Learning and development programmes focus on enhancing your employees’ skills and knowledge to elevate organisational performance. But there’s more than one way to crack this particular egg. You don’t have to rely on traditional training approaches and info-dumps. Instead, why not embrace a mentorship programme?
It’s hard enough to succeed in today’s fast-paced business landscape. But it’s even harder to do it alone. Mentors act as both seasoned guides and wellsprings of inspiration, helping your learners to reach new heights.
Formalising this process as a structured mentorship programme will help you to monitor and amplify the peer-to-peer learning experiences that happen every day within your workplace. As a result, you’ll unlock effortless knowledge sharing across your organisation.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best, when he claimed: ‘Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.’
If you’re new to this world, then consider us your mentor. We’ll explore what a mentorship programme is, the benefits it can bring, how to structure your own programmes and how to integrate learning technology. Ready to get started? Then take our hand…
What is a Mentor?
Harry Potter had Dumbledore, Frodo Baggins had Gandalf and the Banks children had Mary Poppins. This serves as a reminder that everyone can benefit from a guiding presence throughout their journey.
Mentoring is a collaborative relationship between a more experienced or knowledgeable individual (the mentor) and a less experienced individual (the mentee). The aim of this relationship is to foster the mentee’s personal and professional development.
This goes beyond simple skill or knowledge transferral. That’s easy. Being a mentor requires offering a broader range of support, advice and encouragement.
As John Crosby puts it, ‘Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction’. Or, put another way, ‘a mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.’ Thanks Oprah.
Fun fact: the word ‘mentor’ has its roots in ancient Greek mythology. In Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, Odysseus entrusts the education of his son to a friend named Mentor, whilst he goes off to fight in the Trojan War.
Mentoring vs. Coaching
Whilst mentoring and coaching are similar forms of developmental support, there are some key differences that you should keep in mind. Ultimately, mentors have a broader focus and play a different role to coaches. For instance:
- Scope: Whilst coaches focus on specific tasks, goals or performance issues, mentors have a holistic approach. They’re more likely to take the mentee’s personal development and mental wellbeing into account.
- Approach: Typically, mentors have been there, done that and got the t-shirt. As such, they’re able to share their personal experiences and insights. Coaches, on the other hand, rely on tried and tested coaching techniques and methodologies.
- Duration: Mentoring relationships are often long-term and may continue over an extended period. Coaching relationships, however, are often short-term. The relationship may be concluded once a goal or task has been achieved.
What is a Mentorship Programme?
Mentoring can be a formal or informal process. In fact, it probably happens informally across your organisation all the time, as your people exchange their knowledge and ideas and inspire and uplift each other.
Formal mentoring relationships, on the other hand, have clear and measurable goals. Mentorship programmes are structured initiatives that are designed to formalise the relationships between mentors and mentees.
They do this through proper goal setting, regular check-ins, feedback, monitoring and evaluation. Each programme will typically have an overarching goal, for instance, knowledge transfer, leadership development or promotion of diversity and inclusion.
According to the 70:20:10 model, 70% of learning arises from experience and 20% stems from social interaction. Unfortunately, these learning approaches often slip through the cracks in formal training programmes. Thankfully, this doesn’t have to be the case if you’ve got a robust mentorship programme in place.
The Benefits of Mentorship Programmes
There’s a reason why 84% of Fortune 500 companies have a mentorship programme in place.
According to Forbes, organisations with mentoring programmes have profits that are 18% better than average. On the other hand, organisations without mentoring programmes have 45% lower profits.
This is unsurprising. Mentorship programmes are a cost-effective way to facilitate knowledge sharing within your organisation. After all, you’re unleashing your intellectual capital, whilst reducing the demands on your learning and development (L&D) team.
Your employees also benefit. According to a Wharton study, mentors are promoted six times more often than those not in a mentorship programme. Likewise, mentees are promoted five times more often.
This shows that mentoring isn’t a one-way street. In fact, 84% of those surveyed agree that mentoring relationships provide two-way inspiration for both the mentor and the mentee. What’s more, 87% of mentors and mentees feel more confidence as a result of their mentoring relationships.
Perhaps this is why mentorship programmes also have a positive impact on employee retention. Retention rates are 72% higher for mentees and 69% higher for mentors.
Even with all these benefits, the great majority of us live a mentor-free existence. Despite 76% of employees seeing the importance of mentorship, only 37% actually have a mentor at work. Something has to change.
How to Structure a Mentorship Programme
Now we know the benefits, let’s get into the nitty gritty. It’s time to start building your own mentorship programme. We recommend following the six step process that we’ve outlined below.
1. Find Your Purpose & Establish Goals:
Mentorship programmes begin just like any other organisational learning initiative. You should start by clearly defining the purpose and goals of your programme. What is it you’re trying to achieve and how does this align with organisational objectives?
Identify the specific areas or skills you want participants to develop. This focus will get you started on the right footing and will help you to structure your programme. It will also make it easier to set clear expectations for both mentors and mentees.
2. Create The Process
Next up, you’ll need to develop a well-defined mentorship process that outlines the key steps from initiation to completion. This will be your mentorship framework, or template for success. At this stage, you should consider the following questions:
- What is the scope and duration of your programme?
- How will you attract or select your participants?
- What expectations do you have for participants?
- How will participants communicate?
- What support or guidance can you offer to participants?
- How can you track progress and impact?
- What key performance indicators (KPIs) matter to you?
Clearly, there’s a lot to contemplate. As we progress through the steps, we will delve deeper into each component. For now, however, take the time you need to create a solid foundation and a robust structure to build on.
3. Attract Your Participants
Once you have a structure in place, you’ll need to court your audience. To do this, you should start actively promoting your mentorship programme to both mentors and mentees. Take care to highlight the benefits of participation and previous success stories.
