How Big Should My Mentoring Program Be?

Written by
Laura Francis

A Well-Planned Audience Is Key to Mentoring Success

How Big to Make Your Mentoring ProgramRiver created the first commercially available mentoring software nearly 20 years ago. Over the past two decades, we have worked with numerous clients from organizations of all types and sizes. Yet even though the organizations varied, they all had questions that they came to the experts at River to help them answer. One such question is: How big should my mentoring program be?

The core part of this question revolves around how many people a client wants to impact with mentoring. Lots of companies will say that they want to impact every employee and offer mentoring to everyone. That can certainly be accomplished, but it helps to segment audiences and break them into unique programs, each with a distinct focus.

For example, you could design a mentoring program focused on onboarding, which means your audience includes new hires and the core mentors who can assist them. You could offer another mentoring program centered on your high-potential employees, with a different set of people as the mentees and mentors in this group. Those programs could run concurrently in River, but the participants would only see the programs that you want them to be a part of.

When you start to run individual programs with more tightly focused audiences, the question of how big you mentoring program is becomes more nuanced.

Program Focus Helps Determine Audience Size

To help you visualize the variations that can occur in mentoring programs, consider the examples below. Clearly, there are numerous other types of mentoring programs that you could consider; those below are simply to illustrate some of the possibilities.

High-potential program

Leading school of fishFor a mentoring program tied to high-potential development, you might identify only 50 or 100 mentees for your program (or some small percentage of participants out of your entire employee population). From there, you should determine the subsequent mentors you want to invite based on that mentee audience size. In total, you may discover that you will have a few dozen or perhaps 100 or so participants for this mentoring program. That is absolutely fine, and in fact is to be expected for such a select group of employees. Don’t view a small program as a bad thing for this audience; it is a highly targeted audience and your mentoring component should reflect that. Ultimately, your high-potential pipeline and process at your organization will help you figure out the size that your mentoring program should be for this audience.

Onboarding program

For an onboarding program, you may find you have potentially a few hundred or even a few thousand employees who could be a part of your program, depending upon the size of your organization and the number of people you hire each year. As a result, a mentoring program tied to your onboarding efforts may need to be larger than one tied to a high-potential development program. The size of the audience will be determined by how many new employees you need to onboard over a given period of time. If you want to expand the program and get more employees involved in mentoring to support onboarding efforts, consider including employees who are in new roles but who are not new hires to your organization. You could have them be mentees in your onboarding program as well to help give them the support they need as they make a transition to a new job in your organization.

Women in Leadership Program

Women mentoring networkFor a Women in Leadership program, you could potentially have a large number of employees involved in your mentoring program. While mentees would be women in your organization, mentors could potentially be any other employees in the organization from across a wide variety of divisions, departments, locations, etc. A program such as this could seem to have a small scope when you first think about it, but in actuality, it could be quite large in scale.

It’s easy to let ourselves get distracted by enrollment numbers and looking at how mentoring participation in one program compares to another. Comparing the size of the programs is where many people get sidetracked. They think that a larger program is better, so they want to invite as many people as they can. But having a core focus for the program and targeting people who fit your criteria for that program audience is more important than just aiming for a particular number. You will get better results by having a clear audience in mind for the program; they are more likely to actively participate and be engaged in their mentoring relationships when they can see that they are a part of a program for a specific reason.

At the end of the day, you want to have a positive impact on your employees by giving them access to mentoring. We understand that and applaud your efforts. But don’t feel like you’ve failed just because you may have only impacted 7% of your employees instead of 70% (or whatever other numbers you may have had in mind). The 7% whom you have impacted are better off because of the work you’ve done. You’ve made a difference in people’s lives by being a mentoring administrator who is strategic in your planning and dedicated in your execution. You should be proud of it.

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