This is the first post in a three-part series on how to design an effective mentorship program.
While speaking with many senior HR executives about how they can improve their company culture, mentorship has consistently been top-of-mind for our clients. These executives have told us that their company struggles to foster an effective mentorship culture, and that even if they do administer a formal program that it is a lot of work for their HR staff and isn’t as effective as it could be.
To help ensure that your company doesn’t face the same struggles with mentorship we’ve decided to shed some light on how to design a best practice mentorship program.
To better understand a mentorship program, we’ll break it down into three parts – the pairing, the process, and the conversation.
The pairing is the match between the mentors and mentees
The process is the coordination and follow-up of the meetings between the mentor and the mentee
The conversation is the content of the discussion between the mentor and mentee
Before you even start thinking about which individuals will be paired with whom, you first need to define the pairing strategy. You should start by defining how an employee enters the mentorship program. For many companies that have “starting classes” this is a natural starting point. However, it shouldn’t be the only starting point. New employees who come in off-cycle should also have the same opportunity to mentorship. Moreover, it’s possible that there are existing employees in your company who want mentorship.
Depending on your company’s structure you may also need to define what departments/teams/groups are part of the program. For a mentorship program to be effective it’s crucial that a mentee can get a mentor who is not in their direct reporting line, and where applicable from a group or department that the mentee is interested in.
Once you’ve defined how mentees enter the program, you also need to define what seniority of mentor they will be paired with. Best practice dictates that for new employees they should have the opportunity to engage with both a junior mentor (same level or one level above) and a senior mentor (at least two levels above). However, keep in mind that mentee’s needs evolve as they get more tenured and senior at the company.
Now that you have the high-level eligibility defined you can start to think about what criteria you will use to pair mentors and mentees. Whenever we’ve asked employees who are a part of a mentorship program there is always an overwhelming consensus that the pairings felt random. This is not surprising given the limited information HR has about each candidate and the manual effort required to pair each person.
Unfortunately creating pairings at random or even taking the information that HR does know about mentors and mentees is not enough to start an effective mentorship program off on the right foot. When we’ve asked mentees what the most important factors are in creating an effective pairing the number one criterion was that their mentor has a relevant perspective. In particular that their mentor had already done what the mentee aspires to do. The second most important thing was that the mentor be from the same office so that the pair could meet-up in person. Last, mentors felt that it was also important that the pairing share similar common interests so that they could create a personal connection.
Given this, it is important that HR have a process to collect this information so that they can take it into account in their mentorship program.
While the above covers the needs for the majority of employees to get started with the pairing process, there are two additional considerations that should be taken into account.
First your mentorship program should be considerate of under-represented groups (e.g. Women, ethnic minorities, LGBT, religious groups, veterans etc.). While not every person wants a mentor to be from their group, a very large portion of these mentees think it is very important that their mentor come from the same group. As such, your program should have a process to anonymously capture this information so that it can be incorporated if the mentee wants it to be.
Second, no matter how much information you have, it will be impossible to get all pairings right on the first go. That’s why it is critical that your program be flexible enough to accommodate mentees switching pairings if needed or finding pairings of their own. This is starting to touch on defining the right mentorship process, so we’ll cover this in the next section.
If this sounds like a lot of work you’re not wrong, it is. Good news though, Together offers a mentorship platform that supports the mentorship process from start to finish. In particular it does the entire pairing process for you. The platform collects the required information and bakes in best-practice when automating the pairings. Moreover, it uses AI to learn over-time what works best at your company to make more effective pairings.