In light of recent events, businesses have transitioned to operating in a virtual space and have been looking for flexible ways to support employees now working from home. One need companies are looking to address is how to help their employees stay connected and socially engaged, especially while they are physically distant. For many companies, themed mentoring or mentoring circles are being implemented as a quick and easy way to engage and connect people virtually and with minimal effort.
While mentoring is traditionally thought of as a long-term, one-on-one relationship that focuses on specific goals and milestones, themed mentoring changes the dynamic by offering a more social, community-forward approach.
Themed mentoring is a form of group mentoring that facilitates employees to connect in a collaborative and social way around a central theme or idea. These circles can be social in nature, whereby employees meet around a specific hobby like cooking, gardening, or fitness, or they can be used in a more strategic way that meets business needs.
For example, to supplement one-on-one mentoring in a leadership development program, you can use group mentoring as a way for future leaders to work on competencies together and share obstacles and successes.
The Benefits of Themed Mentoring
Themed mentoring has many benefits for both the organization and the individual employee. For the organization, offering an informal space for employees to meet enhances employee happiness and ultimately employee engagement and retention.
In some cases, companies that implement mentoring programs see upward of 40% increased retention among their employees. Maintaining this momentum is especially helpful in a time when 40%–61% of the workforce is expected to work from home until 2021 and people need an outlet for social interaction.
For employees, themed mentoring programs offer a relaxed yet helpful resource to receive or share information, build networks and new relationships, and have a community where they can seek help or advice.
5 Tips for Implementing Themed Mentoring Programs
Although there are many benefits to themed mentoring, the overall intent is to provide a space to share knowledge and experiences with peers in a format that is easier to manage, less formal, and more social than traditional mentoring formats. Interested in implementing a themed mentoring program? Here are five tips to get you started.
- Align themed mentoring with your organization’s objectives. Take a moment to ask your employees what their needs are, and respond with a program that is aligned to those needs. No matter the positive intent of any program or initiative, if it doesn’t fulfill stated needs of your workforce or identified needs of the company, it will be tough to get any support or participation.
- Decide the structure for your program. Determine the enrollment period for your groups. Do you want an enrollment period, or does it fit more with your culture to allow programs to start and end with the flow of conversation? Know if you want to appoint leaders to moderate groups, if you want participants to elect a moderator, or if you want groups to operate without one. Finally, know if you want participation to be voluntary, like a hobby or social circle, or if it will be required, like a leadership development circle.
- Recruit participants. Use internal communications to let your employees know about the program and how to participate, and encourage them to join. Make sure to state why the program exists (as a social outlet or whether it’s more purpose-driven), and consider getting a quote or an endorsement from leadership to help drive excitement.
- Leverage technology to help you. Because this is all happening virtually, let your participants know what tools are available for them to meet with one another—for example, stating a preferred videoconferencing platform to help people connect. Smaller programs may be easily managed by an admin to help people match or self-select into groups, as well as track participation and any results. For larger organizations, you may need to leverage technology to help manage the program and match participants.
- Monitor progress, and ask for feedback. Keep your finger on the program’s pulse to identify areas of efficacy and success, as well as areas for improvement. This will ensure each iteration of your program improves. Keep what works, and rethink what doesn’t.