Developing and implementing a mentoring program takes more than the best of intentions. First, pinpoint your specific goals and make sure that they align with the organization’s goals and will benefit the employee in his current role.
With those objectives in mind, consider what sort of mentoring arrangement may be most helpful. Do you want formal relationships — with partners in regularly scheduled contact — or do you want to operate more on an as-needed basis? Do you want to pair mentors with protégés in the same department or mix things up a bit?
Also consider how the mentee’s manager will remain involved. There should be some type of communication process that helps all three parties (mentor, mentee, and mentee’s manager) stay engaged.
Looking at the mentoring program as a whole, you need to decide who’s going to have authority over it. Also, consider your budget and how you’ll measure the success of the overall effort. Addressing such issues as these at the outset will better your results and keep thorny problems from cropping up along the way.
How to choose professional mentor pairings
The key to an effective mentoring program for your employees is to choose mentors who are temperamentally suited to the task. They don’t necessarily need to be your most senior managers. Mentors should be naturally empathetic and enjoy the role of helping, listening, and sharing information with others.
Among other attributes, ideal mentors should have
Excellent communication and leadership skills
Enthusiasm for working together as a team
Patience and understanding, particularly with less-experienced protégés
Solid connections within the organization
A sense of how much involvement with a protégé is appropriate and what crosses the line to micromanaging
A solid understanding of company policies and practices
Here are some other suggestions on how to identify people in the company — or even outside the organization — best suited to fill a mentoring role:
Get recommendations. Ask managers to recommend members of their staff who have the personality to act as effective mentors. Make sure that whoever they recommend has the time to devote to the task.
Choose good role models. Select as mentors those whose attitudes you’d ideally want the new employee to emulate — flexible, agile, open minded, enthusiastic.
Talk to managers who have expressed that they’re nearing retirement. Sometimes people nearing retirement look for someone to mentor. This isn’t always the case, of course, but it may be worth checking out.
Find common ground. As you narrow down relationships to specific individuals, look for things (same schools, similar hobbies) that can create a rapport between mentor and employee.
It’s best if a mentor is not the mentee’s direct supervisor. The mentee should feel comfortable asking questions of, discussing challenges with, and soliciting advice from a neutral party who has no control over his career advancement.
How to begin an employee mentoring program
You should schedule an introductory training session for mentors. Even the most experienced employees will get a better handle on their mentoring responsibilities with some focused direction. They also need to understand what you expect of them and what they can expect from the experience.
Emphasize the fine line between being a valuable source of insight and hovering to the point where the employee feels smothered. Training is also helpful in terms of letting mentors know just what will be involved in terms of time commitment.
A meeting between you and each mentoring pair is next. Here, everyone can get on the same page regarding goals, expectations, and other elements of the program. Cover what’s required of everyone involved and how they can best benefit from the arrangement. Address meeting frequency, goals, and how long the program will last.
If you check in at the outset, you’ll be able to intervene early if there are any problems. Sometimes there’s just a poor match, and people need to be reassigned. In other cases, there may be issues with time commitments or the level of mentoring being provided. If the mentor and newcomer clearly aren’t hitting it off, end the relationship diplomatically but quickly.