How to Design a Mentoring Program

Every day, we hear from people who need to start or expand a mentoring program in their organization, but who aren’t sure what steps to take. That's why they come to the mentoring experts at River.

How do I design a mentoring program for my organization?

Do you find yourself asking that same question? Then you’ve come to the right place.

River has spent decades helping organizations design, launch, manage, and scale their mentoring programs using our award-winning mentoring software. Read on for questions you should ask yourself about starting a mentoring program, factors you will need to consider, and examples of how this can work in the real world.

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10 questions to ask to get the big picture of mentoring

  1. 1.First and foremost, why do you want to start a mentoring program?
  2. 2.What is your overall vision and goal for mentoring at your organization?
  3. 3.Is there already a mentoring program that is up and running at your company?
  4. 4.How are you using mentoring at your organization? Which business problems or challenges does it address?
  5. 5.Who is the core audience for the program?
  6. 6.How many people take part as mentees and mentors?
  7. 7.Do you want to improve what already exists, expand what exists, or start from scratch?
  8. 8.Who is in charge of the mentoring program (what department or initiative owns it)?
  9. 9.Do you have the power, budget, resources, etc. to enact changes in your organization?
  10. 10.Do you need to get the support of others to bring mentoring to your organization or to change the way you have been doing things?

Once you have answered these questions…

you can start to see the bigger picture for designing a mentoring program at your organization. You may already have something in place that addresses the needs of a high-potential program, or that is part of a larger onboarding process. Knowing where mentoring already operates and how it is being used will help you form a vision of what you want to accomplish with your mentoring plans. From there, you can begin the work of designing your program and forming it to meet your needs.

Designing your mentoring program

If you decide you are ready to begin a mentoring program or improve upon the design of an existing program, there are three design elements you need to consider. You will need to examine the outcomes you want to achieve, the audience you want to impact, and the types of mentoring you want to use.

Design element #1: Outomes

From increasing employee engagement and addressing diversity and inclusion, to improving employee turnover rates and building a leadership pipeline, your mentoring outcomes will take shape based on your organization’s unique needs. To give you an idea of what outcomes you may want to focus on with your mentoring program, answer the following questions:

  • What is the result that you want to achieve through your mentoring program?
  • What is its purpose to the organization?
  • What problems could it solve?
  • What business needs could it address?
  • What are the tangible business results you want your mentoring program to achieve?

Design element #2: Audience

The second design element you need to consider is who you want your audience to be. The way you configure and set up your mentoring program can change depending on who your mentees and mentors will be, so it is critical that you have a central audience in mind when you formulate your plans. This will help guide some subsequent decisions you have to make. To help you identify your core audience, answer the following questions:

  • What audience are you trying to impact (e.g., high-potentials, new managers, women in leadership)?
  • Who will be the mentees or learners?
  • Who will be the mentors or advisors?
  • Will these groups be static, or can their roles change as the program progresses (i.e., can mentees become mentors)?
  • Will people be required or invited to join?
  • Can they choose to join your mentoring program or opt out?
  • How will you recruit new mentees and mentors into the program?

Design element #3: Types

The third element you should focus on as you design your mentoring program is deciding what type (or types) of mentoring you want your mentees and mentors to engage in. Mentoring can be formal, informal, paired, groups, etc. To help you figure out what you want your mentoring program to look like, answer the following questions:

  • Will formal or informal mentoring serve your audience and outcomes?
  • Is it a blend of the formal and informal?
  • Will you use mentoring pairs or mentoring groups (or both)?
  • How do you want people to be connected (or matches to be made)? Will they choose their partners? Will an administrator or manager choose for them?
  • Will they be connected with peers, or possibly use reverse mentoring?

A quick note here to point out that mentoring software is commonly used now to help make matches between mentees and mentors. That said, you will still need to decide if you let people make their own decisions about who they connect with or if you want administrators to make the final choice.

