Sponsored by Together
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Mentoring is a key to the future of work. That’s not hyperbole. It’s a fact. I’ve been beating the mentorship drum for over a decade. Yet, I’ve never been as confident about it as I am today. And I hope employers are listening. Why?
The Business Case for Mentoring
All the signs point to mentorship as one of the most powerful ways to navigate increasingly turbulent workplace waters. Here are just a few proof points:
- Pandemic-era job disruption has created knowledge and skill gaps across many organizations.
- Even before the pandemic, average job tenure was shrinking among all age groups.
- Managers and senior-level leaders are moving on and opting out at a record pace.
- Younger people are looking for more guidance and support as they enter the workforce.
- Demand for future-ready employees is intensifying as organizations continue to invest in new technologies.
- The average half-life of skills continues to decline.
- Many employers are still struggling to find qualified talent for critical open roles.
With 84% of U.S. Fortune 500 companies already offering mentoring programs, this seems like the right time to double down on that strategy. Why? Consider these research findings:
- 90% of employees with a mentor say they’re happy at work.
- 75% of executives give mentors credit for their success.
- People with mentors are significantly less likely to consider quitting. This includes managers, senior managers, vice presidents, and individual contributors.
- Among millennials, 68% who stay onboard for 5 or more years have a mentor, compared with 32% who don’t.
- In fact, one Wharton-led study found much higher retention among mentees (72%) and mentors (69%) than among those who did not participate in these programs (49%).
But here’s the kicker: While 76% of people say mentors are important, only 37% actually have one. Is your organization facing this issue? You may be able to bridge the gap more easily than you think. For helpful ideas, read on…
Advice for Mentoring Program Success
Let’s start by clarifying a key point. Mentoring, alone, is not the answer. Organizations really need to aim higher by developing a culture of learning. However, one of the most effective ways to foster this kind of environment is through mentoring in all its forms.
So where should employers start to establish or enhance mentorships? One of the smartest sources I know is Matt Reeves. Matt is CEO of Together Software, a platform that helps companies run best-in-class mentoring programs. Early in 2022, Matt joined me to discuss mentoring strategies on our #WorkTrends podcast. To hear his advice, listen to this encore version of our conversation and read the show notes below…
How Mentoring Works
1. Defining Mentorship
So tell us, Matt, what does mentoring look like to you?
In its traditional sense, mentoring is based on pairing two colleagues for career development and professional guidance. Usually, this involves a more junior employee who’s the mentee with a more senior employee who’s the mentor. And typically, they meet on a particular cadence, like once a month for a year or even more.
2. Evolving Trends
How are mentorship programs changing?
We’ve seen companies break the mold and experiment with various types of programs. But the common thread is that they help employees learn from their colleagues through relationship-building and ongoing conversations.
3. Mentorship Variations
What are some of the different flavors you’re seeing in mentorship programs?
The classic approach is one-on-one, where a more senior person mentors a more junior person for a specific period.
However, peer-to-peer programs are increasingly popular. Also, we’re seeing more reverse programs, where a more junior-level person who is experienced in a particular topic mentors a more senior employee.
In addition, many organizations are successfully breaking the mold with the duration of these relationships and in offering participants more flexibility.
4. Benefits of Mentoring
It may seem obvious why mentees are attracted to these relationships. But it helps mentors, too. In fact, more than 90% of professionals who’ve mentored young people say it has helped them become better leaders or managers…
Yes. It’s probably easy to understand why a mentee would want to participate — to learn, develop, and progress in their career. But mentors benefit, as well.
Senior-level people are expected to develop others and carry their organization’s culture forward, and mentoring is an opportunity to visibly demonstrate this. Also, as people move up in an organization, they’ve probably experienced some mentoring (or wish they had a mentor). So this is a way to give back.
5. How Technology Enhances the Mentoring Experience
What role can technology play in bringing people together and keeping them connected?
Technology significantly reduces the workload for program administrators, while significantly improving the mentoring experience for participants.
For example, when a program is managed manually, making a strong mentee/mentor match can take a long time. When you’re eager to move forward, it can be frustrating to wait for weeks or even months for a suitable match. You may even be matched with a mentor who has left the organization. This is easily avoidable when you use technology.
