Every HR professional aspires to create a happy and engaged workforce. You might be surprised to find that one of the top ways to do so is to encourage a strong mentorship program.
An overwhelming 91% of workers who have a mentor say they are satisfied with their jobs, and more than 40% who didn’t have a mentor said they had considered quitting theirs. These numbers indicate that encouraging mentorship can have a clear positive effect on your workforce retention efforts—not to mention starting your newer employees on a positive path. Here are some ways to create a program that’s beneficial for all.
- Decide whether your program will be formal or informal.
A lot of this will depend on the size and demographics of your company. While everyone can benefit from inter-office networking via employee resource groups, a true mentoring effort requires a more involved, committed group. Companies that have a formal mentoring program create a process to explore the interests and experience of both protégé and mentor candidates to determine the best fit. (This sample questionnaire can help you start the matching process.)
While this is an ideal scenario, you need a critical mass of participants to make it work. If you only have a few new people each year, it might be best to hand pick a few executives who could be a good fit and ask them if they’d be willing to meet informally with these new employees as they begin their journey.
- Address privacy and confidentiality concerns.
HR is in an ideal position to handle a mentor program because of your ability to handle these very real concerns. To avoid any sexual harassment accusations in today’s environment, require that mentoring activities take place in a public setting, such as a conference room with an open door or a restaurant. Encourage all parties to immediately come forward with any concerns. Also, remind mentors that they need to create an environment of trust so that the newer employee feels confident asking them for advice with certain skills, without fear of repercussions that the mentor may relay private information to a supervisor.
- Hold some organized functions to help facilitate connections.
One-on-one relationships can be difficult to maintain, either because of people’s busy schedules or if there isn’t a personality fit. That’s why a successful mentoring program should also include some group activities that can create a more comfortable environment that removes the pressure of exclusively having one-on-one meetings. Consider bringing in speakers for a lunch-and-learn or moderating a panel Q&A.
- Share some best practices for successful mentor relationships.
Many busy professionals might worry they don’t have adequate time to devote to a mentoring relationship. Help ease the burden by sharing some ground rules that will help keep the time commitment reasonable:
- Have each party discuss times that work for them and remind the mentee to work around the mentor.
- Suggest ways that they can interact if face-to-face meetings are challenging to schedule. For example, they might have a phone call or Skype session if the mentor travels frequently or telecommutes.
- Urge mentees to create an agenda before each meeting with key topics they most want to discuss. That helps give each party time to prepare and directs the conversation so that both will feel that the interaction was worthwhile.
- Remind the mentees to share their progress with the mentors, both to help nurture the relationship and to help the mentor feel their advice is being used.
- Suggest alternative learning experiences, such as a mentor taking the new employee to industry functions or client meetings, as appropriate. These organic development opportunities can be extremely valuable and help make the most of the mentor’s time.
- Help them get off on the right foot.
Any new relationship can feel a bit forced or awkward at the outset, which is to be expected. That’s why the pairs might feel more natural if they start off with a prescribed format and agenda. For example, you might have a kick-off event, then suggest that the pair meet for coffee or lunch within the next two weeks. Supply a list of “get-to-know-you” questions about interests, experience, education and career path and goals to help provide a framework for future discussions. Encourage the mentor to share some personal insights about both successes and failures to help put the mentee at ease.
Then every other week or so, send out some suggestions for questions that can help guide the conversation.
- Include a “reverse mentorship” element.
Most workplaces today have multiple generations, and it’s clear that everyone has a lot to learn from each other. While more seasoned employees can impart hard-learned best practices and company history, younger employees typically have their pulse on technology in a way that only a digital native can.
When General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch famously introduced one of the most well-known “reverse mentoring” efforts in 1999, the internet and social media were in a fledgling state. Now, even older generations have embraced the power of tech, and yet, those just entering the workforce still have a grasp on new ways to use technology to increase productivity. They can share ideas for apps and other techniques that can make many entrenched processes more agile or give best practices for more polished presentation tools.
- Create some loose parameters but allow relationships to grow organically.
You might encourage the mentor pairs to meet every couple of weeks or so in order to grow the relationship, but remember that not every pair will be a fit—and that’s ok. Some might decide to take it the next level and meet more often, while others might only meet a few times. HR’s goal should be to create the opportunity for relationships to grow and then sit back and let each pair create what’s meaningful to them.
- Seek ongoing feedback.
As with any program, there are always opportunities for improvement. Seek candid feedback from both sides on what was valuable and any shortcomings, so you can tweak the program design over time.