What is a mentoring program and how does it work?

Build a co-learning program that gets results

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By Nicole Schreiber-Shearer, Future of Work Specialist at Gloat

For most organizations, the concept of a mentorship program is nothing new. Leaders have long understood that co-learning programs are a win-win that powers both skill-building and cross-functional collaboration. However, mentorship programs have only recently emerged as a business necessity.

There are a few factors that have earned co-learning a top spot on many leaders’ list of priorities. Perhaps most notable are ever-widening knowledge gaps, with 40% of HR leaders now saying that they can’t build skill development solutions fast enough to meet evolving needs. Simultaneously, as the Great Resignation continues, employees are putting a premium on purposeful work and seeking opportunities that allow them to make meaningful contributions.

With the right approach, a mentorship program can address both of these priorities at once. Employees will bridge their skills gaps, while their colleagues gain a sense of fulfillment by sharing their expertise and helping their peers progress their careers. However, without an impactful strategy, this potential game-changer will fall flat. Employees might choose not to participate in the program, or walk away from it without learning anything new. So what does it really take to launch a mentoring program that gets the results you’re looking for?

What is mentoring?

Most people know that a traditional mentorship is a relationship in which a more junior employee gains experience and knowledge from a colleague who is further along in their career. But there are actually a few different subcategories of mentorship that leaders should get familiar with, including:

One-on-one mentorship

Employees who will be sharing their skills and expertise (mentors) are matched with colleagues looking to gain experience (mentees), either through a program or on their own. Mentee-mentor pairs participate in a mentoring relationship that follows a structure and timeframe outlined by their organization.

Group mentorship

A single mentor is matched with a cohort of mentees as part of a program that is structured to provide each mentee with individualized guidance from the same mentor.

Reverse mentoring

In reverse mentoring, a junior team member exchanges skills, knowledge, and understanding with a colleague who is more senior but is looking to build capabilities in fields that the junior peer has more experience with

What are the benefits of a workplace mentoring program?

A workplace mentoring program can have multiple benefits that simultaneously improve employee experience while supporting business-critical priorities. Some advantages include:

Retain high-potential talent

As the new war for talent intensifies, it’s getting harder and harder to hold on to employees, especially those with plenty of potential. Harvard Business Review found that young managers recognize the importance of participating in mentoring programs, which they rated as more than a 4 when ranking the importance of career development opportunities on a scale from 1-5. However, the same ranking system revealed that most of these workers think their employers are currently falling short, given that they ranked accessibility to mentorship at approximately a 2.5 out of 5.

Strengthen your company culture

Launching a mentorship program can also have a positive impact on your company culture. Mentoring gives employees the chance to build relationships with peers they may not normally have a chance to work with, cultivating a sense of connectivity that can span your entire organization.

Improve employee engagement and satisfaction

Many employers struggle to crack the code for creating a compelling employee experience. Fortunately, mentoring could be a key part of the equation. One study found that more than 9 in 10 workers who have a mentor within their organization are satisfied with their jobs. These employees are likely to feel more valued for their contributions at work and receive more guidance about building a future with their employer.

Promote diversity and inclusion

While most leaders agree that diversity and inclusion need to be top priorities, there’s still a lot of uncertainty about what it really takes to level the playing field. Mentoring is a step in the right direction since programs can increase the representation of typically underrepresented groups and ensure opportunities are visible to all employees so that no one is overlooked.

Break down silos

Whether you try reverse mentoring or stick with a more traditional approach, virtually every type of co-learning will promote knowledge sharing within your organization. Instead of relying on a small group of employees to channel business-critical expertise, why not encourage these highly-skilled workers to share their competencies with colleagues so that everyone can take advantage of them?

Best practices to upgrade your mentorship program

Since mentorship programs have multiple benefits, it’s no surprise that many leaders are looking to implement or upgrade schemes of their own. If you want to devise a superior strategy that will boost engagement and break down barriers, here are some of the best practices you should consider:

Make it cross-functional

To reduce silos and encourage cross-functional collaboration, you’ll need to think bigger than a department-wide program. A mentorship initiative that is comprised of employees from different business units and departments will maximize knowledge sharing and empower employees to expand their horizons.

Encourage everyone to participate

Forget about reserving your program for the high achievers or a select few employees. The most impactful mentorship programs are those that empower everyone to get involved, either by sharing their expertise as a mentor or learning something new as a mentee.

Put skills at the center of your strategy

Bridging skills gaps should be a core goal of any mentoring program. When it comes time to match mentees to mentors, skills should be the deciding factor that determines which employees get paired together. Encourage your workforce to start thinking about the skills they wish to build and empower managers and employees to come together to brainstorm the competencies that would be most beneficial to prioritize.

Ask for and implement feedback

Even the best mentoring programs can benefit from employees’ insights about future improvements. Provide team members with several opportunities to share their suggestions and strive to implement these ideas so that employees are encouraged to continue sharing their thoughts.

Integrate experiential learning

One of the greatest advantages of a mentorship program is that it gives employees the chance to put the skills they learn into action. The best mentorship schemes include experiential learning opportunities, such as the chance to shadow a mentor or to practice some of the concepts discussed in the program by participating in projects and gigs.

How to upgrade mentoring with a talent marketplace

The right mentee-mentor pairing can make or break the success of your program. So how can you make sure you are matching employees with more senior colleagues who have skills and experience that align with their interests?

In the past, mentorship pairings were usually a guessing game. Leaders needed to make inferences about which colleagues would benefit most from working with one another, but it was challenging to accurately track and align employee interests and experiences, particularly at organizations with sizable headcounts.

In recent years, talent marketplaces have eliminated the need for guesswork, enabling pairing processes that are more efficient and accurate. The two-sided platforms go beyond obvious matches and generate suggestions based solely on your employees’ skills, interests, and professional ambitions. This means that you might see pairing suggestions that you never would have thought of, but will work based on what your people are looking to achieve.

As the new war for talent rages on, leaders are increasingly looking at mentorship programs to improve retention and empower every employee to unlock their full potential. If you want to learn more about what a successful mentorship program looks like in action, read Schneider Electric’s case study to find out how their talent marketplace has helped 7,500 employees find mentors internally.

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