Guide to Starting a Mentoring Program - Part 1

November 10, 2015

The first step to success for any mentoring program is positioning it as a vital component of organizational growth. Many proponents of mentoring struggle during this early step: company leaders are often skeptical about the need for a mentoring program and how exactly it will benefit the organization.

The creation of a clear and logical business case for mentoring will drastically reduce these early obstacles to the program. There are three key concepts to keep in mind during the creation of a mentoring business case.

Establishing a Company Culture

Many organizations make the mistake of viewing a mentoring program as an opportunity for individual development. While it is true that the individual mentors and mentees involved in an effective mentoring program will develop their skills, this view of mentoring is an excessively narrow one.

In an article published by The Center for Association Leadership, Dr. Lois J. Zachary writes that a strong mentoring program must have "cultural scaffolding" for it to last for a significant length of time within an organization. A successful business case for mentoring will identify how the program will not only help individual participants, but diffuse its benefits throughout the organization. The key to this component of building the case for mentoring is tying mentoring to the establishment of a culture focused on the personal development of employees.

Some examples of business goals that mentoring programs are often associated with include:

  • Promoting diversity within the organization and its recruiting practices
  • Reducing time-to-productivity after the onboarding of new employees
  • Helping current employees develop their skills to improve efficiency

Specific goals will vary from company to company, but it must be explained in the business case that the mentoring program will help create a culture where these goals are met consistently.

Developing a leadership pipeline

Managers today are worried about their ability to groom leaders that will guide the organization to success in the future. In a research survey published by Deloitte, 86% of organizations listed leadership as an "urgent" or "important" talent development issue. Yet only 13% of companies report doing an excellent job of developing leaders throughout the organization.

Every company in every field needs a leadership pipeline if they want to stay in business after the current generation of leaders have departed. A strong business case for mentoring will demonstrate how the program will improve the company's succession plan by developing high-potential employees into leaders.

Employee retention

The days of employees sticking with a single organization for the duration of their careers are over. The modern generation of employees is more mobile than ever before, and many companies are struggling to adapt to the change.

Josh Bersin of Bersin by Deloitte makes the case that today's workers must be viewed the same way an employer views its customers: free to leave at only a moment's notice unless the organization consistently brings them value.

In this kind of professional climate, the best way to attract and keep employees is to create a workplace that provides so much value that employees cannot help but stay. Bersin refers to this as the "Irresistible Organization." One of the best ways to make your organization "irresistible" is to create a strong mentoring program that offers them guidance, professional development, and opportunities unavailable to them at other companies.

A company's business case for mentoring should include details about how the mentoring program will create this kind of working environment. Highlighting the connection between employee retention and mentoring is a surefire way to improve the likelihood of leadership buy-in for a mentoring program.

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