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Developing a Mentoring Program in Business

Ethics, Leadership, Respect and Responsibility form the Basis on an Effective Mentoring Program

A formal mentoring program can be used to develop employee skills, leadership characteristics, and a commitment to the ethics of the organization. Mentors are an important resource for new employees to help navigate the sometimes choppy waters of working for an organization. Mentors play an important part as role models to guide employees in the early stages of their careers and develop future leaders who can become mentors at a later stage in their careers.

A solid mentoring program is important today because workforce demographics have changed dramatically in recent years, as women and members of different minority groups have joined the workforce in greater numbers. In addition, technology has automated traditional employee functions and continues to affect on-the-job performance, altering the way people see themselves within the corporate structure.

In a formal mentoring program the goals are established from the beginning by the organization and the employee mentoree; outcomes are measured; access is open to all who meet program criteria; mentors and mentorees are paired based on compatibility; and training and support in mentoring is provided.

I strongly suggest that an organization develop a separate mentoring program and not rely on managers to play that role. While many managers demonstrate mentoring behavior on an informal basis, it is very different from having a structured mentoring program. There is a qualitative difference between a manager-employee relationship and a mentor-mentoree relationship. Managers focus on achieving the objectives of the company whereas a mentor-mentoree relationship focuses on developing the mentoree professionally and personally.

Here are a few reasons how a successful mentoring program benefits an organization:

  • Enhancing strategic business initiatives
  • Encouraging retention
  • Reducing turnover costs
  • Improving productivity
  • Elevating knowledge transfer from just getting information and to retaining the practical experience and wisdom gained from long-term employees.
  • Enhancing professional development.
  • Linking employees with valuable knowledge and information to other employees in need of such information
  • Supporting the creation of a multicultural workforce by creating relationships among diverse employees and allowing equal access to mentoring.
  • Creating a mentoring culture, which continuously promotes individual employee growth and development.

A mentoring program benefits employees in many ways including:

  • Gains from the mentor’s expertise
  • Receives critical feedback in key areas, such as communications, interpersonal relationships, technical abilities, change management and leadership skills
  • Develops a sharper focus on what is needed to grow professionally within the organization
  • Learns specific skills and knowledge that are relevant to personal goals
  • Networks with a more influential employee
  • Gains knowledge about the organization’s culture and unspoken rules that can be critical for success; as a result, adapts more quickly to the organization’s culture
  • Has a friendly ear with which to share frustrations as well as successes.

A Mentoring Program Manager (MPM) coordinates the mentoring program and should be someone who is perceived as a facilitator, listener and coalition-builder – a person who is trusted. MPM is not a full-time position, so mentoring responsibilities must be balanced with the MPM’s other duties. Typically, such a person works in a Human Resources, Organizational Development, Training or Diversity Department.

The organization, Management Mentors, identifies the characteristics desirable in a mentor as follows.

Credibility. The MPM should have high credibility at all levels of the organization. People must feel comfortable approaching the MPM to discuss issues and confidential matters in a non-judgmental way. Not only must the MPM be trustworthy and well-respected, but he or she must be perceived as trustworthy and well respected by the people in the organization. People’s perceptions are just as important (if not more important) than reality.

Compassion. MPMs must have the best interests of the organization and the mentoring pairs at heart. The MPM must also have the ability to understand people. The MPM needs to be insightful so that he or she can interpret, based on nonverbal gestures, how things are really going. This requires sensitivity and an ability to read people.

Common sense. The MPM needs wisdom gained by years of experience and leadership informed by the ethical values of the organization to provide a foundation to exercise good judgment on sensitive issues and to resolve them appropriately. Mentors need to think first and act later on to better understand the issues and gain a rapport with the mentoree that builds on a relationship of trust.

One way to begin a formal mentoring structure is to develop a pilot program by working with 10 to 30 individuals, depending on the size of the organization; in 5 to 15 pairs. The manager contacts them on a regular basis, making certain the relationships are going well and that the mentoring program is achieving its goals. The MPM offers each pair whatever resources may be needed. The MPM also becomes the organization’s internal mentoring expert, serving as a resource for various departments and divisions that have an interest in pursuing mentoring. The amount of time this take varies. Normally, a MPM spends one to four hours per week coordinating the project, depending on how often the mentor-mentoree pairs meet.

The formal structure can follow one of five models as follows:

One-On-One Mentoring. The most common mentoring model, one-on-one mentoring matches one mentor with one mentoree. Most people prefer this model because it allows both mentor and mentoree to develop a personal relationship and provides individual support for the mentoree.

Resource-Based Mentoring. Resource-based mentoring offers some of the same features as one-on-one mentoring. The main difference is that mentors and mentorees are not interviewed and matched by a MPM. Instead, mentors agree to add their names to a list of available mentors from which a mentoree can choose. It is up to the mentoree to initiate the process by asking one of the volunteer mentors for assistance.

Group Mentoring. Group mentoring requires a mentor to work with 4-6 mentorees at one time. The group meets once or twice a month to discuss various topics. Combining senior and peer mentoring, the mentor and the peers help one another learn and develop appropriate skills and knowledge.

Training-Based Mentoring. This model is tied directly to a training program. A mentor is assigned to a mentoree to help that person develop the specific skills being taught in the program.

Executive Mentoring. This top-down model may be the most effective way to create a mentoring culture and cultivate skills and knowledge throughout an organization. It is also an effective succession-planning tool, because it prevents the knowledge "brain drain" that would otherwise take place when senior management retires.

Mentoring can be of great value to women and people of color. These are the employees who have often been disenfranchised within organizations and have not been “chosen” by informal mentors. However, if mentoring is to be successful as a tool for empowering employees, it needs to be truly diverse – representing everyone within the organization and not just women and people of color. By including the broadest spectrum of people, mentoring offers everyone the opportunity to grow professionally and personally without regard to gender or race. A successful mentoring program needs to balance the need for inclusion with the need for fair representation.

Mentoring programs come in various shapes and sizes depending on their goals. Some are highly personalized, one-on-one programs. In my field of professional accounting, one firm that stands out with its mentoring program is PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). PwC’s mentoring program provides new hires with a coach, who assists them during their first three to five years at the firm. They are also assigned a peer host, who is generally a colleague at their level who knows the day-to-day operations of their job. Additionally, they are paired with a relationship partner, who can offer more long-term career guidance. Once employees receive their first promotion to senior associate, they have developed sufficient skills to take them to the next level and increase leadership responsibilities by sending them out of town for three to five days to meet with peers at another office.

An effective mentoring program is based on specific virtues that help to develop leadership skills, mutual respect, responsible actions, and accountability for one’s actions. The foundation of such programs is integrity and trust. MPMs must embody these skills and help build them in mentorees. The mentoring programs should be seen as a way to enhance organizational identity and a commitment to the ethical standards of the organization.

Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 19, 2014. Professor Mintz teaches in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at