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How to start an effective
mentorship program

Starting a mentorship program isn’t easy, but if you follow the steps outlined in this guide it’s possible to design and implement an effective program

Overview

If you’re thinking of starting a mentorship program, that’s great! Across a wide range of verticals, mentorship has been proven time and time again to be an effective tool for people development and driving improved organizational results.

While mentorship is an effective tool, setting up a program is not to be taken lightly. In fact, not putting the time and effort into setting up the program correctly could make things worse off than not having a program at all. Not to worry though, if you follow the steps outlined in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to having an effective program.​

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Step 1
Define strategy
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Step 2
Get leadership buy-in
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Step 3
Promote program
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Step 4
Administer program
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Step 5
Measure impact
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Step 1 Define the mentorship program strategy & operating model

Program strategy: what are your objectives and KPIs?

Before you start thinking of getting your hands-dirty with setting up your mentorship program, the best thing you can do is to take a step back and think through why you are setting up your program and what you hope to achieve.

If you know these things, then you will be able to articulate your program strategy in terms of an objective’s statement with corresponding KPIs. For example, your objective could be “to improve employee retention” and your KPI could be the difference in retention rates between employees in the mentorship program versus those who are not in the program.

This is just one example, the exact objective and KPIs of your program can vary based on the context in which you are setting up your program. It is also possible to have multiple objectives and KPIs. The table below outlines a few additional examples.

Regardless of your objective and KPIs, it is crucial that you document both of these to hold yourself accountable to them in the future.

Program operating model: how will you achieve your objectives and KPIs?

Once you have defined your strategy, it is then important to define how you are going to achieve it. This takes the form of defining a mentorship program operating model. In particular, you must define the following parameters of your program:

  • Who will be involved (i.e. what is the eligibility criteria for mentors and mentees?)?

  • Will the program be mentor or mentee led?

  • How many mentors will each mentee have?

  • How many mentees will each mentor have?

  • What will be the criteria for matching mentors and mentees?

  • How often will mentors and mentees meet?

  • Will sessions be 1-on-1 or group?

  • How long will relationships last?

While there are no right or wrong answers for any of the above questions. There are common mentorship operating models that are widely adopted, which the table below summarizes.

Program support: how are you going to ensure program participants succeed?

So you’ve designed your perfect mentorship program, time to hit go, right? Not quite. Even if you have the best thought through program, it still takes putting infrastructure in place to support the program to run smoothly.

What do we mean by infrastructure? At the very least this means having a registration questionnaire, learning resources available and the communication assets in place to help guide the mentors and mentees through their relationship.

Your registration questionnaire should capture key information used for matching mentors and mentees. This will likely vary depending on the context of your program, but could include such things as goals, skills, areas for development, personal interests, career interests and more.

Learning resources should include at the very least guides on how to be a good mentor and mentee. But should also include templates for mentees to record agreed-up action items as well as their progress.

Communication assets should include the following:

  • Mentor and mentee recruitment emails

  • Mentor and mentee relationship guideline email / document

  • Mentorship session preparation emails or documents

  • Mentorship session follow-up emails or documents

However, in the ideal program you shouldn’t just be providing mentors and mentees with resources and letting them run free. Rather you should be guiding mentors and mentees at each step of the way. This could mean having a program administrator manually sending communication at each step. However, investing in mentorship software to manage the process could make a lot of sense for your program. First, it will help alleviate the administrative burden of managing many relationships. Second, it will ensure that no mentee slips through the cracks. Last, it will help provide adequate reporting to monitor the success of your program.

While software isn’t necessary, especially for smaller programs, it is critical to plan for staying on top of each mentoring relationship.

Summary checklist

Mentorship program objectives
Mentorship program KPIs
Mentorship program operating model
Learning resources
Communication assets
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Step 2 Get leadership buy-in for your mentorship program

Depending on how your mentorship program idea originated, it may be required to get leadership buy-in. If the initiative to start a mentorship program came from the top, that’s great and you may be able to skip this step. If it didn’t, then you’ll need to put some additional work in to ensure your program has the support from leadership it needs to succeed.

Buy-in from the top is critical for a number of reasons. First, in most cases your mentors will come from the senior ranks of your organization. It is critical that there is a positive message around the mentorship program so that you can recruit these mentors as participants. Second, most mentorship programs at least require some business resources. At the very least this could be dedicated time of an employee to administer the program, but in many cases, it may require some budget to support things such as learning materials or mentorship software.

To get buy-in you’ll need to put together a business case to present to leadership. Don’t worry, you already have a lot of what you need completed from the previous step. Rather, what’s required now is packaging your plan into a compelling story that communicates the impact your program will have on your business or organization, and what resources it will require.

In creating your business-case it is important to focus on the impact that your program will have. While this will vary from program to program, it should tie back directly to your objectives and KPIs. Moreover, it is important to quantify the impact whenever possible.

