Lessons Learned about Mentoring in the Workplace
Over the past two decades, we’ve worked with hundreds of organizations on designing, launching, and managing their mentoring programs. We’ve learned many lessons over the years as to what works well and what does not work so well when it comes to mentoring in the workplace. We’ve also seen trends emerge around how companies leverage mentoring and bring the practice to their employees. Here are three lessons we’ve learned that can help you on your mentoring journey.
Lesson #1: Mentoring Needs a Purpose
Whether you want to develop a mentoring program because your employee surveys show it is desired by your workforce, or because you think it can help with retention efforts, or because of any number of valid reasons, you need to have a reason why you are launching a mentoring program. Sometimes your purpose may be well defined, such as deciding to use mentoring to support an onboarding program, while other times it may be more general in nature, such as seeing a growing hunger for mentoring among the workforce and looking for a way to meet this need.
Based on our experience, companies that fall into the former category tend to have better success than those that fall into the latter more general need/desire category. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have success with mentoring if you fall into that latter category; it just means that we’ve seen clients have more success when they tie their programs to a specific initiative or use it to meet a well-defined business need. If you fall into the latter category, we would encourage you to push deeper to find a more compelling reason for mentoring besides just that “employees want it.” Can you tie it to a leadership development initiative? Or perhaps you have a training effort that you could use mentoring with to help extend learning? Or maybe you have a diversity and inclusion directive that mentoring can support? What about any employee resource groups where mentoring could be a good fit?
Our clients tend to use mentoring for very clear business reasons, and in the vast majority of times for more than one reason. It is fairly common for our clients to utilize mentoring for a mix of specific narrow initiatives (e.g., high potential development, new manager training), while simultaneously offering mentoring on a broader scale to a larger employee population—effectively tying mentoring to business needs of all types. Some of the top ways that our clients use River mentoring software include:
- Career development
- Leadership development
- High-potential programs
- Diversity and inclusion initiatives
- Intern and new graduate programs
- Employee resource groups
- Manager and supervisor training
- Classroom training support
- Technical skill development
- Knowledge sharing
So ask yourself this: Where can mentoring fit in your organization?
Lesson #2: The Metrics You Measure Will Vary
Yes, you absolutely need to measure results and track metrics in your mentoring programs. No, these measures and metrics will not be the same for all mentoring programs across the board.
Each mentoring program you run should have its own unique goals associated with it. For example, a high potential development mentoring program may have a goal tied to it that seeks to increase promotion rates for participants by 15%. Therefore, you would need to track the participants in the program and their career progression to measure if your mentees are achieving the promotion rates you’ve set. In an onboarding mentoring program, however, you may not need to track that same measure. Instead, you may set a goal for your program that results in the need to evaluate retention rates of your new hires. In that case, you would need to track your participants and evaluate how many stay with your company over a set period of time.
Your measurement strategy should not be a one-size-fits-all model. Each mentoring program is unique and your measurement strategy should reflect that. River works closely with our clients on these types of issues and consults them on plans for tracking and measuring success with their programs. As we learn via the triumphs and struggles of organizations that we work with, our best practices evolve. What we learn today becomes information we disseminate and blend into our advice for you tomorrow.
Lesson #3: Personalization Matters for Mentees and Mentors
We’ve talked about the fact that mentoring programs should be unique in their focus; that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work. The same can be said for the user experience within a mentoring relationship. When you set up your distinctive programs in River, you should also configure the user experience for each program so that it reflects what you want the program to achieve.
For example, River can be configured in numerous ways that allow you to fine tune what mentees and mentors see within the software, how matches get made, what monitoring and tracking occur via River, and much more. These configurations include:
- Deciding if your program will support one-to-one mentoring, group mentoring, or both
- Deciding if matches between mentees and mentors will be self-directed and/or administrator-matched
- Identifying the profile fields and information you want to collect to subsequently use in configuring the matching algorithm and to make available for reporting purposes
- Identifying what competencies/skills/experience areas you want people to profile themselves against
- Designing the matching algorithm to suit your needs
- Building the monitoring check-in surveys so you can keep an eye on participants’ progress
The way you design and run a mentoring program for leadership development will likely differ from how you design and run a program for new manager training. The factors you want mentees and mentors to see, the data you want to collect, and the way you want the program to operate overall should be unique for your various programs. The way you configure each program should reflect your audience and program goals.
Part of River’s promise to our clients is that they are never in this alone. We offer a mentoring solution, not just a software system. Our mentoring experts consult you on every step of your journey so that you create a powerful mentoring program that leaves a lasting impact. Contact River today to start your journey.