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January 12, 2022

The power of mentorship programs

When you think about mentorship programs, it’s easy to immediately wonder how they might benefit the mentee. But have you considered how mentorship programs can be a boon for your organization?

A strong, active, planned mentorship program can be an employee engagement tool that acknowledges and taps the skills of current leaders, develops younger talent and strengthens the overall work culture and dynamic.

Mentorships may boost job satisfaction

According to a CNBC/SurveyMonkey poll, 9 in 10 respondents who had a career mentor reported being satisfied in their jobs, including 57% who were very satisfied. Conversely, 4 in 10 respondents without a mentor reported they considered quitting their job in the past three months.

Mentorship program participation also improved employee engagement factors, giving them a stronger sense of appreciation and belonging:

  • 79% of participants felt like they were paid well vs. 69% of nonparticipants.
  • 89% of participants believed their contributions were valued by their colleagues vs. 75% of nonparticipants.

Engagement and retention impact

Positive engagement and a strong sense of appreciation and belonging can lead to positive impacts on retention. A past study from tech company Sun Microsystems showed retention rates of 72% for mentees and 69% for mentors. This compared to 49% for employees who didn’t participate.

Mentoring not only helps with engagement and retention, but it’s also a way to identify and develop your future leaders. In a survey of Fortune 500 companies, 71% reported seeing mentorships as an important employee development tool. Additionally, mentors were promoted 6x more often than nonparticipants - and mentees 5x more often.

There could be a natural tendency for self-motivated, high-performing employees to be more inclined to participate in such programs when offered. Still, the numbers suggest mentorship programs are a great way of investing in employees as a long-term investment to improve their performance.

Coaching vs. mentoring

coaching and mentoring differences

When it comes to mentoring, it’s good to note what it is - and what it isn’t. Coaching an individual involves immediate, direct feedback to an employee, often from a direct supervisor.

Mentoring, on the other hand, is about further developing talent and considers a mentee’s strengths, weaknesses and potential career trajectory. These sessions are structured - usually one-on-one - and do not necessarily involve a direct supervisor.

Where coaching is usually about current performance, mentorships provide mid- and long-term guidance as they progress in their role and prepare for future advancement.

Types of mentoring

Mentorships can take different forms with different focuses.

One type is peer mentoring. In a peer mentorship, the mentee is paired with a colleague who has slightly more experience and organizational familiarity. These may sometimes serve as a buddy system and are a good way to help a mentee - especially if they’re new - feel more comfortable in the organization and current role and help avoid potential short- and mid-term pitfalls.

Another type is professional growth mentoring, which is probably what most people think of when considering mentorship programs. These concentrate on developing new and emerging skills and advancing the employee in their career. These may be led by a direct supervisor or other manager or leader who has experience, skills or traits that interest the mentee.

A third type involves a long-term career and life mentor. These mentorships may be led by someone in the organization, or potentially even within the employee’s wider network - and may not necessarily be part of an organization’s formal mentorship program. These relationships cover long-term goals that may or may not involve their current practice, along with other career ambitions inside and outside the practice.

Two keys for mentorships to work

There are two critical components for mentorship programs to be successful.

First, they require mentors who are invested in the success of their assigned mentees. Having mentorships stagnate due to mentor disinterest can lead to fractured working relationships and potentially tarnish your organization’s standing with employees.

Second, programs require motivated mentees who embrace the opportunity. While mentors often gain as much from a mentorship program as the mentees, they’re ultimately intended as a development tool. Mentee indifference could make a bad impression with leadership that they’ll have to work to overcome.

Establish ground rules

Successful mentorships start with participants agreeing to the terms of the relationship. That begins with setting a meeting frequency and committing to it. They should also state what it is the mentee would like to gain from the relationship and whether they’d like to set a target end date.

It’s also important to both build trust and establish appropriate boundaries. Mentors need to feel like they can provide honest feedback - without being overly critical - and mentees must understand the feedback is coming from a desire to see them grow.

Conversely, mentees shouldn’t use their mentors like a psychologist, and they need to feel confident they can reject a mentor’s advice without damaging the relationship.

How to get started

Identifying mentorship program participants

If there’s interest in starting a mentorship program at your organization, there are a few things you can do to launch one.

Start by building a bench of eager mentors. Review high-performing and senior staff, and understand their strengths, passions and potential interest in participating.

Next, look for which mentees may be best suited for your available mentors. One option could be to develop a questionnaire for potential participants to answer what they hope to gain from a mentorship.

There may be some opportunity to help your mentors identify resources, but it’s important for these relationships to become personal connections to reap real benefits. If participation feels mandatory and like another activity box to check, participants will check out and could even grow cynical toward it and other programs.

Don’t forget to measure

Finally, be sure to measure the results of any mentorship program. Follow up periodically with mentors and mentees to gauge how the relationships are going. Seek feedback following the conclusion of mentorships.

Also, set key performance indicators like employee satisfaction, learning targets reached and retention rates to measure over time. Then be ready to adapt your program as needed based on the results so your staff can continue to forge positive relationships - and your organization can continue to develop its current and future leaders.

Read PracticeLink articles by Drew Terry

Drew Terry

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