What Are Mentorship Programs? 9 Important Questions for Leaders

Sam Cook


What Are Mentorship Programs? 9 Important Questions for Leaders

We find HR leaders often have multiple questions about employee development strategies, and especially mentorship. Key among these? What are mentorship programs, and why are so many companies using them? That “so many” is reference to the data in our latest Mentoring Impact Report, where we found that 98% of Fortune 500 companies are now using mentoring programs.

Mentoring is a go-to strategy for engaging, developing, and retaining employees. But unlike other types of company-sponsored training programs, it’s distinctly social in nature. People learn best from other people, even when that learning is supplemented with learning material like books, videos, courses, and seminars. Still, there are many questions surrounding mentoring as a concept and strategy, the most important of which we’ll hopefully answer for you right here.

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What Are Mentorship Programs?

Mentorship programs are a type of professional development strategy organizations use to connect more experienced team members into developmental relationships with team members who want to expand their skills and/or experiences.

Successful mentoring relationship

 There are important terms that help define a successful workplace mentoring program, including (but not limited to):

  • Mentors: The more experienced guide in the relationship who uses past experience to help a mentee navigate toward completing goals
  • Mentee: The learner in the mentoring relationship who has growth areas and goals that can be positively impacted with the help of an experienced mentor
  • Mentoring Program Manager: The individual responsible for overseeing the mentoring program. Duties often include matching participants, managing relationships, establishing training criteria and programs for mentors, and tracking program metrics
  • Mentoring Goals: The skills, experiences, or knowledge that the mentee is hoping to learn during the course of the mentoring relationship
  • Mentor Matching: The process mentoring program managers use to identify the personality traits and experiences of mentors and mentees which serves as the basis for determining best-fit mentoring relationships 
  • Program Cycle: The length of the mentoring relationship for structured mentoring programs. Typically, mentoring cycles run in 3-, 6-, or 12-month cycles, but are not limited to a specific length
  • Formal Mentoring: A structured mentoring program where the matching is either done using a bias-free algorithm or manually from program managers. With formal mentoring programs, typically both the mentor and mentee follow a curriculum with pre-determined goals
  • Informal Mentoring: An informal mentoring program is one where mentees may select their own mentor (often through an Open Mentoring Program format) and are free to choose their own goals
  • Group Mentoring: A 1-to-many mentoring relationship where a mentor works with multiple mentees
  • 1-to-1 Mentoring: A mentoring relationship where one mentor engages with a single mentee
  • Manual Mentoring: A mentoring program that’s organized, run, and managed manually, typically using spreadsheet software like Excel
  • Mentoring Software: A software designed to manage mentorship programs and reduce the time and expense of running a program, allowing an organization to scale its mentoring strategy to include more programs, participants, and metrics, and a vastly improved return on investment

As you engage with mentoring programs, you’ll likely pick up a large amount of terminology. This will be even more true if plan to implement mentoring software (highly recommended if your organization wants to reduce administrative time and costs associated with mentoring program management). 

How Does a Mentorship Program Work?

Mentoring programs follow a fairly simple structure, regardless of the type of program you’re running. In general, a mentoring program will flow in a manner that’s similar to this:

Mentorship training
  1. Mentoring program administrators create the program and determine program criteria (such as who can serve as mentors or participate as mentees, mentor training requirements, and any desired goals for mentees if the program is formal)
  2. Administrators invite participants to join the program
  3. Mentors and mentees complete profiles to help administrators determine the best mentor-mentee matches. With software, this is done automatically through surveys and matching algorithms that remove both implicit and explicit biases that are hard to avoid with manual matching
  4. Mentors and mentees are matched into relationships and begin meeting
  5. The mentoring relationship progresses over the course of the program cycle. Mentors and mentees track progress toward goals, and mentoring program administrators gather data on relationships
  6. The program cycle ends and the program administrator evaluates the end-of-cycle data while preparing for the next program cycle

As you might expect, that’s a highly simplified framework. Mentoring programs can work any way that your organization wants them to. At their core level, however, they’ll involve inviting participants, matching, meeting, and then measuring (or evaluating). 