We recommend creating a simple application process and encouraging a diverse range of participants. Your application process should help you to match mentors with mentees based on goals, skills and relevant experience.
4. Connect Mentors & Mentees
Now it’s time to play matchmaker. At this stage, you’ll be bringing your mentors and mentees together. Orchestrating the perfect pairing takes some precision. Potatoes and gravy go well together, but you wouldn’t slather gravy over strawberry ice cream.
There’s three different approaches you can take:
- Self-matching: With this approach mentees can select their mentor. This helps to decrease administrative burden but reduces your level of control.
- Admin-matching: With this approach, you use learner data (such as role, interests, competency, etc.) to match mentees with mentors.
- Mix and match: With this approach, mentees can request a mentor. You should take this into consideration, whilst still using your data to find the best pairing.
The approach you take will depend on your goals. For instance, you may opt to pair female leaders with younger female employees. Likewise, new recruits will benefit from being paired up with more experienced individuals.
5. Provide Guidance & Rewards
Now the fun really begins. Once the pairing is complete, host an introduction session to bring your participants together and set expectations. Provide training sessions, workshops or resources that help your mentors to deliver real value to their mentees.
You should also consider recognising and rewarding participants for their commitment and achievements. This could be as simple as awarding a digital badge on your learning management system (more on this shortly) or a newsletter shoutout.
6. Measure Programme Impact
We’ve made it to the final stage. Here, you’ll need to evaluate the performance of your mentorship programme. To do this, you’ll need relevant qualitative and quantitative data.
First up, collect feedback from both mentors and mentees to identify strengths and areas for improvement. Then review your learning data and KPIs. Do learners with a mentor perform better than those without? What impact is this having on your organisation?
This is a great opportunity to celebrate your learners’ successes so far and promote your programme internally. You should also reflect on any feedback you receive and refine your approach accordingly.
Mentorship Programme Challenges
Of course, it’s unlikely that your mentorship programme will get off without a hitch. Common obstacles include a lack of engagement, time constraints and the absence of ‘chemistry’ between participants. Unfortunately, not every match will be a winner.
With this in mind, it’s important that you monitor your learning data and seek out meaningful feedback from participants. Be open to making evidence-based changes and ensure you consistently communicate the benefits of your programme.
Many of these challenges can be overcome with the right tools and a proactive approach. That brings us neatly to our next section.
How Learning Technology Can Enhance Your Mentorship Programme
As you can see, crafting a well-organised mentorship programme requires dedication and thoughtful planning. To take things to the next level, you should consider integrating learning technology as part of your mentorship initiative.
Learning technology such as learning management systems (LMSs) and learning apps can support your efforts by boosting communication, improving collaboration and offering access to further learning opportunities. Here are six ways your digital learning solutions can help.
- Discussion Forums: Many modern learning platforms provide collaboration tools such as online forums or live chat. This is a great opportunity for mentors and mentees to engage in discussions, ask questions and share insights. This type of social learning makes it easier for your participants to communicate.
- Virtual Sessions: Leverage video conferencing and virtual meeting platforms to bring your participants together, regardless of where they are located. These tools will often integrate with your LMS, so you can manage this process centrally whilst keeping things easy and flexible for your learners.
- Further Resources: Your digital learning solutions are (typically) used to share training materials and track learner progress. As such, why not share tailored eLearning modules or instructional videos that aim to enhance participant’s mentoring skills? You can also follow-up with resources that support your initiative’s overall goals.
- Learning Data & Matching Tools: Matching a mentee with a mentor is no easy process. Thankfully, your LMS grants you access to a treasure trove of learner data. This data can be used to create more effective pairings. Additionally, certain digital tools and mentoring platforms may offer a built-in matching algorithm.
- Game Mechanics: After the initial flurry of excitement surrounding your mentorship programme, you’ll need to keep the momentum up. To do this, consider implementing game mechanics within your learning environment. For instance, Badges and Experience Points can be used to reward participation and boost engagement.
- Evaluation Tools: Your learning management system will offer tools to help you track and analyse mentorship programme data. Keep an eye on your participants’ progress, look out for trends and assess the impact of your initiative. Don’t forget to seek out feedback from your participants as well.
The Role of AI Chatbots
Finding the right mentor for each mentee is arguably the most challenging part of any mentorship programme. But what if all your employees could be paired with their ideal digital mentor?
Artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots are designed to engage in human-like conversations through a mechanism called natural language processing. For instance, Growth Engineering LMS offers an AI assistant who helps learners to accomplish their goals.
Your AI assistant can also adopt a mentorship role. For instance, it can provide instant access to relevant learning materials, help learners to set goals and provide guidance, feedback and even motivational support. It’s like having access to a digital Yoda.
Of course, there are limitations. Traditional mentorship requires a human connection, empathy and emotional support. AI lacks personal life experience and may not provide the depth of insights that come from lived experiences.
Nobody gets too far in this world without a little help. Mentors are both a guiding light and fount of knowledge. Who better to learn from, than somebody who has weathered the same storms that you’re facing now?
A well-structured mentorship programme is a powerful catalyst for professional growth and organisational success. After all, your team is bursting with intellectual capital. You just need to open the floodgates and unleash knowledge sharing across your organisation.
Harnessing the collective wisdom within your workplace eases the burden on your learning and development team, whilst simultaneously creating a culture of continuous learning and collaboration.
Learning technology can support your mentorship programmes by facilitating better communication, collaboration, evaluation and more. As a result, you’ll help both mentors and mentees to realise their full potential.
Thank you for reading. Creating a mentorship programme is just part of a good L&D strategy. For the full breakdown, please download: ‘The L&D Professional’s Handbook: 165 Tips for Success’. Happy learning!