In addition, technology can help you scale a program much more efficiently, and keep people connected with reminders and feedback that helps them stay on-track and helps you tweak your program.
Tips for Modern Mentorship Programs
What else should you keep in mind if you want to achieve strong mentoring results, especially in today’s hybrid work environments? When building a game plan, keep these considerations in mind:
1. Assess Your Current State as a Baseline
With or without a formal program in place, mentoring is probably already happening all over your company. It often occurs organically, the same way culture exists, with or without intentional leadership involvement.
So start with a broad-reaching reality check. Research and evaluate the various ways people share knowledge, skills, and experience, and assist others professionally. What seems to be most effective? Can you leverage these methods? Alternatively, what isn’t working well? Does it make sense to provide additional resources that can reinforce, enhance, and expand what’s already in place?
2. Clarify and Communicate the Purpose
When people understand why mentoring is important to your company, they’re more likely to sign up and take responsibility for their role in its success. But there are many ways to frame mentoring initiatives. What goals do you want to accomplish? How closely do your objectives align with your organization’s values? What would success look like for your company and for participants? For example:
- To improve retention among new hires, incorporating mentoring into the onboarding process can provide a stronger start.
- If employees from underrepresented groups lack a sense of inclusion and belonging, “bridge mentorships” could help you move the DEI meter.
- Or if you need to build bench depth, peer-to-peer cross-functional skills mentoring could be a solution.
The possibilities are endless. But no matter what your agenda is, you’ll need top-down support. How committed are your senior-level executives to mentoring? How willing are they to make mentoring participation a leadership priority? What can you do to demonstrate the power of mentoring from cases within your organization or among competitors? What kind of budget and other resources will be required to achieve these goals? Engage senior leadership early in discussions that address these questions.
3. Focus on Learning and Holistic Growth
Although cohort-based social learning is a popular trend — especially in remote and hybrid work environments — one-on-one relationships can drive deeper personal growth and enrichment. Encouraging people to form stronger direct bonds opens the door to a more holistic approach, where participants can connect as individuals and grow, even outside of their professional roles.
Also, keep in mind that the most enriching approach to mentoring isn’t about “teaching” per se. Classic mentoring models emphasize a one-way flow of information, guidance, and access. However, modern mentoring relationships are often a two-way street, where both sides actively aim to learn and grow together, even if their roles and experience levels are not comparable.
4. Provide Structure Along With Flexibility
When matching a pair of participants, you’ll want to formalize expectations in a way that respects the time and effort required to establish and sustain a productive relationship.
It helps to specify basic parameters, such as the minimum mentorship duration (for example, 1 year), and minimum activity frequency (for example 1 meeting a month). However, beyond these parameters, individuals often find it helpful to negotiate their unique goals. Both sides can use this agreement as a discovery tool and as a reference point throughout the relationship.
In addition, you’ll want to encourage consistency with a reasonable ongoing communication cadence. Flexibility is key, here. Mentoring isn’t a full-time job, relationships take time to develop, and informal interactions don’t need to be regimented. However, if participants agree upfront to a minimum pace (such as 1 digital check-in a week), this can help keep the relationship top-of-mind.
5. Measure and Adjust
This may seem obvious, but unless you quantify your mentorship program’s performance, you won’t know if your organization is moving in the right direction. Ideally, you’ll establish success metrics that tie to program objectives even before you start to match participants.
However, once you launch the program, you’ll want to monitor progress regularly by measuring key performance indicators. For example, if you want to build workforce competencies in a particular set of skills, you’ll want to track active mentors and mentees for each of the skills you’re targeting. If you don’t have enough experienced mentors to fulfill mentee demand, you’ll want to recruit more mentors who are qualified in these areas. (Or you may decide to address the demand with another type of skill development intervention.)
Also, plan to seek feedback from participants periodically. Pulse surveys can help you gauge sentiment about the program and identify weaknesses that need attention. At the same time, keep in mind that mentoring is a long-term commitment. Over time, business priorities will shift. To stay ahead of the curve, you’ll want to build periodic program review cycles into the management process, so you can adjust accordingly as goals and needs change.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more in-depth information about how to structure and manage a successful mentoring program, visit the Together Platform website, where you’ll find all sorts of helpful resources for employers. And for more #WorkTrends insights, check our growing collection of episodes at Apple or Spotify and subscribe!