In work, as in life, there’s always something new to learn, and mentorship is a tried-and-tested method of learning that brings real results in the workplace. Mentored employees are more productive and engaged, more likely to remain in the company, and more likely to be promoted.
Purpose of mentorship
Cristina Imre, an executive coach and mentor for entrepreneurs, sees mentorship as “an ongoing process where your focus is on creating insights that help the mentee learn about the business, and variable issues that help people grow inside that business.”
In comparison, a training program aims to establish and improve employees’ skills in a particular area, while coaching is more focused on performance and achieving specific goals.
Imre suggests that the employee education process follow an order: first training, then coaching, then mentoring.
Benefits of mentorship programs in the workplace
The benefits of mentoring are numerous. From a business angle, employee retention was found to be 50% higher when employees took part in a formal mentorship program.
For newer businesses or startups going through a growth spurt, having mentors in place will ease the onboarding process and bring everyone up to speed quicker.
Employees who feel connected to their higher-ups and share in the company’s mission are dedicated to doing their best — which in turn translates to greater productivity and often a boost to the bottom line.
Imre sees a mentorship program as an important part of the company culture. “Create a mentorship culture that will enable close relationships, belonging, and a focus on constant improvement.”
One tip from Imre: Draft up a calendar board internally where every employee can request a mentoring session with another employee. Then, every employee can use up to five hours per month to mentor other employees.
Benefits of mentorship for mentees
From a more personal side, mentoring helps employees realize they are not alone. Some employees may feel intimidated or too shy to ask questions of their colleagues or manager. They could end up slogging away by themselves, unsure if they are heading in the right direction — especially in the era of remote working.
Regular sessions with a mentor, whether face to face or online, can help embolden the employee, and solve problems as they arise. Beyond just career skills, mentors can help mentees with skills such as finding work-life balance, or communicating effectively with their colleagues.
Furthermore, continuously learning something new can increase your employees’ motivation and enthusiasm for their jobs.
Benefits of mentorship for mentors
Be the change you wish to see — in this case, as a business owner/founder, you have the chance to impart your wisdom unto your employees, and help them view the business as you do.
Being a mentor strengthens your leadership and communication skills, and helps you understand your team. Your mentee, who may have a different educational background or expertise, may also teach you something new or help you gain a different perspective.
For example, an entry-level employee may help a senior manager understand how best to market to Gen Zs on social media, or which workplace benefits are the most attractive to younger talents.
Imre says everyone in an organization can be a mentor because everyone is unique and talented in something.
How to structure a successful mentorship program
The most important question is how to choose the style of mentoring that will work best for your employees’ needs and fit well with your company culture.
There is no one-size-fits-all mentoring program. Although you can always opt for the straightforward one-to-one mentoring sessions — pairing a senior employee with a more junior employee — there are other approaches you can take.
To discover how to set up your mentoring program, the guiding question should be: What is the end goal? What should the mentee gain from this experience, however many weeks or months it may last?
While mentorship can be an informal arrangement, it can also be a structured program that encourages employees to participate on a regular basis. However, set guardrails in place that allow employees to opt out or switch mentors if needed — a mentorship should never be a forced relationship for either side.
Clarify what you want to achieve in your company with a mentoring program before you set things in motion. Because the program is there to help your employees, have a meeting or two to introduce the idea of the program and solicit feedback from them.
This will help you figure out the program structure that suits everyone best. Instead of one-on-one sessions, you could offer group sessions, or asynchronous options for busy employees. Instead of just pairing managers with entry-level workers, you might try incorporating peer coaching or reverse mentoring.
Once you've got the ball rolling and people are mentoring each other, keep an eye on the program — measure the effectiveness and adjust based on feedback and achievements.
Instead of creating a mentoring program internally, you may opt for an online platform (such as Together, Mentor Cruise, or GrowthMentor) that pairs employees with external mentors or helps to find matches within your company.
Each platform also has its own approach to mentoring, so you’ll have to do a little comparison shopping to decide which one is a good fit.
Make sure you are crystal clear about your objective and can take full advantage of an online platform’s features before incorporating it into your program.
“Before using such a platform, test out the need and even simulate with a couple of people the way you would use the platform on a consistent basis,” Imre recommends.
When to get started
So if you're excited about mentoring and wondering when you can start, take a moment to assess if your company is ready yet. If your business has fewer than 10 people, you can make yourself available as the starting mentor.
If your schedule is super hectic, consider taking on only one mentee at a time, every three to six months or more. When you don’t have extra time to set aside specifically for a mentoring session, you could have the mentee come with you on your morning walk or even have them shadow you during the workday.
Establishing mentorship programs early will encourage employees to connect with each other, create a learning culture, and help shape younger workers into future mentors.