The surprising benefits of workplace mentorship and how to make it work

January 17, 2022 - 20 min read

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What are mentorship programs?

Types of mentorship programs

Virtual mentoring

Coaching vs. mentoring

Why mentorship programs are so important

Examples of great mentorship programs

How to create a successful mentorship program

Employee development is universally recognized as an effective tool for organizational growth. As well as retaining valuable employees, investing in employees’ professional development increases productivity.

Unfortunately, many get little workplace training and have to just, “learn on the job.” That can often be chronically stressful, with a long period of sub-optimal productivity. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Mentorship programs are a highly effective method of employee development. When done well, promoting mentorship within organizations can have a real positive impact. In fact, 88% of mentors and mentees agree that their productivity increased due to their mentoring experience.

Let’s look at what makes mentorship programs successful and how you can set up a great mentoring program at your organization.

What are mentorship programs?

Mentorship programs are structured learning relationships set up within an organization. They aim to provide employees with guidance from other employees with specific skills and knowledge.

A well-functioning mentoring program helps employees grow personally and professionally through their relationships with their mentors. By having a colleague they trust to consult for advice, the mentee can develop their skills to set and achieve goals.

Mentorship programs can be formal or informal. Some are more holistic while other programs skew more toward a buddy system for work-related guidance.

Like coaching and counseling, different types of mentoring programs have different aims and focuses.

For example, mentoring programs are sometimes used for employee onboarding. Entering an organization as a new team member can come with many challenges. Having the support of someone more experienced can speed up the adjustment process dramatically.

Many studies done on the effectiveness of mentorship programs point toward positive outcomes. One research study found that 87% of mentors and mentees feel empowered by their mentoring relationships. And because of this, they develop greater confidence.

Types of mentorship programs

Not all mentorship programs are defined by a mentor guiding a mentee. If the traditional idea of two-person mentorship doesn't appeal to your organizational goals, don’t fret. There are many different types of mentorship to choose from. 

The objective of a mentorship program is also flexible. Some programs aim to exclusively coach a mentee through career challenges. Others split the focus between growth that is: 

  • Mental 
  • Psychological 
  • Professional

Let’s break down nine types of mentorship programs.

1. One-to-one mentoring

A one-on-one mentorship program happens between two people: the mentor and the mentee. In this traditional mentorship arrangement, the focus is usually on the development of the individual mentee's skills as well as their career development. Typically, the participants are able to form a close but professional relationship.

2. Group mentoring

Group mentoring is characterized by a group of three or more employees. The members of the mentorship group rely on one another for support and the sharing of knowledge.

In some cases, there may be one mentor and multiple mentees. For example, a team might be assigned a mentor. In professional services firms, sometimes an entire start class is assigned a mentor to guide the cohort through the growth and development checkpoints they encounter in the first year. 

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3. Reverse mentoring

In reverse mentoring, the mentorship roles are reversed. Two individuals (typically one junior and one senior) work together in a specific area. The more junior participant serves as the mentor, providing guidance and even direct instruction.

Being open to receiving reverse mentorship is a key part of learning how to learn in a fast-changing world.

However, because of the senior participant’s experience and knowledge, both the mentor and mentee usually share the role of supporting one another.

This type of mentoring can be looked at as professional friendship. It has shown to be effective in merging generational gaps

Baby boomers, for example, may not be as proficient in creating a bot or spinning up a social media campaign as a millennial. This proves beneficial for the senior in gaining know-how or awareness of an emerging tool.

Gen Z, on the other hand, may lack the career experience and advice on handling tradeoffs or interpersonal conflicts that Gen X or millennials can offer. This makes the relationship mutually beneficial.

4. Executive mentoring

Executive mentoring is a dynamic when a senior leader (often an executive) takes a junior employee under their wing. The intention is for the junior to gain a deeper understanding of their career trajectory and how to be successful within a given organization. 

Beyond the practical elements of business, it often includes learning about the social and cultural elements of a company

5. Situational mentoring

This mentorship type is time-bound. It is a temporary, circumstance-based professional relationship. 

Let’s say a new employee or team member needs guidance for a specific project. You might find a mentor, from your own group or elsewhere, to support them until the project is complete.

Often this type of relationship is based less on reporting structure — they might be in different departments or areas of the business — than on the organizational reputation of the proposed mentor. The mentor is respected for knowing how to run a certain type of project very well.

6. Peer mentoring

Peer mentoring is when two employees of equal status and experience share a relationship of mutual support and guidance. This type of relationship might also be called peer coaching or peer-accountability.

In this form of mentorship, both participants will share the roles of mentor and mentee. The dynamic is similar to that in peer-to-peer learning.

7. Career mentoring

Career mentoring puts the focus on career planning and growth. The experience that a senior professional can offer an ambitious junior employee or direct report is invaluable. It provides them with the structure they need for career development.

Virtual mentoring

Similar to remote training, virtual mentoring happens online via a digital platform. It’s especially useful for employees that work from home. During COVID-19, virtual mentorship programs have helped employees feel less lonely.

Virtual mentoring can take any shape or form, as long as the participants operate through a digital format. 

Coaching versus mentoring

Although similar, mentors are different to coaches.

Mentors focus on passing specific skills and expertise to another person so they can develop and grow. Mentors volunteer, rather than being paid.

Coaches are paid, highly-trained professionals. Through the process of self-discovery, they guide their clients in any field towards achieving their goals.

Coaches take a more holistic approach to their guidance. Instead of making career growth the main focus, coaches aim to support individuals throughout the various stages of life. They may discuss personal details that are unrelated to work.

Both coaching and mentorship programs can help you make progress in your personal and professional life.

Why mentorship programs are so important

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that mentorship programs produce great results. But why exactly is this the case? 

