What Is the Purpose of Mentoring (and How Does Mentoring Work?)

– A MentorcliQ Article –

What Is the Purpose of Mentoring (and How Does Mentoring Work?)

If you came here to learn more about the purpose of mentoring programs there’s a good chance you’re considering launching one — or someone in your organization is strongly advocating for it. (Are already running a mentoring program and currently considering implementing mentoring software? Here’s some detailed information on the benefits of mentoring software). Mentoring programs are not a “one size fits all” concept. What you want to get out of your mentoring program depends on your organization’s short-, medium-, and long-term talent development goals. Those goals will serve as the foundation for how you ultimately structure your mentoring program.

So where do you start? The following questions should help serve as your conceptual launch pad for understanding both the purpose of mentoring and how mentoring can benefit your organization:

  • What is a mentoring program?
  • How are mentoring and coaching different?
  • What’s the strategic value of mentorship programs?
  • How are mentoring programs structured?
  • How do you launch a mentoring program?
The purpose of mentoring connected fingers

Your organization likely already has the necessary elements in place to start a mentoring program right now. Hopefully, some additional information about mentoring programs will get your feet firmly planted and make the next steps toward launching your own program much easier.

What Is a Mentoring Program?

Let’s start on the ground floor. The definition of a mentoring program can be exceptionally broad. It often depends on an organization’s needs. However, here’s a top-level snapshot to frame the topic: A mentoring program is a purposefully structured internal engagement strategy that connects individuals within an organization into ongoing professional learning and development relationships.

There’s a distinct role separation that highlights mentoring programs compared to other talent development strategies. Even within a structured mentoring program, the mentor/mentee relationship should mostly be mentee-driven.   That’s a common reason why organizations create mentoring programs: To help empower talent to independently identify growth areas and find relevant, valuable, ongoing learning opportunities from individuals who have relevant and shareable experiences and insights.

We already provide coaching. Aren’t mentoring and coaching the same?

It’s important in a mentoring relationship that the mentee take the lead, even if the mentoring program and its goals are outlined and bolstered by supporting materials. The role of the mentor is to act as a sounding board and guide. There may be times when the mentor does most of the talking, but an effective mentoring relationship places far more ownership on the mentee.

Note that this differs from a coaching relationship, where the coach plans, leads and measures the success of the coaching. In many ways, a coaching relationship is more akin to a traditional teacher-student dynamic, where the format is far more curriculum-based and the mentor is engaged in what is effectively a learning module that’s supplemented by a more tenured team member’s guidance.

A good mentoring program may allow for both mentoring or coaching, even within the same mentor/mentee pairings. You’ll just need to make sure that your program clearly delineates which of these is occurring within the program, and when. 

The purpose of mentoring new skills sign

The Purpose of Mentoring Is in the Definition

Every word you find in the mentoring definition above is important to understand mentoring as a whole, but we’ll pull out three concepts that you might want to spend a few extra minutes chewing on.

1. The strategic value of mentoring

We’ll pose a question. Why do over 70% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs? The simple answer: They recognize the strategic value that mentoring programs offer regarding their biggest talent development and retention issues.

purpose of mentoring with keybank

(MentorcliQ customer and winner of the Gold Brandon Hall Group Talent Development Excellence Award for Best Advance in Measuring the Impact of a Talent Strategy)

“As a result of the program, we have seen a 76% increase in employee retention among the mentor/mentee population. We also experienced a 55x return on investment for the mentoring program,”

says Jessica Wood, Senior Talent Management Consultant at KeyBank.

For most organizations, mentoring programs provide a cost-saving solution that effectively reduces turnover rates (which can be exceptionally high in some industries). You may have heard rumblings about The Great Resignation. Current data backs that up.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 5.6 million employment separations in June 2021. Of those, 3.9 million — or roughly 70% — were employees voluntarily quitting their jobs. A return to physical offices is driving as many as 9 million workers to consider quitting, as well, according to an Upwork study.

Long story short, more people are leaving their employers by choice than are getting laid off. 

Meanwhile, the BLS reported that there were 10 million job openings during that June 2021 time period. Economically speaking, employers are staring at a labor market that highly favors the supply side (talent) and what that side of the market demands, be it higher salaries, better perks, or remote work. With the cost to replace each worker as much as twice that employee’s salary, organizations are literally hemorrhaging money trying to find and retain employees.

As Lorna Borenstein, CEO and Founder of Grokker notes in a 2021 Forbes article, “What’s happening is a big wake-up call to employers, regardless of whether they thrived or languished during the pandemic. It’s part of a larger trend that’s taking shape in real time and speaks to the very heart of the employer-employee compact.”

2. The structure of mentoring programs

Purpose is a defining feature of any program, not just mentoring. Without a purposeful structure that is tied to sound business strategies, many of life’s routines would be full of scary unknowns.

Cars are a great example of this. Every vehicle that hits the road is (hopefully) designed with purpose before entering into the manufacturing phase. That purposeful design is why we trust that our car won’t fall to pieces on the highway.

