Many companies struggle with generational change and talent retention in leadership development. UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Horace McCormick argues that mentoring done well can be a part of the solution in a White Paper, ‘How to Launch a Successful and Sustainable Mentorship Program’.
Mentoring is a strategic tool that when done right, can attract and retain high-potential talent and accelerate leadership development and readiness. Mentoring is also an effective tool for shaping organizational culture and closing engagement and generational gaps. Employers are increasingly recognizing the benefits of mentoring in leadership development. According to a Corporate Executive Board survey, 25 percent of U.S. companies now host peer-mentoring programs, a significant increase from before the 2007 recession, when only 4 to 5 percent of U.S. companies reported sponsoring mentorship programs. Unfortunately, as many business leaders can attest, it can be quite challenging to develop and maintain successful mentoring programs.
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Many mentoring programs miss the mark because of a lack of alignment to business goals and strategy and because they fail to clearly articulate the goals of the program from the outset. Others fail because of poor mentor/mentee matches and insufficient training at the beginning of the program. To avoid these pitfalls and launch successful, enduring mentoring programs, HR should use the following steps:
Lay the groundwork – business case, buy-in, sponsorship
Prepare for the launch – tools, communicate intentions with laser focus
Launch the program and train mentors and mentees on process and tools
Build relationships and assess progress and momentum
Evaluate effectiveness of the mentoring program and pairings at regular intervals
Step 1: Lay the groundwork - Laying the groundwork for the mentoring program is a time-consuming but critical step in the program’s ultimate success. There are several stages to this step:
Step 2: Prepare for the launch - Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more. All employees at all levels should be informed about the program, its goals, objectives, target population, requirements, and process to participate. The program’s progress should be reported at every step of the way, from the needs assessment stage to its conclusion, and the metrics that demonstrate the program’s success should also be shared. Communication will be key to obtaining initial and ongoing senior-level buy in and management support.
Step 3: Launch the program and train participants - The mentoring program’s launch should begin with the training of all participants, and it is recommended that the mentors and mentees are trained together in pairs. Pairs should be taught what mentoring is, preferably in a formal, classroom-style setting and led by a professional trainer with mentoring expertise. Pairs should mutually identify the goals of the mentorship and link them to the broader program and organizational goals, establish milestones, and set timelines (when they will meet, how, how often, and for how long) so that expectations are managed.
Step 4: Build relationships and assess progress and momentum - The bulk of the work in this step—relationship building—is the responsibility of the mentor and mentee, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t work to be done by HR to ensure the program’s success. It is HR’s role to ensure that relationships are on the right track, goals and objectives are still on target, milestones are being recorded, and that competencies are being acquired. The frequency of follow-up during this stage should be set during the preparation phase, but some experts suggest check-ins at the two, four, six, and eight month marks with a final meeting after the close of the mentorship experience.
Step 5: Evaluate effectiveness of the mentoring program - By the end of a 12-month mentoring period, there will be many people beyond the mentor and the mentee who have a vested interest in the program’s effectiveness. Senior leaders will want to know how the program met organizational objectives and if participants met their personal goals and if not, why. HR and talent management professionals will want know if the program structure was effective and what might need to be tweaked moving forward. All of these metrics should be considered and identified during the preparation stage. At this stage, it is time to gather and report the analysis of the data to all stakeholders.
Conclusion: Mentoring can have a positive impact on an organization by improving employee retention and engagement and shaping culture. It can also serve a strategic purpose when linked to talent strategy, leadership development, workforce planning, and organizational goals. Mentoring programs, however, can quickly flounder if there is no buy in, insufficient structure, or lack of follow-through. HR and talent management professionals who want to establish successful and sustainable mentorship programs must ensure that the groundwork is thoroughly completed, that participants are trained, and the program is regularly assessed for effectiveness.
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