3 Mentoring Program Best Practices

Sam Cook


3 Mentoring Program Best Practices

HR leaders are some of the most stressed-out people I’ve seen. I regularly communicate with talent development specialists, recruiters, DEI leaders, and others in HR. Needless to say, my takeaway is clear: HR leadership is a hard job, though it certainly has its rewards. Still, limited time to get things done is the name of the game. Adding in the complexity of running successful mentoring programs makes the job even more daunting. Let’s take some of that stress off your shoulders with some mentoring program best practices that can give you back far more time in your day.

This post covers the following mentoring program best practices:

  • Establish clear, achievable, and measurable program goals
  • Provide training to participants (mentors and mentees)
  • Utilize automation tools

Below, you’ll find a detailed explanation of each of these best practices with advice on how to implement each piece of advice.

1. Establish Clear, Achievable, and Measurable Program Goals

When you design your mentoring program, you should have specific goals in mind that are aligned with key business objectives. For example, maybe exit surveys from employees who have quit in the past year indicate that your company needs to put more effort into skill development.

In a 2022 survey, The Conference Board found 58% of employees would likely quit if their company didn’t offer adequate professional development.

And consequently, worldwide interest in “upskilling” is up dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, which caused employees everywhere to start rethinking their lives and career paths. As of 2023, Google search volumes for “upskilling” are up over 164% in just three years.

Obviously, your company’s primary objective may not be upskilling for the sake of retention, but you probably get the idea. Your company won’t (and shouldn’t) launch mentoring programs for vanity. While visibly offering mentoring is great from a recruiting standpoint, it needs to solve specific business needs.

You may want to consider the SMART goals format when establishing your mentoring programs. (Note that when it comes to mentoring program relationships, we recommend the REAL goals format instead.)

SMART Goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

This format helps you create mentoring programs in a more actionable way. And since your programs should be results-driven, designing around measurable and achievable goals that align with key business needs makes it far easier to plan how you will measure your programs in the first place. It’s also one of those mentoring program best practices that you literally can’t live without.

While I’d consider everything on this list important, I’ve put this one at the top with good reason. You can, with great difficulty, string together programs that work without following the rest of these best practices. But ignoring this one will absolutely cut your success off at the knees (ouch).

2. Provide training to participants (mentors and mentees)

One of the worst things you can do for your mentoring program participants is to assume that they’ll know what to do and how to engage. Mentoring is a unique form of social learning where mentees and mentees talk through problems and solutions to different learning goals and challenges. That format may be a natural fit for individuals who are skilled in social interactions.

For many others, though, mentoring could be an experiment in anxiety, especially if they’ve never engaged in a mentoring relationship before.

Questions mentees might ask about how to engage in a mentoring program include:

  1. What should I expect from the mentoring relationship?
  2. How do I set and communicate my development goals?
  3. How much responsibility do I have over measuring success?
  4. How will my progress be tracked and evaluated?
  5. What is the expected time commitment?
  6. How do I provide feedback to my mentor?
  7. What if the mentoring relationship isn’t working out?
  8. What resources are available to support my development?

Meanwhile, your program mentors might ask questions like these:

  1. How do I understand my mentee’s needs and goals?
  2. What are my responsibilities as a mentor?
  3. How do I provide constructive feedback and guidance?
  4. What should I do if I encounter challenges in the mentoring relationship?
  5. How do I work out potential cultural barriers that arise?
  6. How do I balance my mentoring role with my other responsibilities?
  7. What training and support are available to help me as a mentor?
  8. How can I measure and evaluate my mentee’s progress?
  9. How can I stay engaged and motivated as a mentor?

Quite often, you can have simple answers to mentor and mentee questions. But many of their questions will be rooted in a lack of understanding that warrants more formalized training sessions and learning materials.

There are a few routes to solve that problem. This could include, but is not limited to:

A woman writing in a notebook for a learning session about mentoring program best practices.
  • Creating internal learning and knowledge resources.
  • Hosting learning organized and structured training sessions that speak to more common needs.
  • We are hiring a third-party service to train mentors and mentees or subscribing to a third-party learning platform with this information.

