The Importance of Mentoring Programs

Return to main page


Digital Library > Building and Inspiring an Organization > Mentoring"The Importance of Mentoring Programs"

Why should you take the time to mentor an employee? Why should you bother asking someone to mentor you? You'd be astonished at how easy it can be and how rewarding.

OVERVIEW [top]

Mentoring your promising employees can benefit them — and your company. Mentoring means taking personal interest in seeing that a mentee develops the talent and knowledge needed to succeed — to have a successful career and contribute as much as possible to the company and society. Mentoring differs from coaching and advising in its emphasis on developing a personal relationship and advancing the career of the mentee. It's not just giving advice on how to work more effectively or handle a specific problem.

Once you've hired the best and the brightest, you want to retain them long past the training period. You can earn their loyalty by putting them on the fast track under senior executive guidance. Some companies have formal mentoring programs, with senior executives establishing counseling relationships with junior executives, and old hands assigned to mentor new hires. Some mentoring connections develop when senior and junior staff members are drawn together by common interests and one or the other decides to pursue a mentor-mentee relationship.

In this Quick-Read you will find:

  • Tips for setting up a mentoring program in your company.
  • Tips for mentoring employees effectively.
  • Mentoring mistakes to avoid.

SOLUTION [top]

Here are three good reasons why you should consider a mentoring program for employees:

  1. A mentored employee is likely to form a strong bond with you and your company and to be someone you can count on in tough times.

  2. You'll find ways to channel the energies of terrific employees who may be feeling bored or underutilized. You can help them renew their enthusiasm and become more productive.

  3. You can reduce costly turnover by developing employees and increasing their productivity and job satisfaction.

Tips for setting up a mentoring program in your company:

  • Recruit mentors who are committed to the process. Even the most accomplished executive who has been with your company for years may not be enthusiastic or qualified for one-on-one mentoring.

  • Set criteria for selecting mentee candidates. How will you choose the "best and brightest" for fast-track mentoring? Or you may want mentoring for all employees at a certain level of the company.

  • Allow mentees to have a say in selecting their mentors. The mentoring process won't work if the two parties are mismatched.

  • Set up a training program. Few people are "natural" mentors. Have an HR staff member or outside consultant help managers develop the necessary skills.

  • Give mentors guidelines to follow. Aim to make the process as easy as possible. They may find it helpful, for instance, to have on hand useful suggestions for dealing with certain personal and professional issues that arise with the mentee.

  • Provide a "shadow mentor." Mentoring relationships may suffer from misunderstandings or personality differences. The shadow mentor — perhaps your mentoring trainer — can help coach both parties back together.

  • Allow enough relief time for mentors. They shouldn't feel so squeezed by other responsibilities that mentoring becomes just a nuisance or an added source of stress.

When setting up a mentoring program, encourage your company mentors to:

  • Listen at least as much as they talk. With encouragement, mentees will ask lots of questions. Make sure the mentors don't interpret a question as a challenge. Instead, encourage them to answer as openly and honestly as possible.

  • Share information generously. Of course you'll want them to keep certain information confidential; but the more trust they are able to place in mentees, the stronger the relationship can be.

  • Stay focused on helping their mentees grow. The goal should be to provide guidance not to impress by displaying knowledge or expertise. Have your company mentors treat mentees as equals.

  • Be flexible. Encourage mentors to set regular times to meet or talk on the phone, yet be ready also to give spur of the moment assistance. Mentees might occasionally ask for a last-minute breakfast or lunch meeting to discuss an urgent matter.

  • Cut it off if there is a clash. Personality differences may be so great that the mentoring relationship suffers. Have mentors discuss the situation with their mentees and suggest others who could take their place.

  • Walk the talk. Make sure mentors model the behavior you want to see encouraged in the company. Let's say a mentor urges a mentee to show respect to people at all levels of the organization. The lesson would be lost if the mentor treats subordinates offhandedly.

  • Be ready to learn. Mentees can teach, too. By listening carefully, the mentor could get fresh and helpful perspectives on your company.

Advice for mentees:

  • Don't be shy. Successful people are generally pleased to be asked to share their knowledge and expertise. Encourage the mentee to seek mentors.

  • Feel free to look outside the company for mentors. The person who will be able to help most may not be inside the organization. The important thing is to find someone who can provide perspective and guidance.

  • Contact prospective mentors by letter or by e-mail. A phone call puts the other person on the spot. In your letter, explain what kind of advice you're looking for, and ask if the entrepreneur would be willing to share information with you.

