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Helping employees climb the ladder to success: Does your business need a mentorship program?

Helping employees climb the ladder to success: Does your business need a mentorship program?

by Lee Hopkins on August 5, 2013

in internal communications,strategy,tools

Dayla by Kris Krug on Flickr

Guest post by Christopher Wallace.

Many of us associate mentorship with students and teachers, athletes and coaches, or even younger people gaining wisdom from extended family members or friends of their parents. But mentorship is something that can happens in the business world as well. Mentorship can allow the mentee to learn valuable skills, receive good advice, and benefit from the mentor’s contacts. However, studies have shown that mentorship is not a one-sided relationship but a two-way street, as the mentor can gain from the experience as well.

How can a senior employee benefit from mentoring? By gaining a new perspective on how the younger generation sees their company, and perhaps even learning new skills relating to unfamiliar technology. In addition, mentorship programs offer advantages to the businesses that make use of them, encouraging employee loyalty and thereby reducing turnover, as well as improving workers’ skills.

A prominent study by Sun Microsystems showed two huge advantages for both mentors and mentees. Each were much more likely to receive promotions and raises than employees who did not participate in the mentorship program. Mentors actually received promotions and raises at a slightly higher percentage rate than mentees did! This is a valuable statistic to have at your disposal when talking to busy employees about giving up some of their time to become mentors.

Before starting up a business mentorship program, however, it is important to ask certain questions to ensure that it works as intended:

  • Who makes a good mentor?
  • How will the program work?
  • Who will run the program?
  • How will you ensure that it is having the desired effect?

1. Who makes a good mentor?

The key to selecting good mentors is to keep in mind that the mentoring relationship is not really about teaching specific skills (although that can be one aspect of the program), but primarily about overall professional development. This means looking for senior-level employees who can help junior employees better understand how to identify a desired career path and to move forward with it, as well as how to balance competing professional and personal demands. Generally, mentors should be "people people," who will genuinely enjoy advising others and see how they gain themselves from the experience.

2. How will the program work?

There are a variety of models for a business mentorship program. Remember that these models are not static. The model may evolve as the program becomes more established within a company’s culture. At first, it may be determined to some extent by sheer numbers. Do you have enough mentors to match them up in a one-on-one relationship with the number of interested mentees? If not, another option is "group mentoring," in which a single mentor works with a small group of mentees. This offers the advantage of building connections not only between the mentor and mentees but between the mentees themselves.

Additionally, consider how long you plan for the mentor to work with the mentee. Is it a limited-duration relationship — for example, for the first year the mentee is with the company? Or, alternatively, do you see it as lasting indefinitely? The key to setting up a successful program is setting distinct parameters. Make sure that both mentor and mentee have a clear picture of what they are signing up for.

3. Who will run the program?

Although some companies take a more informal approach, encouraging employees to seek out mentors themselves or to offer to be mentors to junior employees will help ensure that the process runs smoothly. It may be wise to make a mentorship program official and put it under the leadership of the Human Resources or Training and Diversity Departments.

To demonstrate an organization’s commitment to the concept, it will be beneficial if prominent members of upper management participate in the program as mentors, and free up time and funds for the meetings between the mentors and mentees. Another advantage of making a specific department responsible for the program is that mentors and mentees will have someone to turn to who can mediate any problems that develop in the relationship.

4. How will you ensure that it is having the desired effect?

To measure the program’s effectiveness, keep track of statistics relating to how participation affects rates of employee turnover, as well as rates of raises and promotions. You can also use exit interviews for a limited-duration program to gauge participants’ satisfaction with it, or occasionally check in informally just to see how things are going.

In some ways, the best sign of success is simply whether people continue to sign up for the program. If a stable or growing number of experienced employees want to be mentors and newer employees want to be mentored, then that is a good indication that the word-of-mouth within the company about the program is positive.

How do you think your company can benefit from a mentorship program?

Christopher Wallace, VP of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing promotions, has more than 20 years’ experience in sales and marketing. At Amsterdam, a leading provider of custom pens, mugs, and other personalized items such as imprinted clothing and customized calendars, Christopher is focused on providing quality marketing materials to small, mid-size and large businesses.

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