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BFS Capital Blog

How To Develop A Mentorship Program

September 8, 2014

Wax on. Wax off.

It’s the mantra of every great mentor. Or at least, our favorite one.

Sadly, we can’t all have Mr. Miyagi forcing us to wax his car to teach us the proper way to block a strike. But even in a small business, you probably have older, more experienced people who have innovative ways of teaching your younger employees how to be better at their jobs. But, mentorships require a lot more than pairing two people in a back yard with a fence and telling them to whitewash it. Without some kind of structured mentoring program, the entire endeavor will be a waste of time.

And setting up a program isn’t nearly as hard as, say, preparing for the All Valley Karate Tournament against Cobra Kai. Follow these steps and see the blossoming results that follow.

Getting Prepared

Before you even start your mentoring program, know exactly what you’re getting into. Yes, reading this article is an excellent first step, but there are, believe it or not, larger authorities on the subject who may prove helpful. The National Mentoring Partnership, the Corporation for National Service and AmeriCorps, and IdeaList are all good places to start, and may provide you with valuable resources for starting your program.

Then, once you’ve gotten some ideas on what programs might work for you, start training your potential mentors before you even have the program laid out so that the people you put in charge aren’t flying blind. Sure, there will be aspects of the program that will develop as you create it, but teaching mentors things such as how to deliver criticism appropriately, teaching job-related skills, and communicating with younger staff will save time.

Set The Guidelines

Developing a meaningful mentoring program is going to involve a lot more than throwing two people together and saying “Hey, go learn some stuff.” In order to make your program effective you need to first lay out what you expect your mentors and mentees to do.

You want to structure your program so it melds with the corporate culture you’ve created. For instance, if you have a more formal organization, you might be best served to require mentors to schedule specific meetings and have standardized feedback forms. If your organization is a little looser, just state the objectives and let the mentors/mentees figure it out.

This is also the time to determine how much time this program will require. Think about time needed for meetings, evaluations, on-the-job help and other attributes associated with mentoring.

Match Them Up – And Be Selective

This is, quite likely, the most important part of developing any mentoring program. Ensuring the right people are matched up is THE determining factor in whether or not this will be successful, and yet some companies randomly pair people like they’re putting together gym socks from the dryer.

A mentorship is a partnership, like a marriage, kind of. And you wouldn’t let a bunch of people you’ve never met pick your spouse for you, would you? Ok, maybe in 15th century England, but certainly not now. So why on Earth would you ever just throw resumes on a pile and assign mentors randomly?

If you want to put some serious time into it, develop a questionnaire that lists out personality, work style, communication and other professional attributes that you deem important. You may also want to ask telling personal questions, as long as it’s something you feel will determine compatibility.

Not surprisingly, there are also software programs out there that use complicated algorithms and compatibility criteria to match up people for mentorships. Not unlike online dating, except people will use their real pictures and the ages will be at least somewhat accurate.

Set The Expectations

The best way to do this is to set specific goals for each mentorship, with each mentor/mentee pair setting their own. The old business school mantra of SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound – are what you’re aiming for, so require each pair to submit those to you. That way, there’s a destination at the end of the road, and they can figure out themselves how to get there.

Beyond goals, communication styles and expectations must also be laid out early. Especially if you have older mentors and younger mentees, the appropriateness of text messages, IMs and other informal communications needs to be established. Also, the response time that’s expected. Similarly, appropriate times to communicate should also be established, since some people don’t mind doing work on Sundays, and others are downright offended by it.

This is also a time to establish how much influence the mentor can have over the mentees professional decisions. The mentor is not the boss, typically, so this means that advice he or she gives may be contrary to what the mentee has been instructed to do.

Set Evaluations

Even the best-laid plans don’t always work out. So, initially it’s important to set up a point where you – and they – can do an evaluation of the situation. If your mentor and mentee aren’t getting along, this is the point where you can restructure the situation so that nobody’s feelings get hurt.

You can also utilize the evaluation process as a checkpoint for some of the mentorship goals. For instance, there may be some core competencies you want to measure in the mentee at certain points along the way to see if their goals are still attainable.

But most importantly, it gives the mentor and mentee a chance to give you feedback on how well your program is working. And if tweaks need to be made, you can do it before the entire process is over and seemingly small flaws become larger.

Give And Get Feedback

Mentors absolutely must give feedback to their mentees. And while you’ve hopefully trained them on how to do it effectively, you still may find some mentors hesitant to tell a mentees they’ve done something wrong. On the same line, mentees must understand how to receive criticism as part of the mentorship, and how to incorporate it to better their careers.

But more importantly, YOU need to get feedback on your program. Especially the first time around, there will be things you do wrong, overlook, or need to adjust. So make sure everyone involved is telling you how the process went. Then sit back, really study that feedback, and start back at the beginning to develop a better program.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /