Some years ago, an international study by Robert Walters found that only a third of employees have taken part in a mentoring scheme. This is astonishing when you understand how mentoring improves employee engagement, and more engaged people is just one of the benefits.
Employers are missing a trick here. The sense of career development, practical training and support employees get from a mentoring program is one of the keys to improving employee engagement and talent retention. Indeed, 83% of workers claim that they would benefit from mentoring.
To get your mentoring program up and running, and then to scale it, here are some key tips:
1. Match the right mentors with the right protégés
It is essential that you choose motivated and willing individuals as mentors – an apathetic mentor will not get the best out of their protégé. For this reason, you should never force staff into becoming mentors. Only use those who willingly volunteer. Encourage people to put themselves forward by actively promoting personal benefits, like strong management, leadership and organisation skills, as well as the idea of “giving back”.
Another factor to consider is chemistry – you obviously want your mentors to get on well with their protégés. This can be pretty straightforward in a small business, where the management generally knows all of the staff. However, larger organisations may want to consider using mentoring matching software, which allows HR managers to build up a much more rounded picture of participants, and thus more sophisticated matching.
2. Make mentoring sessions a ‘safe space’
Employees may be hesitant about divulging too much information to mentors, as many fear that any criticisms they make of the organisation will be used against them. This is not the right mentality to get the best out of the programme.
Therefore, mentoring sessions need to be strictly confidential. Make sure mentors are not in the same working group or department as their protégé. If you are looking to go the extra mile, you could even draft in impartial mentors from outside of the organisation.
3. Set goals
Younger employees generally crave direction and goals to work towards. Therefore, mentors should communicate with the protégé’s line manager in order to identify key areas for improvement. If this is not possible, then the mentor could suggest focus areas based on common issues people face at similar points in their careers.
Make sure the goals are specific, actionable and tangible. A good way to do this is by using the SMART method.
4. Be consistent and committed
It may be tempting to set mentoring aside during busy periods, but this is counterproductive. Employers must allocate enough time and priority. For example, set mandatory weekly mentoring sessions.
Employers could also help by producing resources, like introductory guides, career development exercise templates, and weekly goal assessment diaries.
This post was updated in September 2021
Hugh is the CEO of Thymometrics, a supplier of employee engagement surveys. He has over 34 years’ experience in IT in various roles, with a patent relating to Virtual Worlds, and he holds an MA in Computer Science from the University of Cambridge.