Let’s take a closer look at why a mentorship program can offer so much value to an organization. 

  • Develops leadership skills. Through mentorship programs, mentors become better leaders. And mentees become better team players. Mentorship dynamics give professionals the opportunity to develop positive leadership qualities.
  • Improves employee retention. Mentorship programs keep employees engaged and more loyal to the organization they work for. Ultimately, it helps reduce employee attrition. Organizations with poor retention levels can help remedy the issue by promoting mentorship programs for junior employees and new team members.
  • Creates a positive workplace culture of shared learning. Everyone has something valuable to share with those around them. Mentorship culture facilitates the space for that value to be pooled among everyone.
  • Helps employees feel supported. Being young and having big career goals can feel isolating. As can starting a job at a company where you don’t know anyone. 

Mentorship can transform these feelings of loneliness into companionship and strength. Pairing employees with their colleagues helps foster a sense of belonging.

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  • Give employees a positive role model. Role models can be powerful catalysts for personal and professional improvement. Giving younger and less senior employees an example to look up to can help them better understand how to achieve their professional goals. And it helps them determine what kind of leader they want to emulate.
  • Helps close the skills gap. The world is changing faster than ever before. For companies to stay competitive, employees need to develop new skills. Mentorship programs keep the chain of information going through knowledge transfer.
  • Allows for new perspectives to be heard. Employees from different backgrounds may struggle to find growth opportunities. Especially if they lack the support of those around them. Senior employees can use mentorship as an opportunity to promote diversity in the workplace.
  • Creates networking opportunities. All ambitious professionals need a strong network to thrive on their career paths. Mentorship can help fill that need. Mentors are typically senior, well-connected colleagues. They can introduce mentees to others who can support them in future projects.
  • Attracts talent. Job seekers are looking for work opportunities that help them achieve their goals. By making mentorship a part of your organization’s package deal, you can attract high-quality talent. This is an important part of your organization’s talent management.
  • Increases employee engagement. Employees that feel supported professionally and personally are far more likely to report high engagement levels. You can increase your company’s employee engagement average with a strong mentorship program. 

Examples of great mentorship programs

Here are three examples of effective corporate mentoring programs to inspire your own.

1. General Electric

General Electric (GE) is a longstanding member of the mentorship program community. One of the first companies to embrace reverse learning, GE is known for its diversity-focused approach to mentorship. Their website can also connect mentees to sponsorship programs

With collaboration and accessibility sitting at the forefront of GE’s objectives, this program connects high-level executives with employees. This helps optimize personal and professional growth. 

In addition to its range of mentorship programs, GE offers employee resource groups. Two examples are: 

mentor-sharing-skills-with-mentee-mentorship-programs

2. Caterpillar

Caterpillar’s professional development program focuses on continuous learning and personal development. They offer a rotation-based mentorship program. This way, people can develop a wide range of skills in different areas of career growth. 

New hires at Caterpillar are assigned a mentor that will support them for up to three years. The mentor provides support for work-life balance and navigating modern corporate culture. They also offer reverse mentorships. These focus on bridging common generational and technological gaps. 

3. Deloitte

Deloitte created its D-180 digital mentoring program in response to COVID-19. It targets university graduates, high school students, and college students. The aim is to provide participants with the skills and support they need to find meaningful work within the evolving new economy. 

Deloitte provides this service to youth in the Middle East and Cyprus. They advocate for an education that goes above and beyond academia. Deloitte pairs virtual mentors with young mentees and oversees their relationships. The aim is to encourage future employment opportunities. 

How to create a successful mentorship program

Here are some steps you can take to create and implement successful mentoring programs at your company. 

1. Establish the goals of the program

The purpose of implementing a mentorship program may be to promote a higher level of employee engagement. Or to bridge a major generational gap within your company. Whatever the goals, determining your main objectives will help the operation run more smoothly. 

2. Pair mentees with the right mentors

The mentor and mentee match is crucial to a successful mentorship relationship. Some mentorship programs use algorithms to pair mentees with mentors. These algorithms take into account personality and career compatibility. Doing a survey or using mentoring software can also help you get the best possible mentoring partnerships.

3. Provide mentorship training and ongoing support

Everybody has a different style of mentoring. But not all of them are created equal. You should provide all mentors with training to refine their communication skills and help them feel prepared for the types of issues or challenges they may encounter with the mentee.

Set the mentor up for success. Being a mentor is a commitment of time and emotional resources. Most potential mentors want to know that they are going to be able to do a good job and have a positive impact.

They can learn how best to provide guidance and support to their mentees up-front. But also provide ongoing peer- and formal- support that they can confidently turn to for guidance throughout the relationship. 

4. Outline the mentoring process

Mentorship programs need structure to be successful. To do this, outline the various milestones and endpoints of the program. This way, mentors and mentees can extract more meaning out of the overall experience.

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5. Get feedback from both mentors and mentees

Feedback is crucial to optimize a new program. Try to find out from both mentors and mentees what elements of the mentoring experience were most successful. And which were unhelpful or unnecessary. 

6. Continually work on improving the programs

Even if your first mentorship program didn’t pan out in alignment with your company’s goals, all is not lost. Your program may require some time before the results come to fruition. 

Don’t get disheartened by any underwhelming results. Instead, take what you’ve learned and use it to improve the next program for better results.

Unlock your company’s potential with mentorship programs

Mentoring provides an environment where employees share not just knowledge but a commitment to building a successful company.

Part of what makes mentorship programs so powerful is their effect on both individual and organizational growth. Having seasoned professionals guide new employees is an empowering process. Plus, it can promote a sense of satisfaction for everyone involved. 

Request a customized demo with BetterUp today. We’d be happy to help you develop a mentorship program that’s geared towards success.

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Published January 17, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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