A formal mentoring program can be a powerhouse tool for strengthening your organization—but only if it’s thoughtfully created and implemented. Here, just in time for National Mentoring Month, Dr. Sherry Hartnett shares eight FAQs to consider before getting started.
Pensacola, FL (January 2022)—The year is still brand new, and, like most leaders, you’d love to start out strong. Unfortunately, if you’re like many companies, the effects of the Great Resignation and the ongoing talent shortage are dragging you down. Before you channel all your resources toward recruitment, Dr. Sherry Hartnett encourages you to explore a strategy that will help retain the employees you already have: mentoring.
(Incidentally, this is a timely topic: January is National Mentoring Month!)
“There’s no better time to launch a formal mentoring program,” asserts Dr. Hartnett, coauthor along with former Waffle House President and COO Bert Thornton of the new book High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives (BookLogix, 2021, ISBN: 978-1-6653-0344-6, $19.95, https://highimpactmentoringbook.com/). “It’s one of the most powerful things you can do to create a more productive, engaged, and committed workforce—and quite simply, few leaders can afford not to pursue that goal.”
Today’s employees, especially younger ones, are looking for companies that provide connection, feedback, and an active interest in their growth and development. They want strong relationships with their leaders. They want to feel cared about and valued. Formally connecting employees with experienced, invested leaders checks all those boxes.
Regardless of budget or experience, any company can build a thriving mentoring program. High-Impact Mentoring lays out seven steps you’ll need to follow to build a solid program from the ground up. (See attached tip sheet.) But first, you’ll need to understand the essentials of a thoughtfully planned, well-executed, and sustainable program.
“Use National Mentoring Month to learn about the building blocks of successful mentoring so you can hit the ground running as 2022 progresses,” suggests Dr. Hartnett.
Here, she answers eight common questions about formal mentoring programs:
What is mentoring, anyway? It’s a personal, helping relationship between a mentor and mentee that includes professional development, growth, and varying degrees of support. A mentoring program based on mutual respect creates a supportive environment, fosters trust, and facilitates information sharing.
“Effective mentoring encourages and nurtures mentees by enhancing their knowledge, expertise, and attitudes, enabling them to grow and develop,” says Dr. Hartnett.
Is there a difference between mentoring and coaching? Yes! Mentoring is aimed at long-term growth and facilitates broad development and career progress, whereas coaching is typically for short-term performance and addresses skills in some aspects of an individual’s work. Furthermore, mentoring emphasizes counseling, supporting, and introducing, while coaching is more concerned with providing practical application and teaching skills.
Thornton adds: “The way I see it, the difference between coaching and mentoring is the same as the difference between training and development. Coaching is more about training to task, while mentoring is about developing someone to their full potential.”
What functions does the mentor provide? Mentors provide role modeling, advice, and friendship. They support the mentee in developing a sense of competence, confidence, and effectiveness. Mentors act as teachers, guides, exemplars, counselors, and supporters. They assist and facilitate the realization of the mentee’s goals and dreams.
So, what’s in it for me? Do you want to better engage and drive up the performance of your employees? Would you like to make your workplace more attractive to potential job seekers? Are you anxious to retain and energize your high performers? If so, a mentoring program will be an important part of your ongoing business plan.
“As the leader who establishes a mentoring program, you will get a good bit of credit for the positive outcomes the program provides,” says Dr. Hartnett. “And serving as a mentor yourself brings a lot of personal satisfaction.”
What are the most regularly mentioned positive outcomes for mentees? Mentees gain support, encouragement, help with subject knowledge resources, sharing ideas and advice, feedback/positive reinforcement, increased confidence, and career affirmation/commitment. Mentorship aids them in learning the organizational ropes, developing a sense of competence and effectiveness, and learning how to behave in management roles with increasing responsibility. Working with a mentor also provides employees the opportunity to develop a network with a broad range of people, which means more resources and career opportunities.
What factors help a mentoring program succeed? Successful mentoring programs thrive with organizational support, clarity of purpose, the participants’ commitment to the program, careful selection and matching procedures, and continuous monitoring and evaluation.
On the other hand, what are the main reasons mentoring programs fail? Mentoring programs can fail for many reasons. Just a few examples:
- Not enough buy-in at the top.
- The program was thrown together by overextended and overwhelmed people who’ve never built a mentoring program.
- Not training participants enough.
- Mandating that people participate.
Can my company afford a mentoring program? Yes! From most to least expensive, you can:
- Hire a program manager and invest in the program’s expenses.
- Hire an outside consultant for a set period to focus on implementing a new program.
- Invest in online mentoring software. (You’ll still need someone on staff to manage the program.)
- Do it yourself or assign it to one of your superstar leaders. With this zero-cost option, you must consider the person’s mentoring expertise and the lost productivity time if they are pulled away from other responsibilities.