Real-world mentoring examples

Now that you are familiar with the three elements that you need to consider as you design your mentoring program, let’s examine how these factors look in real-world mentoring program designs that our clients have created. Here are three examples of mentoring programs we helped our clients craft and launch.

New managers program


Business justification: The purpose of this mentoring program is to provide practical on-the-job guidance for new managers after their 4 day training class.

Expected results: Reduce time-to-competency for new managers by 6-9 months.

Mentees: New managers within their first 18 months in that role

Mentors: Completed new manager training within the past 1-3 years

1:1 pairs, expert group: All mentees are required to select a mentor and complete a 12-mounth relationship. Mentees will be assigned to groups based on key managements topics.

In this mentoring program, the client used River to support new manager training. The program was designed to help reduce time-to-competency for new managers by six to nine months. They decided the mentees would be people who had just become new managers within the past 18 months, and their mentors would be people who had completed the same training within the past one to three years. They used a combination of paired and group mentoring for the program. They had traditional one-to-one mentoring pairs who took part in a formal 12-month program, with the emphasis being on supporting and extending the value of their new manager training. They also used mentoring groups where a subject matter expert ran a group for mentees, with the focus being on key management topics. Mentees cycled through those groups over the course of the year, giving them the opportunity to learn about numerous topics.

Diversity and inclusion program


Business justification: The purpose of this mentoring program is to provide career mentoring for employee resource group (ERG) members.

Expected result: increase employee engagement and retention.

Mentees: ERG members who are looking for career mentoring

Mentors: ERG members who are willing to mentor and give career advice; must complete mentor training certification

1:1 pairs; peer group: Conduct annual formal mentoring program for 1:1 pairs (matching by committee). There will be optional groups that mentees can join based on interest (veterans, personal brand, etc.).

In this mentoring program, the client used River to support their diversity and inclusion initiative. The program was designed to provide career mentoring for employee resource group (ERG) members in an effort to increase employee engagement and retention. This organization opened the program to two audiences within their ERG member ranks: people who were looking for career mentoring (i.e., the mentees), and people willing to support these learners and give career advice (i.e., the mentors). They required mentors to complete training and become certified in order to participate. (See River’s Service offerings to learn more about mentor certification.) The client used traditional one-to-one pairs that were matched by a committee for this yearlong formal program. They also allowed mentees to take part in peer mentoring groups based on their interest in select topics.

Operations program


Business justification: The purpose of this mentoring program is to groom future Operations leaders to meet growth objectives.

Mentees: Emerging Operations leaders who have been identified by district leads

Mentors: Operations leaders with more than three years of field experience must complete mentor training certification

1:1: Conduct semi annual formal mentoring program for 1:1 pairs; matching done by program administrator, with the approval of head of operations.

In this mentoring program, the client used River to groom future Operations leaders for the purpose of building up their leadership pipeline by 200%. They identified their mentees as emerging Operations leaders who were selected by district leads, and their mentors as Operations leaders who had more than three years of field experience. They also required mentors to complete training and become certified in order to participate, something River can do for clients through our consulting and training services. The client used traditional one-to-one pairs for this semi-annual program, with matching conducted by the program administrator and requiring approval of the Head of Operations.

Other things to consider for your mentoring program

In addition to determining the outcomes, audience and types of mentoring to use for your program, you should also consider other factors that will impact your program design, implementation, and success. These include:

  • Identifying and engaging stakeholders
  • Implementing training for your participants
  • Monitoring participant progress during the program
  • Evaluating the program at various times throughout the program
  • Assessing and mitigating risks related to your program

All great ideas start somewhere…

Regardless of where you start the process, the fact that you want to implement mentoring is a positive goal. We have helped hundreds of organizations design, launch, run, and manage mentoring programs over the years, and we’d love to help you too.

Contact us to discuss your ideas, vision, and goals. Our mentoring experts are here to help. Because at River, we believe you can do more with mentoring.



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