So it is time for a mentoring program: here is how to get started.

So your company is at the point where they need to hire or train new staff to keep growing. What to do? Where to start? Of course, human resources departments have many strategies that help find the right people for the company and have strategies to make employees feel happy within the company. But you want something different, a different approach that can take advantage of the resources you already have. Here is where you know you have to start a Mentoring Program and that this decision has to be one that has an exclusively positive impact. Mentoring can improve employee satisfaction and retention, enrich new-employee initiation, make your company more appealing to recruits, and train your leaders.

Mentoring Program_business_suzzanne uhland
Image courtesy of Embajada de EEUU en la Argentina at Flickr.com

Another advantage of mentoring programs is that most of them are free. Yes, there are many training programs and course that cost money (and they are worth every cent), but mentoring programs use the resources that your company already has. Let’s take a quick view on how to get started and the things you need to make the program work if you are a small company with a great vision or if you are a big company looking for strategies to train your staff:

First, identify the real need and create a structure:

Before even thinking of a mentoring program you need to ask yourself why do you need this program and who is it aimed at. The company has to define what the objective of the program will be and the target. So, if you are aiming for higher minority retention rates, your program will be structured differently than if you were trying to develop leaders, teach a specific skill, or welcome newcomers to your organization.

Another important thing is that you need to develop a program that fits with your company and that aligns the structure of your program with the culture of your company. If your company is extremely formal, it would be advisable to have a formal application process, with timetables and deadlines for the duration for the mentoring relationships (typically mentoring relationships last between six months and two years, depending on the goal of the mentee). If your company is informal, it might be okay to match people up and then let them figure out the logistics. But it is of most importance to at least set the game rules and objectives so the program does not shift to a different place.

Second, pairing mentors and mentees.

Leadership Mentoring Program_suzzanne uhland
Image courtesy of US Embassy at Flickr.com

There are many types of mentoring programs and many companies that change, redesign and reinvent the programs that already exist. Some companies, like Morgan Stanley, use group mentoring, others use peer mentoring, others bring in an expert for facilitated mentoring, some other companies  have lower-level employees teach higher-level employees in reverse mentoring, and others even use a speed-dating format for “flash mentoring.” Bottom line is that mentoring is about putting people together to learn something that will bring a benefit in the future. So, pairing mentees and mentors is the core activity for the mentoring process.

It sound incredible, but this is the area where corporate academics know the least about. Surprisingly, there are some companies that have applied the mentoring program like a dating service. Tammy Allen, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida and co-author of Designing Workplace Mentoring Programs: An Evidence-Based Approach, says that “You can almost think about this as some type of dating service. There are some companies that actually purchase from vendors that have created these algorithms that are used to match mentors and protégés almost like an eHarmony system for dating.” Tammy also says that the programs in which the participants have some input are usually the most successful. You should read your company carefully to understand which people to match. Allowing your employees to have a say in this process is very important because mentoring programs are about relationships and not only information.

Educate about the process

So now your mentors and mentees are ready to go off to work, first educate them a little bit on what they will be doing, why it is important to have a mentoring program, what to expect from the program and what format will be used. This could be done informally as this will prepare mentors and mentees on what will come in the future. There are a lot of formats you can use to do this such as classroom-style discussion, hiring someone to host a “mentoring bootcamp,” or you can speak to mentors and mentees separately and then bring them together to discuss.

Mentoring programs work for any type of company. Apart from using these 3 small steps before even starting, you can play with the program so you can fit it to your company and its corporate environment.

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