How to Start a High-Impact Mentoring

Looking to start a mentoring program? That’s great. Mentoring is a proven approach to drive rich learning and development for both mentees and mentors. Mentoring also benefits the sponsoring organization.

For employers, mentoring increases retention, promotion rates, and employee satisfaction. At universities, student mentoring is proven to improve student retention, boost job placement rates, and increase alumni engagement when tapping alumni as mentors.

A thriving, impactful mentoring program is within your reach. But great mentoring programs don’t just happen. They are built through thoughtful planning and sustained commitment to guiding participants through the mentoring process while continually improving the program.

Sound like a lot of work? It can be, but the right tools will make the effort much easier. Mentoring software provides a complete program environment that helps organizations start, manage, and measure all types of mentoring programs.

There are 5 key steps to take when designing and implementing your program:

1. Design your mentoring program.

Successful mentoring programs offer both structure and flexibility. Structure provides participants a mentoring workflow to follow and is critical to help participants achieve productive learning that reaches defined goals. Similarly, flexibility is essential to support varying individual mentoring needs across specific learning goals, preferences, and learning style.

Key design decisions include:

  • Enrollment – is it open, application, or invite only?
  • Mentoring style – can be traditional, flash, reverse
  • Connection type – possibly 1:1, group, or project
  • Connection duration – typically weeks or months, or perhaps even just a single session
  • Community/social aspects beyond formal mentoring, tracking and reporting needs.

2. Attract participants

The best designed mentoring programs won’t get far without effective program promotion, mentor recruitment, and training.

You will need to convince them that participating is worth their time and effort. Beyond participants, key leaders and stakeholders will need to be educated on the benefits of the program and strategic value to the organization. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Promote the benefits to participants and stakeholders
  • Consider recognition and rewards for participants
  • Provide training and reinforecement throughout the program

3. Connect mentors and mentees

A productive mentoring relationship depends on a good match. Matching starts by deciding which type of matching you’ll offer in your program: self-matching or admin-matching. Consider giving mentees a say in the matching process by allowing them to select a particular mentor or submit their top three choices. Self-matching is administrative light, which in larger programs can be a huge plus.

For more structured programs, such as large groups of new students at universities, or groups of new corporate employees, you may want to get the program started by bulk, or admin-matching.

Matching best practices start with a solid profile for all participants (mentors and mentees). Critical profile elements include development goals, specific topical interests, location, experiences, and matching preferences.

The more you know about your participants, the better chance your participants will have for a great fit and a happy, productive mentoring outcome.

4. Guide mentoring relationships

Now that your participants are enrolled, trained, and matched, the real action begins.

It is also where mentoring can get stuck. Left to themselves, many mentorships will take off and thrive. But some may not. Why? Because mentoring is not typically part of one’s daily routine. Without direction and a plan, the mentoring relationship is vulnerable to losing focus and momentum. That is why providing some structure and guidance throughout the mentorship is vital to a successful mentoring program.

To guide participants:

  • Provide goals and action plans (or check lists or task lists) for the course of the mentorship
  • Provide “help” resources – mentoring best practices
  • Have a formal process that brings closure to the mentoring experience, with opportunity for participant feedback

5. Measure your mentoring program

Mentoring is a significant investment when you consider program management, infrastructure, and the valuable time of participants. Articulating the impact is essential to secure ongoing funding and support. In addition, the measure phase is also focused on assessing program health to identify trouble spots and opportunities.

Mentoring programs should be tracked, measured, and assessed at three altitudes: the program, the mentoring connection, and the individual. To be effective you need the ability to capture metrics and feedback throughout the program lifecycle.

A Word About Tools

Consider your toolset when deploying a mentoring program. If you have more than 100 participants, you may want to consider mentoring software to help run your program. Mentoring software includes intelligent matching capabilities and guided mentoring workflows in an online portal so that you can measure and share program results. If your participant number is under 50, spreadsheets will do just fine to manage your program.

Final Thoughts

As a development strategy, mentoring is one of the most effective methods of long-lasting learning. Running an effective mentoring program goes way beyond just matching people up. For true impact on your organization, it takes effort, resources, and know-how. Follow these 5 steps and you’ll be on your way to implementing a mentoring program that is easy, efficient, and measurable. Good luck!