“You wouldn’t purchase a new software system or piece of industrial equipment without learning how to operate it effectively—and launching a mentoring program is no different,” says Dr. Hartnett. “However, if you spend this National Mentoring Month learning how to thoughtfully plan, establish, and grow a program that’s scalable throughout your organization, your company will benefit for years to come.”
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Seven Steps to Building a Solid Mentoring Program
Excerpted from High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives (BookLogix, 2021, ISBN: 978-1-6653-0344-6, $19.95) by Bert Thornton and Dr. Sherry Hartnett
If your organization is like most, you employ knowledgeable, business-savvy leaders and rising high achievers. A well-designed, well-executed, scalable mentoring program allows you to connect these two groups in a powerful way. It helps you attract and retain talent, improves employee satisfaction, drives organizational performance, builds a deep bench, and reduces training budgets.
The good news is, building a thriving mentoring program with great ROI is within every company’s reach, regardless of budget or experience. Dr. Hartnett, who is founding director of the University of West Florida’s Executive Mentor Program, has identified seven vital steps to help companies create a robust, successful, and lasting mentoring program.
Here, excerpted from High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives, a new book Dr. Hartnett coauthored with former Waffle House President and COO Bert Thornton, is a quick overview of that framework:
Step 1: Define your “why.” Decide what you want your program to achieve. For instance, do you want to increase the number of minorities in leadership positions, retain valuable employees, or onboard high-potential new hires? When you articulate how mentoring will improve your organization, you can thoughtfully shape a successful program and get buy-in from leaders, mentors, mentees, and other stakeholders.
Step 2: Find the right program champion. The person who heads up your program will have a profound impact on its strategy, execution, and, ultimately, its success. Dr. Hartnett suggests his or her primary focus should be leading your mentoring program, as adding such a large task to an existing workload would cause the champion to struggle on both fronts. She also recommends this person be an opportunity-focused connector who is confident, tenacious, and accountable.
“Put a lot of thought into this decision, because it will make or break your program,” she says.
Step 3: Set goals and metrics. Align your mentoring program with your business objectives and identify metrics you can use to measure movement toward those goals. For instance, you might want to increase top-employee retention by 10 percent from last year, or double the number of women in management positions within 18 months.
“Tracking this data will tell you whether your program is succeeding and what you may need to change,” notes Dr. Hartnett. “It will also tangibly illustrate to senior leaders why mentoring should be a continued priority.”
Step 4: Build your program (but start small). Dr. Hartnett warns against “diving in.” Before the first mentor-mentee pair meets, you should secure any necessary funding, staff, and supplies. Systems should be in place for selecting mentors and mentees, training and communicating with participants, and evaluating the program.
“But remember, the enemy of greatness is perfection,” says Dr. Hartnett. “It’s okay to start with a small pilot program to work out any kinks.”
Step 5: Recruit and connect. It’s essential to attract, screen, and train great mentors (but don’t make it compulsory!). Likewise, decide what your ideal mentee looks like (e.g., people who have been with the organization at least three years or high-potential new hires). Then, thoughtfully match mentor resources to mentee needs, striving for common interests between the two.
“Both parties must understand up front what the length of the mentorship will be (I suggest a renewable 12-month period), how often meetings will take place, what the goals are, and that there will be work involved,” says Dr. Hartnett.
Step 6: Nurture your people and your program. Even the best-designed mentoring program won’t function for long on autopilot. It’s crucial to provide plenty of ongoing support. Organizing a keynote speaker at a meeting, setting up a networking event, and publishing a regular newsletter are all great ways to reinforce initial training and nurture the connections being made. Also, find ways to invite regular feedback from each participant and use that information to improve processes.
Step 7: Measure to improve. Whether capturing results and feedback is accomplished through surveys, performance reviews, or other methods, data is vital to the progression and scalability of your program. It allows you to review, revise, and continuously improve your mentoring program.
“I suggest measuring outcomes semi-annually or annually,” says Dr. Hartnett. “You can also informally poll and interview participants throughout the year. And don’t underestimate the little things—small tweaks can lead to significant results!”
“Don’t skip any of these seven steps; all are crucial to successfully achieving your organization’s mentoring goals,” says Dr. Hartnett. “And when you reach the end of the seventh step, circle back to the beginning. Continuing to cycle through these seven steps and always giving critical thought to improving your program will keep it vital, relevant, and results-driven for years to come.”
About the Authors:
Bert Thornton is the former president and COO of Waffle House. His first book, Find an Old Gorilla: Pathways Through the Jungle of Business and Life, is a well-received leadership handbook for rising high achievers and emerging leaders.
Dr. Sherry Hartnett
Dr. Sherry Hartnett is a marketing and leadership professor, consultant, author, and mentor. At the University of West Florida, she founded the pioneering, high-impact experiential learning Executive Mentor Program.
About the Book:
High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives (BookLogix, 2021, ISBN: 978-1-6653-0344-6, $19.95, https://highimpactmentoringbook.com/) is available from major online booksellers.