What Are the Types of Mentoring I Could Use?

Sometimes, the key to successful mentoring (or the barrier, depending on your outlook) is in picking the right mentoring program format. Different formats result in different outcomes. It’s often like a puzzle: You can’t put the square peg in the round hole.

  • Traditional Mentoring: The 1-on-1 mentoring relationships that make up most mentoring (as described above)
  • Group Mentoring: 1-to-many mentoring relationships (as described above)
  • Distance (Virtual) Mentoring: Mentoring relationships that occur remotely and are supplemented by technology to communicate
  • Peer Mentoring: Peer mentoring is a collaborative mentoring style where individuals of similar job levels or experiences exchange guidance and support. This builds mutual learning and accountability within a peer-to-peer setting.
  • Reverse Mentoring: Reverse Mentoring flips traditional mentoring roles by having junior staff mentor senior executives, offering fresh perspectives and insights. This format is particularly good for educating a person at your company on new technologies and trends.
  • Flash Mentoring: Flash Mentoring is all about short, focused sessions on specific skills or knowledge without the commitment to a long-term relationship. Allowing mentees to gain valuable insights without the need to devote themselves fully. Flash mentoring tends to work best when using mentoring software that allows employees to request mentoring engagements from others within a broader pool of mentors.
  • Employee Resource Groups: ERGs are often only thought of as affinity groups, but they’re inherently focused on individual growth and development through social engagement. They’re also easily leveraged into mentoring structures.
  • Mentoring Circles: An approach that combines elements from peer mentoring and group mentoring, mentoring circles is a format that pairs 3 or more participants together based on affinity and equivalent levels to co-learn around pre-determined topics.

As you might expect, there are certainly more than just three types of mentoring relationships. Mentoring is incredibly dynamic. Enterprise mentoring and corporate mentoring programs are growing at a rapid pace, with 92% of Fortune 500 companies now offering mentoring programs and innovating the approach. 

Workplace mentoring program

Reverse Mentoring, a relatively new concept, is now exceptionally popular in large organizations. With reverse mentoring, junior-level team members take the role of the mentor. They’re then paired with senior-level team members and executives in relationships where the skills and experiences they bring to the table are used to enhance senior-level members’ professional and personal growth. 

Joining a mentoring community is one of the best ways to learn about new mentoring program types, innovations within the industry, and mentoring program best practices from actual practitioners. 

What Are the Best Mentorship Programs I Can Offer?

You’ll be happy to know there’s no such thing as a “best mentorship program.” The best mentoring program you can offer is one that fulfills the unique needs of your organization and your team members. To that end, there are several different types of mentorship programs that could work well for your organization. Common programs at organizations of all sizes and within most industries include:

The type of mentorship programs you create and grow at your organization is limited only to the needs of your workforce and your creativity and imagination. 

Are Mentoring Programs Worth It?

The data speaks for itself. One LinkedIn study found that 94% of workers would stay longer at an organization if it invested in their learning and career growth. Mentorship programs can help you attract, retain, and engage your talent. This leads directly to cost savings for your company in the form of lower turnover costs. Turnover is expensive, costing organizations as much as 2X the cost of an employee’s salary, according to Gallup. 

Provide mentorship training

Meanwhile, companies that establish mentoring programs for their organizations see huge savings, especially when they utilize a software-based approach. Mentorship program participants report improving their competency (91%), productivity (88%), and desire to stay at their organization (83%). 

The satisfaction mentors and mentees have with their mentoring relationships is also a boon. 93% of mentors and mentees report relationship satisfaction while engaging in a mentoring relationship through MentorcliQ’s mentoring software.

MentorcliQ’s customers see an average 50% reduction in turnover among mentoring program participants. For some organizations, that means millions of dollars in savings. That’s what Cardinal Health discovered after it saved over $5 million as a result of implementing a software-based approach to running its mentoring programs. 

Let’s Get Hands-On: Book a demo to see just how visually impressive and powered up your programs could be with mentoring software.