  • Cultivate multiple mentors. Networking with peers at industry and community functions can lead to many productive and mutual mentoring relationships.

  • Be receptive. Listen to your mentor's responses to your questions. Don't argue. A mentoring session isn't a showdown to prove who's right.

  • Be willing to share in return. Mentor others who may want to learn from your experience or draw on your expertise.

More advice for mentors:

  • Be realistic. Don't promise too much time to mentees. If you're too busy to deliver, you'll feel pressured and the mentee will resent being shortchanged.

  • Avoid common mentoring mistakes, such as:

    1. Intervening too quickly with advice. Mentees need to learn by trial-and-error.

    2. Taking sides when a mentee is in conflict with a colleague. Encourage the mentee to work through the problem. Ask: "How would you like this to come out?" and "How do you think that could be achieved at this point?"

    3. Expecting mentees to stroke your ego. Don't look for frequent praise and compliments.

    4. Offering advice on personal problems. Stick to how those problems may impact the mentees' work lives. If necessary, provide referrals to a qualified professional.

  • Know when to let go. At some point you'll need to move on and mentor others. Your mentees' priorities will also shift, and they may need to seek guidance from other people.

  • Keep an open door. Let your mentees know that you're always available for further occasional consultation.

REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE [top]

One New England public relations agency uses mentoring as a strategy to build employee loyalty and keep the best people. Mentoring responsibilities are part of every executive's job description, and some mentor up to three mentees at any given time.

New employees are given a copy of the mentoring handbook outlining responsibilities of both mentors and mentees — including "do's" and "don'ts." And for their first 90 days on the job, they're assigned to "buddies" — all experienced account executives — who guide them through this introductory period.

Mentees then decide how they want to develop professionally over the coming year and set down specific goals. They're also assigned a personal mentor, selected from their top three mentor choices.

Mentors and mentees meet formally every quarter — and most also meet informally at least once a month. They sign a contract agreeing to their responsibilities in the relationship, such as when they'll meet and what they intend to accomplish.

And here's proof that the mentoring program helps keep good people on board: Company turnover has dropped to 32% — impressive when compared to an average of 42% for the public relations industry as a whole.

DO IT [top]

  1. Make mentoring part of the job description for new managers. Emphasize that, "we're a mentoring organization, and we expect you to take on this responsibility."

  2. Establish accountability. Tie in mentoring responsibilities with your performance management process. Both mentor and mentee should have input on annual reviews.

  3. Don't over-bureaucratize mentoring. Minimize the policies and procedures involved. Allow mentors and mentees to devise their own schedule for contact. Mentors will feel overburdened and lose interest quickly if they're required to do an excessive amount of paperwork or meet too often and on a rigid schedule.

  4. Suggest that mentees prepare for mentoring sessions by doing the following:

    • Be prepared for the sessions. Before they call or meet, have them write down specific questions they want to ask.

    • Be considerate. Too many calls or too-frequent requests for assistance or advice could be tiring to mentors.

    • Express appreciation for the mentors' help. Encourage them to send written thank-you notes for the time, attention and advice they receive.

    • Maintain confidentiality. Unless mentors give permission, mentees should not share confidential information their mentors have given them.

RESOURCES [top]

Books

Art of Mentoring: Lead, Follow and Get Out of the Way by Shirley Peddy (Bullion, 1998).

Managers as Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning by Chip R. Bell (Berrett-Koehler, 1998).


Articles

"Using Mentors to Build Loyalty" by Anne Marie Borrego, Inc., February 2000.

"Mentoring Is for Entrepreneurs, Too" by Barnett Helzberg, Jr., EntreWorld.com, 2001.


Internet Sites

The Mentoring Group

SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives)

Women's Network for Entrepreneurial Training Mentoring Program, U.S. Small Business Administration.


Article Contributors

Writer: Kathleen Conroy

Related Articles

People Skills: A New Yardstick for Growth

How to Develop Powerful Presentation Skills

Finding Time for Philanthropy

Should You Use the Buddy System? Partners Can Prove Lucrative

They Won’t Throw Tomatoes… But It’ll Probably Hurt Just as Much



Building and Inspiring an Organization

Articles in our Entrepreneur’s Resource Center appeared in print and online newsletters published previously by the foundation. More than 1,000 articles can be found in the categories below, addressing timeless challenges faced by entrepreneurs of all types.