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Getting your Mentoring Program off the ground

In my last blog post I blogged about the power of empowering employees and why organizations should be focused on this in order to reduce turnover and increase engagement. Once you have a culture of empowerment AND you have a leadership team in place that supports and reinforces talent management practices, than you are able to better leverage additional talent management activities such as mentoring. Based upon research I have done, information collected from a great business resource (HR Downloads) and personal experience, I wanted to share with you some information and tips you can use to launch your own mentorship program.  For additional insight on mentoring and the mentor/mentee relationship, Jay Kuhns, a blogger whom I really respect, provides some great insights as well.

In many organizations, mentoring is a great way to ensure that you have a continued internal pipeline of talent that remains actively engaged and continues to focus on their professional and personal development in support of business needs. Mentoring also supports and feeds succession planning activities and it ensures that your more senior staff has a structured way to pass on their valuable knowledge that has been gathered over decades of work experience.
The best way to think of mentoring is not so much as an activity where companies identify who will replace whom as is done with succession planning, but more as an activity that focuses on career growth and personal development (both for the mentor and mentee). It is important to understand that mentoring is NOT training per se. Formal mentoring programs give the participants a lot of “wiggle room” to identify what will work in their relationship so as to meet the stated outcomes. Mentors need to have a fluid approach to mentoring so adjustments to learning can be made on the fly so as to ensure program effectiveness.
In organizations that have a high degree of grey matter as their primary product/service, (think I.T., Engineering, Accounting Firms, etc.) being able to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of your senior staff can be a huge competitive advantage. By implementing an effective mentoring program, you will also be able to onboard your more junior staff and get them up to speed faster by having a mentor help them development their skillsets. At the end of the day, in order to make it all work, you must have the right work environment and the right relationships in place.
Step 1- Identify your organizational needs a.k.a. Building the Foundation
In order to get your mentoring program off the ground, you will need to start with an organizational needs analysis. Begin by identifying those positions that are critical to your organization and decide what KSA’s (knowledge, skills, and abilities) must be passed on (or down) from your Sr. staff to your more Jr. staff. During this process you will also be identifying who, from within your company, will make the best mentors and who should be mentored. HR can help facilitate this by working with the heads of departments to capture how the work/jobs should be completed, what the desired outcomes are and what the mentee needs to be able to do at the end of the mentoring relationship. You can also conduct a gap analysis on the participants at that this time too. Leverage current data found in performance reviews and development plans – then you can identify current performance levels of participants and compare against the desired state. This will formulate the basis of your mentorship agreement and the desired program outcomes.
Step 2 – Identify your Mentors and Mentees
It is critical that, through things like performance reviews, succession planning and other HIPO activities, you identify the right mentors and mentees. You want to ensure that the mentors have the right blend of knowledge, skills and abilities in their roles that you want passed on to more junior staff (mentees). It is equally important that when identifying participants, that the career development plans of the mentees is in alignment with what the mentor can provide, while ensuring that the mentoring relationship will also meet the needs of the business. Employees selected to be mentors and mentees should be properly trained/prepared for participate in the program and they should be at least meeting expectations in their current roles.
Step 3 – Analytics
At the end of the day, in order to be prepared to show the success of the mentoring program, it’s all about the data. As an organization, you will want to track:
· Number of successors identified for key/critical positions
· Number of successors identified for key/critical positions deemed “ready now.”
· Number of key/critical positions without a successor identified
· The number of HIPO employees each year that are identified during your talent management activities.
· Voluntary Turnover Rate
· Employee Engagement Scores/Survey Scores
Step 4 – Program Implementation
You have now identified your organizational needs and identified your participants (and selection process), and are prepared to use data to make sure you can measure the success of the program and focus your efforts. You are also prepared to leverage your mentoring program as part of your employee development plans and can use it to develop and sustain your organizational workforce (planning) longer term. Now it is time to implement the program! The most important thing, as with new hires, is to properly onboard the mentors and mentees to your mentorship program. During this “orientation”, the participants need to know and understand why the company feels mentoring is important, what the goals are for the program and for its participants and that the company is invested in the program in order to ensure its success. With HR and Manager guidance, the mentors and mentees are ready to draw up their mentoring agreements and begin the mentoring process!
Step 5 – Program Support
Once you have launched, it is critical that HR plays that key business partnering role to ensure the success of the program. The processes need to be monitored and checked to ensure the proper steps are being followed and the right adjustments are made when required. HR can also work with the mentors and mentees to further refine the program and make sure that it is working for everyone. In essence, HR is playing the role of an ISO auditor to ensure quality controls are in place and followed. Also key to the success of the program is the direct support of the participants’ manager(s). The mentors need to be supported and recognized for their role in the relationship, just as the mentees need to be recognized for successfully completing the program and realizing the expected outcomes. The managers need to work with the participants to address any additional development needs as it pertains to KSA’s. This could take the form of 360 assessments, additional workshops on communication, leadership, etc. It is critical to NOT think of the mentoring program/agreement as a one and done activity like we tend to do with training. It needs to be reinforced through additional activities.
At the end of the mentoring agreement, both parties need to review what has been achieved and discuss the go forward approach for their relationship. (i.e. what contact will they have going forward; in what form will it take place, etc.) Ultimately though, the formal relationship does need to end as the mentor will move on to mentor someone else and the mentee is able to take on assignments in larger scope and nature, perhaps eventually becoming a mentor themselves.

Images courtesy of photostock/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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