Authors Offer Advice on Creating a Mentoring Program

Most business leaders know that mentoring programs have strategic advantages, but how do you set one up?

Sherry Hartnett, founding director of the University of West Florida’s Executive Mentor Program, and Bert Thornton, former President and Chief Operating Officer of Waffle House, offer advice in their book Effective Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Adding Value to Other People’s Lives (BookLogix, 2021).

Thornton recalled the impact of a mentoring program during his tenure at Waffle House. In five years, he said, the company has quadrupled its middle and senior management ranks.

[SHRM members-only resource: Creating a Mentor Program]

But a mentoring program isn’t just casual conversations between mentors and mentees, Thornton stressed. Investing quality time is important.

“When mentoring emerging leaders at Waffle House, I often work a shift with my new mentee to see them in action,” he said. “Some mentoring relationships have lasted a year or two thereafter, while others have spanned four decades.”

It’s important to have a formal program, Hartnett said SHRM online. “It doesn’t have to be rigid,” she conceded, but it should be tied to business goals. “You have to have a certain structure to do all that. Otherwise, people will say they’re going to have a mentorship program and throw it all together. Organizations must plan and implement a mentoring program that delivers consistent, high-quality outcomes to all participants.”

Thornton and Hartnett offered the following steps to create a mentoring program:

  1. Define the reason for the program. This will help you make it thoughtful and get approval from everyone involved.

    “What is the value for your company and your employees?” asked Hartnett. “Is it bondage? That’s a big deal today. Is it succession planning? Does it bring diversity?”

    A mentoring program provides on-the-job training and can act as a buffer for your training budget, which may have taken a hit during the pandemic, and can be a great employee retention tool.

    “A mentoring program shows employees that you care about them, you invest in them,” Hartnett said.

  2. Find the right person to champion the program and make it his or her main focus.
  3. Set goals and metrics and align the program with your business goals.
    “Tracking this data will tell you if your program is successful and what you may need to change,” and show veteran leaders why this should continue to be a priority, Hartnett noted.
  4. Start small, e.g. B. with a pilot program. Create systems for mentor and mentee selection, training, communication with participants, and evaluation of the program.

    “When you create the program, you start with a personal orientation. If you can do this virtually, that’s fine,” Hartnett said, but do separate orientations with mentors and mentees on expectations, tips, and techniques. Consider having a best practices guide linked to the orientation.

    For virtual meetings, she recommends using the organization’s corporate communications platform and turning on laptop cameras. Also, have a backup plan ready in case a technical problem arises: Are you rescheduling? Do you resort to a phone call?

  5. Decide who your mentees will be to focus your recruitment. Will the participants be new employees with high potential? Employees who have been with your company for a certain number of years? Participants should know the duration of the mentoring, how they meet, how often, goals to be worked on and work expectations.
  6. Provide ongoing support. Host a networking event, invite a speaker to a meeting, and request regular feedback from mentors and mentees.
  7. Measure the progress of the program.
    “I suggest measuring results semi-annually or annually,” Hartnett said. “You can also poll and interview attendees informally throughout the year. And don’t underestimate the small things – small changes can lead to significant results!”

    A mentoring program is like any other big project in an organization, Thornton said.

    “[It’s] not an ad hoc thing.”

Other SHRM resources:
Mentoring prepares women for leadership roles in the cable industry, SHRM onlineMarch 2021
Creating a mentoring program: Yodas not required, SHRM onlineMarch 2020
The Mentoring Guide: Helping Mentors and Mentees to SucceedSHRM Store

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