from taking in the ideas and growth mindset of someone who’s just starting out, to just seeing how younger generations think about work and their roles.
Senior leadership support matters
Treat your stakeholders well. They matter in promoting your programs and gaining traction. Pitch them before you launch, and keep them engaged with recurrent follow-ups to let them know how your program is doing.
Keep alumni in your mentor pool
This was an interesting thought Tijana shared with me. Although people leave your company, they might still be emotionally attached to your program and their colleagues. Give them the opportunity to keep sharing their knowledge as long as they want to do so.
Although not without roadblocks, a mentorship program might be the best way for you to keep L&D costs low, while still perpetuating the idea of continuous learning at all levels.
This guide should help you not run into the same challenges we all did, provide some inspiration, and give you a sense of what matters and what should be done. The decision is up to you!