How Do I Create a Mentoring Program At My Organization?

Launching a mentoring program can be a complicated process. It involves:

  • Identifying organizational goals that mentoring can help accomplish
  • Creating a proposal for funding to launch mentoring within the organization
  • Gaining buy-in from executive decision-makers
  • Creating the structure and parameters of the program
  • Rolling out mentoring software
  • Inviting and training mentors
  • Inviting mentees
  • Matching mentors and mentees
Let’s Get Visual. Watch our Mentoring Soundbites video on 9 Steps to Creating a Mentoring Program. We drop new content like this every Wednesday at 8 AM EST, so be sure to like and subscribe!

You’ll also need to make sure you justify the expense and time of your program to your executive teams with solid ROI data. From forming your initial ideas to navigating the internal sell among your organization’s executives to launching your first program, there’s no need to go it alone.

Book a demo with MentorcliQ today to learn more about how mentoring software can help you launch, match, and measure your programs, leading to an exceptional return on investment, lower turnover, and happy executive teams.

Why Should I Create a Mentoring Program at My Company?

Mentoring programs can help you optimize several key areas in your business. Everything from skill development to promotions can be enhanced through social learning engagements. Some of the benefits you can see with a properly structured and fully-supported mentoring program include:

  • Boosted job satisfaction and employee retention
  • Valuable leadership skills development among mentoring program participants
  • Greater promotion of diversity, learning, and career development
  • Enhanced employee culture with wider adoption of desired cultural norms and practices
  • More comprehensive and authentic feedback from and to team members
  • Increased opportunities for employee connection and networking

This only scratches the surface of what mentoring can provide, but we’ve found that these are some of the primary benefits that most HR, Talent Development, and DEI leaders want from most programs they launch for their companies. Mentoring programs tend to be flexible enough that organizations can focus on specific desired outcomes and achieve those outcomes with a mentoring-based approach.

What Makes a Mentoring Program Successful?

Every conversation we have with HR leaders comes down to success. And that’s no surprise. Ultimately, any program you launch needs to have proven success, however you’ve determined what “success” looks like. In many ways, the way you measure success doesn’t matter as much as your ability to showcase that agreed-upon success measure to executive leaders.

Getting to that point of success starts with understanding what makes a mentoring program successful. Here are some of the high-level strategies we suggest to clients when they begin launching and managing their programs:

  • Organize your programs around a clearly stated and measurable strategic purpose: Align your program’s goals with what your organization needs from it.
  • Be thoughtful with your program design: Include a flexible structure, enrollment criteria, and mentoring styles​.
  • Provide development and training for mentors: Successful mentoring programs are those where mentors are properly recruited and then trained on how to operate in that role.
  • Provide clear guidance and structured communication: Ensure participants have ongoing support (both professional and personal) and clear communication channels​ throughout the cycle.
  • Regularly collect and analyze data: Maintain systems for tracking progress, gaining insights, and collecting feedback​.
  • Gain and maintain a commitment from key stakeholders: Build buy-in from executive leaders and keep them involved in the process with regular updates.
  • Improve participant match quality: Use algorithm-based matching to automate and improve the match quality of mentors and mentees across a variety of criteria, including preferences and personalities.
  • Celebrate success: Highlighting successes and acknowledging contributions​ is essential when coaching peers.
Learn more about How to Get Executive Buy-In for Mentoring Programs in this Mentoring Soundbites video!

That said, every program is different. What your program needs to do to be successful should match not only your organizational needs but also the culture of your teams. Sometimes, that’s hard to determine. To help get you as close as possible, MentorcliQ makes sure each company has a dedicated success coach. That means no running programs in the dark, navigating through endless support documents, or using AI chatbots that can’t or don’t offer advice about your exact situation.

What Makes a Mentoring Program Unsuccessful?

Focusing on success factors isn’t always helpful. Sometimes, you need to analyze the opposite side of the spectrum: what leads to failure. Often, the answer is “doing the opposite of what leads to success.” That’s not always the case, however.

