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Business literature is full of praise for mentoring programs, yet offices across the country seem full of failed initiatives rather than mentoring success stories. Successes do happen, but only when management recognizes potential pitfalls and takes steps to avoid them. The first, and perhaps most important step on the path to success is figuring out why a mentorship program is needed. Don’t blindly buy into the hype and hop on the mentorship bandwagon. Instead, businesses need to determine why they want a mentor program and what goals it should meet. Ask how the program will benefit the company.


Of course, employees will want to know how involvement in the mentoring program will benefit them personally. Both mentors and mentees will expect to reap rewards for the time they devote to the program. Management needs to create value and then market that value to employees just as they market products and services to customers.


After the program’s goals are set and employees see the perks of participation, it’s time for some meaningful mentor training. Without training, only about 30 percent of mentorship programs succeed. The success rate jumps to 66 percent when mentors understand what they should be teaching and how to do it.


Just as training mentors is important, so is matching them properly. Some employees are like oil and water, so putting them together in a mentor/mentee relationship is a recipe for disaster. Programs often just throw young employees at older ones and expect magic. Success and true growth, however, require a more nuanced approach that pairs someone who has a certain skill or trait with someone else who does not.


Once the program is underway, measuring its success is crucial. Create benchmarks and goals and then examine the program to see if it’s hitting them. Get feedback from employees about how the program is going and be open to suggestions for improvement. Collect hard data, as well, and examine it to see if the mentor program is meeting management’s expectations. If it’s not, make tweaks and changes. With apologies to Ron Popeil, mentorship programs don’t work on a set-it-and-forget-it philosophy.


In short, mentorship programs require the same research, planning, marketing and monitoring as every other program a company launches. Employee buy-in, too, is crucial. Businesses that already do these things well can create a successful mentorship program with relative ease. Those that don’t will find an experienced consultant invaluable.