If you’re a MentorcliQ client, you’re in luck. MentorcliQ offers a large library of training materials, especially for mentors. If you’re not a client, just shoot us a line to learn more about the type of training materials we offer.

Our clients love and rave about our training resources. According to Aude M., a Leadership Development Specialist at one of our clients in the mining and metals industry:

“The resource library — being now customizable — is very rich and more than useful for any mentor or mentee joining the programme with useful tips (videos also) like the benefits for them, how to get started, various customizable agreements.”

3. Use Automation Tools

There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who do everything manually by hand and those who actually get to sleep at night.

Jokes aside, automation is incredibly important for HR leaders and mentoring program administrators. You’re probably already automation many of your other processes. Things like applicant tracking, payroll processing, leave requests and approvals, and compliance reporting are already heavily automated.

And yet…for some reason…many mentoring programs are still operating manually. Perhaps it’s because program admins understand that mentoring is a very human-centric endeavor and that all aspects of the program need a human touch.

Don’t fall into that trap.

Many areas of the mentoring program can be incredibly time-consuming. Most of those areas can be automated. That starts with matching mentors and mentees.

We love this story from MentorcliQ customer Henry Schein that perfectly explains what happened when they switched from matching by hand to matching with automated software:

As far as it relates to automating the matching process, the golden truth bomb is this sentence right here:

“One other thing that made this happen. It used to take us MANY hours to match 80 TSMs. Now we match hundreds in minutes running our program on the MentorcliQ platform.”

It’s not just that automated mentoring software saves you time. It also increases the total number of people in your organization who can benefit from mentoring. Matching by hand severely limits how many people can enjoy the benefit of mentoring. But by automating the process, you can exponentially increase the number of participants, spreading the positive impacts of mentoring across your entire organization.

And that’s just for the matching. You can also automate many other areas, such as participant feedback surveys and reporting. Software is one of those mentoring program best practices you could live without, but that’s the primary differentiator between enterprise mentoring programs that work and those that stay small and have limited organizational impact.

Take the Next Step with Mentoring Program Best Practices

As with anything, it’s not enough to simply know that something exists. Your next move is to take action to ensure you get the best results out of your mentoring program. Let’s start at the top.

1. Work with an executive Champion who can help you align mentoring with business goals.

Since your starting point is to align your programs against key business goals, you will want to get an executive leader or two involved. These leaders will be able to help guide you toward the business goals or objectives that are both high need and that can be impacted by an employee engagement strategy like mentoring.

Working with an executive Champion gives you more clarity on what objectives you should try to impact. But it will also help build buy-in for your program across your organization. Executive leaders are some of the most important spokespeople you’ll have for mentoring. They are the arbiters of your company culture. And if you want to establish a strong and successful mentoring culture at your organization, having their involvement is critical.

2. Don’t try to recreate the wheel with your training

Your mentor and mentee training materials will likely need to combine internal knowledge and branding with universal learning and guidance. Some of this may need to be created in-house. But where possible, try to avoid recreating the wheel and giving yourself more work than you need.

Use resources already available to you, such as MentorcliQ’s resource library and learning labs. Also, scour the web for materials you can snag (with the appropriate rights and attributions, of course).

And don’t forget to ask around among internal leaders who may be in charge of training of various sorts to see if anyone has resources you can repurpose. It’s very common for siloed learning materials to exist across different functions that would work well for your needs.

3. Get your automated tools ready before you try to launch

Automated tools will make your mentoring programs easier and faster to launch and manage. But it’s going to be a huge headache if you try to launch without those tools readily available to use at the outset. Not that it’s impossible, of course. You can do it. But if you have all of your infrastructure ready to go ahead of time, you’ll save yourself and your company time, money, and stress.

Don’t wait: Grab that demo to learn how MentorcliQ has helped companies like Disney, BMW of North America, Clorox, Hertz, and many more launch and manage highly successful mentoring programs.

Sam Cook

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