Industry Market Trends

Creating a Lasting Corporate Mentorship Program

Dec 04, 2012

How can companies develop their brightest young talent and prepare them to be successful leaders? In Part 2 of our two-part series on mentorships, we look at what starting a corporate mentorship program entails.

Whether it's to aid in talent development, talent retention, succession planning or diversity initiatives, successful mentorship programs provide numerous benefits for both employees and employers alike.

Mentoring is one of the most effective methods of attracting, retaining and developing employees, according to Rene D. Petrin, president and founder of Management Mentors Inc., an organization that has been designing and implementing business mentoring programs for more than two decades. "By creating a trustful, confidential relationship between a mentor and mentoree," Petrin says, "the mentoree develops a greater sense of loyalty to the organization, increases his/her knowledge and skills gained from an expert and is likely to build a career faster and gain greater salary increases.

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"The other important component is that mentors gain as much as mentorees," Petrin tells Career Journal. "They often report [becoming] better listeners and managers, gaining another network in a different part of the organization, being reminded of their own talents, etc. Mentoring is beneficial to mentors, mentorees and the company."

The following are some of Petrin's tips to help create a corporate mentorship program and make the most of it -- one that pays off for the mentor, the mentoree and the business.

Understand What Mentoring Is

Though related, mentoring and coaching are not the same. Mentoring is considered "relational" while coaching is "functional." Understanding the definition of mentoring is critical.

Mentoring is about a developmental relationship, so the focus is on future development. "But that development takes place within the context of a trusting, confidential relationship between the mentor and mentoree," Petrin explains. "This allows for the mentoree to feel comfortable sharing the real issues that impact their success. This often is not the lack of a specific skill or knowledge base, but rather personal, such as lack of self-confidence or how [an employee] communicates and is perceived by others."

In mentoring, an issue between a mentor and mentoree are usually not shared with an immediate manager at any point in time, nor is the mentor involved in any evaluation of the mentoree in terms of performance or promotion.

Determine a Need for Mentorships

Many mentoring programs fail because businesses don't know what they want to get out of the effort. As such, an organization considering mentoring must determine its area of greatest need.

Generally, employers implement mentoring programs for the following reasons: retaining talent, helping new employees adapt to the corporate culture, as part of succession planning programs, transferring knowledge from workers hitting retirement age and promoting diversity initiatives.

Establish the Mentoring Model

The mentoring program structure, including level of formality and rules, should be clearly defined. Although programs may vary from very informal to very formal, Petrin says there are basically four types of mentoring models: traditional one-on-one managed programs, group mentoring programs, self-directed mentoring programs and anytime mentoring.

When it comes to mentoring models in business, one size doesn't fit all.

The traditional managed program is usually targeted to a certain group: high potentials, new managers, skilled workers or diversity and part of succession planning and other developmental programs. Group mentoring, though valuable for sharing knowledge and providing support, does not provide the personal relationship benefits that a managed program does.

Self-directed mentoring is typically meant for employees at large as a way of offering mentoring to larger populations. Anytime mentoring, a newer model based upon social networking, "is a better form of harnessing the wealth of expertise than self-directed," Petrin says.

Identify the Mentorship Participants

Participants can be targeted specifically, or a general program to determine the potential players can be created. Key players include the mentor and mentoree, obviously, but also a program manager and a champion of the program.

The corporate program's champion should be a senior-level individual who will support the effort and energize the program. Mentorees are generally culled from the company's pool of more inexperienced or diverse talent with high potential of taking on leadership roles.

Meanwhile, the mentor profile will depend on the objective of the program. If an employer hopes to use the program as a means of recruitment, it should seek out employees who like teaching younger people. If the goal is to groom the next generation of leaders, mentorees should be paired with top-level leaders.

Schedule Routine Communication

Regularly scheduled, open communication is crucial to building a trusting, confidential mentor-mentoree relationship. That is why mentors and mentorees should establish how often to meet and how they'll communicate. Otherwise, one or both of these participants may be left feeling frustrated due to lack of communication or overburdened by too much of it.

"The golden rule is to meet every other week for 1 to 1.5 hours and perhaps negotiate phone contact in between either for purposes of check-ins or to have a mini-mentoring session," Petrin says. "It is better to have regular, [spaced-apart] contact than to have contact at any time under any means."

Successfully implemented, a mentoring program can be a highly effective method of aligning high-potential employees with company leaders and, ultimately, of attracting, retaining and developing top talent.

"There isn't a company that can't benefit from mentoring, but it has to value its employees and not make mentoring just a gimmick or the latest HR fad," Petrin says.