A mentoring program is no different. Before launching a new mentoring program, you’ll spend time considering:

  • Organizational goals
  • Types of mentoring relationships (such as one-to-one, group mentoring, or affinity circles)
  • Ideal mentor and mentee qualities
  • Mentor and mentee matching strategies
  • Relationship and engagement timelines
  • Mentor training
  • Programmatic support options
  • ROI measurement and goal tracking

That’s just a sample of the type of conversations that will be necessary to create an effective program framework prior to launching a successful mentoring program. Many organizations have dozens of touch points to address long before a mentoring program is launched, and with good reason. Failing to plan is planning to fail, as the saying goes.

3. Mentoring involves ongoing professional learning and development

Some mentoring relationships last for years. Others may last for a few weeks. The length of the mentoring program is determined by its purpose. For example, your organization may operate its onboarding program using mentoring software to deliver cross-functional, personality-based matches between new hires and more experienced team members. No onboarding program is indefinite, so those mentoring relationships may last just a few weeks.

That begs the question: What do you mean by “ongoing” if mentoring relationships have clearly defined beginning and end dates? We can answer that in two ways:

  • The lasting relationships formed through structured mentoring programs are organic. As such, those relationships may persist indefinitely outside of the structured mentoring program (and that’s a good thing!).
  • A properly designed mentoring program should enable participants to enter into different mentoring relationships on-demand, as well as when the need arises over the course of their tenure with your organization. 
The former is incredibly important as it relates to creating and maintaining a positive work culture. Mentoring is an excellent way to connect team members who may otherwise have difficulty finding the time to connect. Personality-based matching algorithms can make those matches even more impactful, and lead to lasting relationships that endure even when the official mentor/mentee relationship ends. 

Meanwhile, most companies that pilot mentoring programs for a single purpose (like diversity and inclusion) quickly discover the value of having multiple program types.

Purpose of mentoring quick connections and goals

Cardinal Health, for example, has numerous mentoring programs available for its talent. The company maintains both closed and open programs, allowing individuals across its organization to find mentoring relationships for almost any need and especially at critical junctures in their career development.  This is why scaffolding the mentoring program in the early stages of the process is important.  Ongoing mentoring structures don’t happen overnight. Organizations that operate mentoring programs must think strategically (there’s that word again, right?) about what problems they have and how mentoring programs could potentially solve those problems.

Our framework for helping organizations think about the types of mentoring programs that allow for ongoing engagements is broken into three categories:

  • Career Development: Mentoring programs focused on a specific purpose at an important moment in the organization’s or individual participant’s career, such as onboarding or leadership training.
  • Functional Expertise: Mentoring programs designed around skills transfers and training, like developing sales teams.
  • Diversity & Inclusion: Special-interest groups (often known as Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs), that are participant-driven, such as women’s networks, veteran’s networks, and affinity groups.

This isn’t a “must-follow” mold, but we’ve found these categories align with most organizations’ goals of having always-available mentoring programs for participants.

It’s to an organization’s benefit that team members have readily available mentoring and peer engagement opportunities. These structures distribute knowledge and skills efficiently across an organization and help build a cohesive workplace culture that leads to greater employee retention and job satisfaction.

How to Start a Mentorship Program

We’ve found that organizations are often excited to start mentoring programs, but either don’t know where to begin or are hesitant because they’ve been burned by poor mentoring program implementations in the past. Among the many strategies essential to launching a successful mentoring program, keep the following in mind:

  1. Plan with the end in mind. As we mentioned earlier, carefully considering your organizational goals first is incredibly important to developing a mentoring program that is properly measurable. Mentoring programs tend to fail when measurable goals are not created before the program launches.
  2. Streamline the enrollment process. Cumbersome and lengthy enrollment processes limit how many participants are willing to join. Automate as much of the enrollment process as possible, including leveraging mentoring software that integrates with your HRIS.
  3. Automate the matching process. Traditional mentoring programs often required dozens of hours on employee matching. Doing the work by hand can commonly take 15 minutes per employee/mentor match, which translates to 25 hours if you’re operating a comparatively small mentoring program with 100 participants. That process makes scaling to thousands of participants undesirable. Thankfully, manual matching is no longer necessary. Matching for each participant takes less than a minute.
  4. Ensure qualitative and quantitative data is regularly collected and analyzed. No mentoring program survives off of hopes and dreams. It needs to make both financial and professional sense. If the program isn’t saving money and leading to positive outcomes for participants, it’s not of value. And if you’re not collecting data that informs you of either, how would you ever know?

For more expert advice, check out this quick-read article on how to design a mentoring program

What About Mentoring Remote Teams?

Given the purpose of mentoring programs is to connect your teams and improve employee engagement, the solution to remote mentoring (and all other types of employee mentoring, for that matter) is to deploy mentoring software like MentorcliQ.

  • Our proprietary software is fully customizable, supporting any number and type of mentoring programs your organization needs.
  • It integrates seamlessly with your HRIS system to pull the data needed to streamline program launching and matching.
  • Our automated matching algorithm, which is backed by Nobel-prize winning theories on personality matching, eliminates the long hours required for manual matching and the human bias that can reduce the effectiveness of mentor and mentee pairings.

Importantly, once your mentoring program is up and running with ongoing, expert support from our Success Coaches, you can measure your program’s success data with our robust and feature-rich reporting dashboard.

Book a demo today to begin exploring everything MentorcliQ’s mentoring software has to offer.

Sam Cook
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