There are many types of mentoring programs out in the corporate world. Some of them are successful, others are just not. It is no surprise. Although you can find many traditional mentoring programs, they are just not aimed at the ever-changing needs of today’s working environment. Many of the programs are not effective, too structured and lack support from the company for the task. Some other programs just have nothing to do with realities such as shifting workforce demographics, accelerated demand for context, scarce and difficult access to resources and talent development in order to retain employees.
However, there are some programs that work very well in the companies where they are applied and that are a very good example to follow for other companies looking to train their staff in the most effective and cost saving way. One of these programs is called “the agile Peer Mentoring Program”. An agile peer mentoring program is a network of peers that work and live in different business units, geographies and generations who have the same ideas and concepts about professional and personal objectives and that are connected through a framework of social learning tools. An agile peer mentoring program can provide many benefits such as information-sharing, job-related feedback and shared problem-solving, emotional support, personal feedback, confirmation and friendship. The peer mentoring program requires social learning tools such as wikis, Blogger, Facebook, SharePoint, Yammer, YouTube and others to provide opportunities for peer mentors to create and share knowledge. These tools also allow peers who are comfortable with different types of communication to receive mentoring beyond face-to-face interactions.
Microsoft and Cigna are just a few of the companies that have employed peer mentoring and coaching programs with really good results. According to Baumgarten, program director at Microsoft at that moment and founder and CEO of Lit Up Leadership, “the program was successful in accelerating participants’ career development. In the span of four years, the program tripled in size and investment, thanks in large part to high potential designation and increased retention when compared to industry hires at the same career level”.
But how to get started and what are some key points to keep in mind when a company wants to start a peer mentoring program?
- Define the peers and goals: companies have to carefully select the appropriate peers who will benefit from a common experience. This gives the program the relevance that needs to continue in time. The goals have to be relevant across the business units and be inclusive.
- Create a virtual peer-mentoring portal: the portal provides a common ground to share ideas, concerns, resources, specific requests and connect mentors and peers. Some other topics that are important can be discussed in real time.
- Select a program leader and peer-mentoring champions: the program leader has to be more of an external supervisor and is the outside link with the company dynamic. On the other hand, peer champions are the most important part of the program. They have the task of nurturing the dialogues and integrating new members to the discussions and the dynamic of the program. Peer champions should be members of the peer group, but experienced enough to give a lot of input.
- Formally engage the participants: they key is to have as many participants as possible that can share relevant information in the program, and communicate the expected return on their investment of time and the rules of engagement. Participants should at least participate in all discussions and create topics of their own.
As the program advances, the discussions and topics will start to relate more to the topics that champions and peers need. The more stories, anecdotes and shared knowledge the platform receives, the more the peers and champions can find information about their needs. Champions and peers should capture examples of meaningful peer mentoring discussions and highlight what made them valuable to later solve problems or use the information to propose new ideas. Also, testimonials from peers are very valuable because they give the company fresh and new perspectives on topics and interactions that are now the norm.
5. Keep up with the program and the evolution of dialogues: peers will come and go and conversation topics will inevitably shift. The peer champions have to recognize that some mentoring dialogues may require more formal structure and others less. Peer champions will lead the conversations and make them meaningful as the program advances.
An agile peer mentoring program is all about connecting the people within a company to have all the necessary information to solve any problem or propose any type of idea. These connections will then lead to a better understanding of the company business by the mentees, thus making them more valuable for the company and the processes.