Mentoring is a relationship in which a more knowledgeable or experienced person guides a less knowledgeable or experienced person. The definition suggests that the relationship is beneficial for both the mentors (who develop as leaders by guiding others) and mentees (who develop by being guided).

The role of mentoring as an important mode of learning and development is widely accepted. Several researchers have proven the efficacy of mentoring with specific outcomes like improving skills, engagement levels and retention.

Nonetheless, there is still resistance or hesitation in a lot of organizations when it comes to investing in a formal mentoring program or in scaling up an existing one. This reluctance is largely because generic data about mentoring is not as convincing as specific data that illustrate the effectiveness of mentoring within a given organizational context.

It is essential to demonstrate the effectiveness of a mentoring program to establish its credibility and value the efforts of all stakeholders involved. Fortunately, it is possible to assess and demonstrate effectiveness at various stages of the program and through multiple means, including:

1. Process Adherence

Basic information like whether sessions are happening according to plan, the frequency and duration of sessions, and agreed milestones are important leading indicators that can predict the likelihood of a successful outcome at the end of a mentoring journey. If the engagement is not progressing, it is important to intervene quickly to diagnose the causes and take appropriate corrective actions.

2. Pulse Checks

Observation of frequency and duration is insufficient to gauge success; it is equally important to ask participants to rate the ease of navigating through the program, describe the challenges they are facing, rate the support resources available or evaluate their comfort with the pace of the program. Organizations can ask these questions through quick surveys. Depending on the organizational environment, it may be better to make the surveys anonymous to allow for honesty.

As these checks can happen multiple times throughout the course of a mentoring journey, the data points can create a scorecard, which can be useful as an ongoing update to all stakeholders.

It is important to capture both quantitative and qualitative information in the surveys. The former is useful for analytics and reports, while the latter helps understand issues in depth and helps in problem-solving and course correction.

3. The Experience of Mentors and Mentees

It is important to engage separately with mentors and mentees to understand the “on-the-ground” effectiveness of the program. It is important to create a safe space where both mentors and mentees can give honest feedback and discuss their concerns. One-on-one meetings and journaling are private but effective ways to evaluate their perceived value of the program and the level of comfort and trust they experience with their mentoring partner. This feedback can also provide success stories to share across the organization.

4. Mentee Progress

Participants typically enter into a mentoring relationship with a specific predefined goal. The most direct measure of the effectiveness of the program is, therefore, to track the mentee’s progress toward that goal. Creating an individual development plan (IDP) or personal development plan (PDP) at the start of the engagement can help measure progress. An IDP lists the goals of the program and identifies actions to take to achieve them, along with timelines and the support required. While the onus of execution on IDP is often on the mentee, it is the mentor’s responsibility to guide the mentee and hold him or her accountable. Tracking progress using the IDP provides valuable data on the impact of the mentoring program.

Another way to evaluate success is to collect 360-degree feedback (feedback from their supervisors, peers, direct reports and customers) on the extent to which they achieved the goals outlined in their IDP. While IDP progress is ongoing and is a leading indicator, one-time feedback from these parties can be a lagging indicator that conveys effectiveness after the program is complete.

5. Organizational Outcomes

It is possible to evaluate the impact of an entire mentoring program through macro-level organizational outcomes like engagement scores, retention levels, productivity, performance ratings or promotion rate, depending on the objectives of the mentoring program. For instance, if the mentoring program is designed to develop specific skills, organizational outcomes include productivity scores, performance ratings and business performance metrics. If it is aimed at building an inclusive culture, organizational outcomes include the engagement, retention and career progression of diverse employee groups.

To make this information meaningful, it is important to compare the outcomes for the employees who completed the mentoring program, employees who joined the program but did not complete, and employees who did not participate at all. Analytical tools can help organizations understand trends in impact and effectiveness across regions, employee hierarchies or groups.

6. Program Advocacy

An important lagging indicator that establishes sustainability is the extent of program advocacy within the organization, measured through data points such as an increase in the number of participants (both mentors and mentees), the number of program referrals from existing participants and the number of mentors who participate in the program more than once. These are important indicators of the program’s sustainability and important inference points about the program’s perceived impact and effectiveness.

Establishing a robust mentoring program is not sufficient; it is important to close the loop by tracking it for effectiveness, taking corrective action based on feedback, and sharing outcomes with all stakeholders so that the need and the impact of mentoring is understood by all.