All organizations want to attract, engage and retain employees, create a thriving and inclusive culture, and build connections within their workforce. Here's how a thoughtfully designed employee mentoring program can help businesses make significant headway in each of these areas.

All businesses want to attract, engage and retain the most talented employees, create a thriving and inclusive culture, and build connections within their workforce. However, most organizations also face a number of challenges around managing human resources, and those challenges tend to be similar across organizations.

Having a thoughtfully designed and carefully implemented employee mentoring program can help businesses make significant headway in these areas. If you're looking to create such a program within your organization, here's what you need to know to set the program up for success.

Why have an employee mentorship program?

Employee mentorship programs are often thought of as a way for a more experienced colleague to train or advise a less experienced one, but there's more to it than that. Harris Morris, Senior Director of Diversity & Inclusion at ADP, chooses to adopt "a more general definition of connecting two individuals for a specific purpose. It could be helping with onboarding, or it could be peer-to-peer mentoring between people with different experiences."

A mentorship program helps people network and learn new skill sets, notes Jenny Castillo, Associate Project Manager of Diversity & Inclusion at ADP. "Employees can learn about other parts of the business and cultures and gain a diversity of thought by knocking down barriers," she says. "This also creates a safe environment outside of the chain of command to learn and ask questions that you would not ask of a boss."

5 steps for developing a dynamic mentoring program

Because employees who feel connected and engaged in their work tend to be more productive and less likely to leave, a solid mentoring program can have a long-lasting impact on employee and organizational well-being. Firms can start mentoring programs from scratch, but if they have business resource groups (BRGs), those internal resources may provide an ideal jumping-off point. Many employees join BRGs to network with others across the business, so they may be excited for the opportunity to connect through a mentoring program. The main challenge, according to Morris, is making the connections meaningful.

Here are five steps to help you create and develop an effective employee mentoring program at your organization.

1. Create a solid framework

The first step in setting up a meaningful mentorship program is developing the right framework. "People may want to connect to get and give advice through mentoring and reverse mentoring," Morris explains. "They may want help with onboarding, peer-to-peer support or sponsorship. All employee mentoring programs have different objectives which must be clearly articulated to the audience."

A critical part of building the framework for any mentorship program is determining who should be involved and who will be eligible to participate. A mentoring program may be open to all, or it could be focused on a specific function, department or demographic (such as high performers or new employees).

Other important aspects of the framework include deciding whether the program will be virtual, in-person or both, whether technology will be used, how long mentoring relationships will last, what the rules for pairing will be (with regard to factors such as geography, language and time zone) and what employee levels and reporting relationships will be paired.

2. Recruit all levels of employees to contribute

Employee mentorship programs need support from upper management. According to Castillo, "The company should be invested in the program and have executives involved. Each person is a pillar to strengthen the program and a champion who understands the value of the program," she explains.

At the same time, participants must also be held accountable for the program's success. "People participating in the program should have an ownership mindset to initiate a conversation with the mentor and come prepared with goals or talking points," Castillo says.

Additionally, organizations should look to partner with mentoring vendors who can provide the resources and guidance to ensure their programs are successful. "Subject matter experts are aware of pitfalls and can provide valuable insight and solutions," Castillo notes.

3. Use technology to streamline the process

As beneficial as a mentoring program can be, the administrative aspects can be cumbersome. Using a mentoring platform can help organizations connect the supply (mentors/connectors) with the demand (mentees/connectees).

"The technology is very similar to Amazon, Netflix, Uber — we are connecting people for their intended outcome — whether that's buying something, watching a movie or a show, finding a ride from one location to another, mentoring, acclimation or sponsorship," Morris explains. A mentoring platform can also provide detailed and useful metrics while the program is ongoing and after it concludes.

4. Start small

When an organization is initiating an employee mentorship program, Castillo suggests starting with a pilot program. "Shop the idea around for executive support, then run a pilot program to gauge audience appetite," she says. "Next, study the metrics from the pilot program and adjust the program guidelines accordingly."

Once the pilot phase is complete, the organization can launch a marketing and communications campaign advocating the benefits of joining the mentoring program. "The mentoring program has many opportunities for expansion as it becomes more popular and can be customized to each business unit's needs," says Castillo. "Having a ready-made technology tool will greatly facilitate putting a program in place."

5. Assess and improve on a regular basis

According to Castillo, it's important to study the metrics of your mentorship program, including how many hours are spent together, what topics are discussed and how prepared the associate feels at the end of the relationship. Retention is another crucial statistic that can indicate whether mentorship programs are effective, Morris adds.

Morris also suggests that organizations incorporate lessons learned during the program in future sessions. "If you are using a technology solution to support your program, it should be approached using an agile methodology where there is continuous improvement over time," he explains.

Connecting employees across organizations isn't an option — it's a necessity. By using BRGs to launch employee mentorship programs, firms can ensure that new employees connect, current employees remain engaged and the talent pipeline stays strong.

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Tags: Talent Activation Diversity Equity and Inclusion Employee Resource Group Company Culture Talent Management HR Recruiting and Hiring Articles People Management and Growth