How to Set Up a Successful Mentorship Program
Mentorship is a way of activating the highest potential of one another in the workplace. It creates opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, increases employee retention and engagement, and helps your company attract top talent.
Several studies have shown the impacts of mentorship — for example, in one study, a large tech company saw a 70% retention rate over 7 years, a savings of $6.7B as a result of their mentoring program. The cost of disengagement among employees is high — by some estimates, it takes over 200% of a top employee’s salary and over 6–9 months to backfill their position.
Mentorship has played a huge role in my own career and ultimately led me to start my own company. My mentor, Eileen, fostered a sense of belonging and safety at work. She modeled behaviors like how to show up for a meeting, how to navigate through difficult conversations and conflict, how to have a personal conversation before jumping right into work. With that sense of personal and psychological safety, I thrived. I started having more confidence and sharing my ideas, stepping up and into leadership positions, and trusting my own opinions.
When it’s thoughtfully executed and designed, mentorship becomes a purpose-driven activity and not a chore. Here are some things to keep in mind when setting up a successful mentorship program:
1. Begin with the end in mind
I see a lot of mentorship programs that get started because somebody says, “We need a mentorship program.” No one really knows why they’re there or the outcomes they’re trying to drive. Mentorship can be used to accelerate leadership, elevate more diverse employees, and connect people and help them engage in peer-to-peer learning. These are all different goals, but many programs blur the lines between them. Not having a clearly defined outcome confuses program participants as well. Remember, you are much more likely to hit the bullseye when you have a target!
2. Identify the metrics that will demonstrate success
Once you’ve defined your desired outcome, you can identify the metrics that will help you demonstrate your program’s success. For example, if your goal is accelerating diverse candidates, how do you take a snapshot of what that looks like today, tomorrow, and follow the participant cohort along the journey? If your goal is peer-to-peer learning, then you have different metrics of how many unique connections you’re creating and what the network graphs look like of a connected team vs. disconnected team. If your aim is developing leadership capacity, you need to take stock of the person’s leadership today and how you’ll measure that in the future.
So many mentorship programs don’t have a data component. They’re not taking a snapshot of where they started vs. where they ended. Doing a pre-survey and post-engagement survey is one mechanism, and beyond that it’s knowing what to measure based on the outcomes you want to drive. Data drives today’s workplace. Without it, it’s going to be difficult to prove your mentoring program is worth the cost.
3. Build community to attract mentors and mentees
After you’ve decided on your desired outcomes and how you’ll measure them, it’s time to find people to participate in the program. A lot of companies think of it as recruiting mentors and mentees, but I like to think of it as building a community of people who are interested in the mentorship outcomes you’ve identified. Don’t over-engineer the recruiting process. Everyone has something to give, and people will self-organize a lot more than you think.
Also, don’t assume that only senior-level employees can be mentors. This will inevitably lead to scarcity, with mentees feeling like they have to compete for the top mentors and overloaded and exhausted executives fiercely protecting their time. There is a wealth of untapped wisdom in most organizations — take advantage of it by being open to mentors at all levels.
4. Balance program structure with personal connection
The best mentorship relationships balance structure and personal connection. If the personal connection isn’t there, participants won’t see value and won’t be engaged. On the other hand, if you have structure but no connection, you just have an ad hoc program that doesn’t really help you drive results.
Many mentorship programs start with a lot of fanfare and then fall off to the wayside. That’s why I recommend creating a thoughtful onboarding program that will help everyone stay engaged and motivated. Similarly, do not overlook the “getting to know you” phase. Spend the first meeting telling your stories — where you grew up, what you’re passionate about, how you got here, etc. This helps prioritize connection and common vision. Finally, mentorship doesn’t always have to be top-down. Peer-to-peer mentorship can be just as powerful.
One characteristic all successful mentorship programs have is flexibility: a one-size-fits-all approach rarely works. Some people will need a more controlled experience, others can thrive within an open community. When it’s done well — empowering participants to create the experience they want — mentorship can be inspiring, purposeful, and enjoyable.
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