How to Start a Mentor Program in the Workplace

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Having a mentorship program in your organization can be a win-win for everyone: it gives younger professionals the career champion they need, allows more seasoned employees access to fresh perspectives, and can help improve the company culture and increase productivity. For the process to be most successful, start with good planning and ensure that the program is aligned with the organization's goals.

Assess the Organization's Needs

Before you design the mentoring program, do some research to find out where the gaps are in the organization, and where existing practices need some improvement. Look for areas of expertise that are lacking or sectors of the organization in which people need more support. Take stock of the organization's core values, overall goals and mission statement to get a sense of how mentoring could help meet the organization's specific needs, suggests David Hutchins of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Identify Mentors and Mentees

With a good idea of the organizational goals, identify the groups that would be best served by having a mentor. Naturally, people starting out in the organization should be on the list, but you may also have mid-career professionals who are not performing to their potential. Review their job descriptions to get a sense of what is expected of them, and what skills or duties they may need help improving. Then identify the higher-ups or more senior staff members who possess the knowledge you want those mentees to gain. Use surveys or have one-on-one conversations with potential mentors and mentees to gauge employee openness to the mentor program, and whether one-on-one or group mentoring will work better for your organization. Match participants yourself, or allow participants to choose each other.

Provide Structure

Your program should have clear guidelines for mentors and mentees to follow, but those protocols will depend on how you've structured the program and who's involved. If you're doing group mentoring, offer a formal training program to the mentor in charge of the group if possible then lay out your expectations for attendance and participation for each member. You can also send participants to a mentoring seminar to learn the ropes. With one-on-one mentoring, you may simply require a certain number of meetings per month or quarter, for example. Have both mentors and mentees set goals and check in with those goals on a regular basis. Clearly define the length of the mentorship program, allowing members to change mentors or to stop participating after a certain period.

Evaluate and Enhance the Program

After developing a new program, it may take a little while to get it right -- and getting feedback from program participants will help you do that. Create a survey or meet individually with program participants on a regular basis to see how the process is going. For example, ask mentors if the program has caused them to feel more empowered by imparting their knowledge, and evaluate mentee productivity. Whatever your program's goals are, find a way you can measure whether you were successful, advises Sarah Kessler in a 2010 article on Inc. magazine's website. Based on that feedback, alter your program as necessary, and continue doing the things that brought the most success.