Mentoring is an invaluable tool for enriching your workforce, and is used extensively. The benefits are manifold: mentees flourish and become even better contributors, and mentors deepen their leadership, communication, and coaching skills. Both parties receive a high level of personal satisfaction, and the organization also benefits. Talk about a win from all angles!
It’s no wonder then that the internet bristles with advice on how to set up a mentoring program and see it through the completion/feedback stage of an initial cohort.
But what happens to these programs once they get past the fledgling part of their life cycle? Do they continue to provide meaningful interactions between participants which truly adds value? Or do they gradually lose that initial momentum and end up eventually being brushed aside?
The key to keeping a mentoring program effective and vibrant over time is ongoing, active management. There are some important key reasons these programs require your attention rather than just counting on fresh waves of participants to keep things rolling:
Any ongoing program can slide off target as inertia sets in over time. Naturally, people within your organization are busy as it is, and if they don’t feel energized about their mentoring program they may lose their enthusiasm. Because mentoring programs rely on personal interaction between mentor and mentee, the people involved need to feel engaged and energized for success to happen. Lackluster efforts aren’t going to work when it comes to meaningful professional development experiences, so it falls to HR and program managers to set a more lively tone.
Regular check-ins, surveys, and systems of feedback will ensure you are monitoring the experience of employees in the program and making course corrections as necessary so they can get the most out of it. Keeping the energy of a mentoring program alive is a continuous effort and falls to those managing the program rather than the participants. The interactions may be between them, but the framework they are working under is equally important. These programs aren’t like a benefits package where they can be configured and then updated occasionally, rather the people involved need a stimulating context and the support of the organizers to encourage them.
HR tech is constantly on the move, with new products on release or fresh extensions to existing solutions. As with any long-term project, what was the perfect solution for your organization last year may not be the right fit now, so you should be aware of the market. However, switching solutions may be expensive and there can friction associated with such changes. What is even more important than monitoring technology options therefore is to also work with your existing mentoring technology solution to get the most out of it.
There might be new ways to use a solution your mentoring program participants already love, or changes they need to be educated about to get the most bang for your budget. Either way, keeping an eye both on the market and the tech you’re currently using is essential to the long-term health of a mentoring program. This can even be as simple as noticing a new feature has been released for your existing solution, reading up on it, on it and decide if/how to incorporate it into the current program activities.
With the rise of big data, HR is on the hook as much as any department to prove out their value and track it. While you may have overcome the hurdle of financing a new mentoring program, the ongoing challenge becomes to continue showing that the program is worth its expense. By staying on top of your mentoring program and maintaining an awareness of how things are going, you can prove out its value and continue securing the necessary resources for success. In addition, if you’re dedicating some effort to monitoring ROI on a program you may uncover ways to increase it further, which is always a positive outcome.
Evolving Organizational Goals
Organizations often shift stances or priorities to keep up with the rapid changes of today’s markets. Mentoring programs are of course primarily meant for employee development, but also ideally produce leaders who will stay with an organization and continue to advance its goals using their new skills. Therefore, mentoring programs must keep step with organizational goals as they evolve.
A few years into a mentoring program, it’s not unlikely to realize it was designed with certain organizational goals in mind that may no longer apply. Perhaps when the program commenced, there was a need for reverse mentoring within the company so employees were exclusively matched generationally, but now leadership has a stronger need for cross-departmental teams and mentoring efforts need to make a shift towards supplementing traditional mentoring with some peer-mentoring opportunities. Whatever the change ahead, when it comes to organizational goals your program should evolve with the times to benefit the participants and remain relevant.
Continuous improvement is a worthy goal for any ongoing project, and mentoring programs are no exception. As a mentoring program matures and more people experience it, a valuable opportunity develops to learn from their feedback and make changes. Transplanting useful knowledge and experiences from one cohort to the next on a regular basis keeps things relevant and makes the program more constructive as time passes. For example, program managers can gather useful feedback from an initial cohort, derive a set of best practices in conversation with them, and have that cohort help teach those practices to the next incoming group. Especially with technology solutions or mentoring techniques, employees may discover new and interesting ways to use them that can be easily shared out with subsequent cohorts.
Finally, finding and showcasing positive experiences of past cohorts and upcoming improvements to the program are great ways to continue attracting talented people to join organization and their mentoring program. A program with positive results can become a central part of employer brand, which is more important than ever in attracting and retaining talent. Though program management is essential, robust mentoring programs also thrive on bright, capable participants. A vibrant program will encourage more talented employees to join, which in turn will keep the momentum going and lead to increasingly better mentoring that truly benefits everyone involved.