For workplace programs you can use our online calculator to quantify how much your company could save in reduced employee turnover from implementing a mentorship program.

In your business case, you will also want to be clear what resources you need to make the program successful. If you do plan to use software, you may want to involve IT so that you can properly budget for their time in your business case. ​

You should also think of presenting an ROI for the program by dividing the impact by the cost of the program. For businesses, this usually means presenting a monetary ROI. However, the ROI doesn’t always have to be communicated as a financial return. For example, you could communicate the number of mentees you will support getting into university per dollar invested in the program.

Summary checklist

Mentorship impact
Resources needed
Business case
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Step 3 Promoting your mentorship program

Now that you’ve put all this effort into designing and getting buy-in for your mentorship program, it’s time to make sure it doesn’t go to waste. To ensure this, you must develop and execute an effective communication strategy for the program.

The form that your communication strategy will take, will vary slightly depending on the context of your program. However, there are a few rules of thumb:

  • First, build excitement. This could come in the form of an email campaign in advance of the launch, or having senior leaders discussing it at organizational events

  • Second, have a dedicated launch event or have the launch coincide with another event where it makes sense (for example, some professional associations have annual conferences, which is a great time to launch a mentorship program)

  • Third, follow-up. Most people are busy, and it may require one or two additional touch-points to get them to register

In terms of a response rate that you can expect, it really depends on the context of the program. However, as a rule of thumb for voluntary programs, you can expect participation rates in the range of 25 – 45% of your organization for initial sign-up. Be prepared, more often than not we find that program administratos get a higher response rate than they expect, rather than a lower one.

Summary checklist

Communication plan
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Step 4 Administering your mentorship program

Pairing mentees with mentors

With registrations coming in, it’s now time to start the program. The first thing to do is to pair mentees with mentors based on the criteria you set out and using the registration questionnaire registrants submitted. In finding a good match, it is critical that the mentor has a relevant perspective for the mentee. This means that mentors have experience in the career path or trajectory that the mentee wants to take.

Depending on the size of your program, you may need to budget substantial time for the pairing process if you’re planning to do this manually. Note that the complexity of pairing mentors and mentees grows exponentially with the size of your program. As such, it is not uncommon to take weeks for program administrators to manually pair programs with a few 100 participants. Keep in mind, however, this is one of the aspects of running a mentorship program that mentorship software can help support. Most mentorship software has the capability of algorithmically pairing mentors and mentees in a matter of seconds, while still allowing programs administrators to intervene to provide a human touch.

Communicating matches

After pairings have been finalized, it is then time to communicate matches with mentors and mentees. Depending on how you want to run your program, you have a few options in how to do this. The most common way is to send an email to mentors and mentees letting them know that they’ve been matched. While this is practical, we at Together are not personally a huge fan of this approach as it feels “Tinder-like” to us.

Our prefered approach is to communicate the match to the mentor, and have them send a personal communication to their mentee. We find that this provides a better impression to the mentee that the organization cares about their development.

We have also seen programs run successfully where the match was communicated to the mentee, and it was their responsibility to reach out to the mentor. Depending on the power dynamic, this can work, however, we find that mentees are less comfortable reaching out than vice-versa.

While communicating the matches, it is also important to communicate expectations to the mentor or mentee. This typically entails guiding the match to setup time to meet as defined in your program strategy.

Providing learning resources

Remember those learning resources we talked about earlier? It’s now time to make use of those. It’s important to strike the right balance of having mentorship too structured versus not structured enough. As such, the learning materials should be easily accessible, and you should try to disseminate the key takeaways over the course of the mentorship relationship, rather than forcing a bunch of material on participants all at once. For example, this could mean summarizing best-practices in the initial email to mentors and mentees and then providing timely advice before each session.

Following-up

By far the most common gap in mentorship programs that we see is program administrators not following up with program participants. This step is absolutely crucial to ensuring that mentees are getting the most out of the program. It’s not only important to ensure that mentees are in fact meeting with their mentors, but also gauging if the mentees are finding the relationship valuable. We hope in most cases they are, but in the few cases that things aren’t working out, it’s important to know so that you can intervene.

It is also critical to follow-up to ensure that mentorship conversations are development focused. Ideally, mentees will be recording after each session agreed-upon action-items as well as progress made against previous action-items.

Summary checklist

Pair mentors and mentees
Communicate matches
Provide learning materials
Follow-up with mentees
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Step 5 Measure results of the mentorship program

Great, so you have your program up and running, but how do you know things are going well and that you’re driving impact. That’s where program measurement comes in.

Program measurement is crucial not only for ensuring that participants are getting value, but also for justifying the program to ensure that it gets continued support from leadership.

The most important thing to measure are those metrics that align to the KPIs that you defined in your strategy. So be sure that you have a way to capture the data needed to compute those metrics.

Want to see how Together can make it simple to implement a mentorship program?
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