For example, matching participants manually doesn’t always lead to unsuccessful mentoring relationships. If it did, mentoring never would have taken off anywhere, at any time. However, if you’re trying to launch a mentoring program with hundreds or thousands of participants and you don’t have the administrative resources to do that…well, that’s one program that’s going to fail some of its core objectives (specifically, getting everyone enrolled and involved).

Quite often, our clients are those who’ve had program failures that could have been solved more immediately with a better approach. Here are just a few examples of problems we’ve seen and heard that have resulted in unsuccessful attempts at mentoring:

  • The program lacked a clear purpose: Without well defined goals, your mentoring programs can lack direction, making it hard for participants to achieve personal development and achieve meaningful outcomes​.
  • The program was launched with a flawed design and structure: Insufficient planning in your program’s design and structure can lead to unclear roles and responsibilities, limiting each participant’s ability to succeed within the program.
  • Ineffective mentor-mentee pairing: Successful mentoring programs hinge on compatible relationships. Mismatches can disengage mentees and dissolve your mentoring program’s potential benefits​.
  • Insufficient training for mentors (and mentees): Without good preparation, both mentors and mentees won’t be able to fully understand their roles or how to navigate the mentoring dynamic effectively​​.
  • A lack of engagement and participation: This may be one of the most common problems we’ve heard. Your mentorship programs can become stagnant if participants, especially mentors, aren’t fully committed or don’t recognize the personal and professional value of being involved​.
  • Inadequate support from executive leadership: Without the support from organizational leaders, your mentoring programs can struggle to gain traction in the company, resulting in the objectives of your programs not being complete​.
  • A failure to monitor program data and make needed adjustments: If your mentorship program isn’t flexible and can’t adapt based on feedback and measured outcomes, you will struggle to find any real success. Doubly so if you aren’t monitoring your program regularly and making as-needed adjustments, even in the middle of your program cycles.

If any of these sound like something you’ve experienced, hopefully, you can take some comfort in knowing it’s not just you. I’ve personally spoken to learning and development leaders who feel at the end of wits trying to figure out how to navigate around many of these issues.

More of than not, they’re encountering these issues when they’re running manual programs that require too much personal input. Juggling too many tasks usually means something gets either ignored or underserved, creating program-wide problems that weren’t easy to predict.

Mentoring Programs Benefit Organizations and People

Mentorship programs enhance organizational culture and improve employee retention and engagement. They also act as a method of knowledge transfer, innovation, and support for leadership development across all levels of your company. It’s not a surprise that successful businesses use mentorship programs across their organizations.

No mentoring program will work out of the box, but there are several strategies you can use to make sure your mentoring programs get as close as possible to your desired results:

  1. Launch your program the right way: Don’t go in blind. Plan every aspect of your program before you start the launch process. As well, make sure you have executive buy-in and support. Be ready to market your program internally. Draw on the marketing team’s brain trust if you can!
  2. Utilize effective matching strategies and technology: If you’re planning to have more than a handful of participants, you need to match and automate the process with a software-based approach. Matching algorithms cut the time it takes to match, allow you to match across a larger set of criteria, and remove bias. This results in better programmatic outcomes, something you don’t want to put at risk.
  3. Maintain regular program engagement: Mentoring programs require regular participant engagement to ensure success. You can do this manually, but a software-based approach allows you to automate communications and reminders (and makes that data measurable).
  4. Measure and then respond to program data: Regularly collect and analyze data to determine if your program is reaching the desired outcome. Set waypoints and use mid-cycle check-ins to make sure participants are actively engaged and happy. A platform that can collect and analyze data for you will not only save you time, but produce better program results (the kind that executives love to see).

MentorcliQ’s mentoring software helps you launch, match, engage, and measure results in mentoring programs at scale. With an award-winning matching algorithm that matches on preferences and personality, as well as automated features for engagement and measuring program success, there’s a reason why organizations like Disney, Robert Half, DuPont, The American Red Cross, and the US Navy use MentorcliQ to enhance employee engagement, development, and retention.

Learning how you can insert your name onto that list of extraordinary customers by Booking a Demo.

Sam Cook

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