Business leaders hear it all the time: Having a strong mentor relationship will not only help professionals learn networking and relationship skills but also help them move ahead in their careers. A mentor relationship has a big impact on both individual careers and a company’s overall success.
Some people look at mentor relationships as politics. They focus on climbing the ladder rather than engaging with a mentor and learning from their experience. However, mentorship isn’t going away, because it works. Seventy-one percent of Fortune 500 companies have a mentoring program. Research also shows that 70 percent of small business owners who have a mentoring relationship stay in business for more than five years.
While most professionals see mentorship on an individual level, many organizations, both big and small, fail to acknowledge the value of a mentoring program on a broader, company-wide level. Sometimes, there is resistance to helping employees navigate the process, leaving the idea of mentorship up for interpretation. Then, when employees start seeking outside advice, company leaders may begin to worry about whom they might be building relationships with and what that could mean for the retention of high-potential employees.
However, making a mentor program a clearly defined attribute of your culture and encouraging both new hires and seasoned employees alike to participate will help attract and retain top talent. Here are five important tips for creating or reviving a strong mentoring program.
1. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mentoring.
Consider the various levels within your organization, and build programs that work for them. Ask what your new hires need in terms of mentorship. Their needs are very different from what your high potentials need, which is different from what your leaders need. Think of the different buckets of employees, and look for ways to weave in mentorship.
2. Senior leaders set the tone.
Your executive team should play a key role in mentoring your teams. For example, if you create a leadership development program, leaders could meet with program members monthly to teach mentorship. Once employees graduate from your leadership development program, you could ask that they serve as mentors to those just starting out in leadership.
3. Consistency is key.
If you have a program in place with only an annual expectation for mentor/mentee interaction, what are you saying about the importance of mentoring at your organization? Even the most seasoned executives should be meeting with a mentor frequently to ensure that follow-up and relationship-building are top of mind. It is hard to leverage a mentor relationship when you hardly know the person.
4. Employees will have outside mentors, and that’s OK!
We cannot tell employees whom they can and cannot form mentorship relationships with. Instead of worrying if they are building their network to find a new job, focus on what they are gaining from these relationships, and help them find creative ways to apply what they learn in house.
For example, a leadership development program could mandate that each member have an internal mentor as well as an external mentor. The goal would be for these high-potential leaders to go into the community and practice the networking skills they developed internally. You cannot focus on the possibility of their leaving, because if they want to leave, they will. Instead, think of how impactful the program will be for your customer relationships as well as vendors.
5. Set expectations.
Create a framework and support the process in a way that works within your culture. Are mentors assigned? How are they assigned? Should mentors and mentees meet monthly? Are there predetermined topics? What are the objectives? All of these questions must be addressed, and, for success, you must establish the way you expect it to happen.
Having a program in place for internal mentorship is not only great for keeping and attracting top talent, but it is also good for business. You will find that employees feel supported and developed, and they will give that back through increased productivity, creativity and commitment to the company.