How to start a mentoring program that makes impact

The complete guide

An impactful mentoring program requires time, planning, and commitment. This guide will cover how to design a successful mentoring program and the essential questions you need to answer before you begin! Key takeaways include:

  • When to use mentoring
  • Benefits of a mentoring program
  • Best practices for designing your program
  • How to measure success

Get started with mentoring

How to start a successful mentoring program.

For years, mentoring has been praised as an effective way to advance personally and professionally. More individuals than ever are seeking a mentor. In fact, 79% of millennials see mentoring as crucial to their career success.

A mentoring program connects people with specific skills, knowledge, and experience (mentors) with individuals (mentees) who need or want the same skills to advance in work, skill level, or academic performance.

As you probably guessed, mentoring success does not happen automatically or overnight.

A mentoring program requires planning, time, and commitment. But it is well worth the effort as it creates a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Why start a mentoring program?

Let’s take a quick look at just some of the possible benefits of a mentoring program.

For mentees: Exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking, advice on developing strengths and overcoming weaknesses, guidance on professional development, a broader professional network, etc.

For mentors: Opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, exposure to fresh ways of thinking, opportunity to reflect on their own goals, etc.

For the organization: Develop a culture of personal and professional growth, improve newcomer onboarding, engage, retain, and develop performers, etc. Growing research has also shown that mentor programs are key to diversity and inclusion.

Let’s have a look at some points to consider when putting together your mentoring program.

Setting your goal and measuring success.

To kick things off, ask yourself what you want your mentoring program to achieve? To answer this question you need to understand who your target audience is, their development needs, and their motivations to participate.

Once you have set the overall goal of your program, establish a solid set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that will enable you to quantify the success of the program. For example, if you are running a workplace mentoring program, your goal may be to improve employee retention rate. In this case, your KPIs could be employee retention rate, employee engagement, and employee satisfaction.

Deciding on the foundations.

Do you want your mentoring program to be highly structured and formalized, or more organic and informal?

Formal mentoring is structured and based on specific objectives. Mentors and mentees tend to be matched up by the organization running the program.

The official mentoring relationship lasts for a specified amount of time and then is formally ended—although participants can then decide to continue their mentoring relationship informally if they wish. Typically, participants must commit to a certain number and frequency of meetings, as well as response times.

This structured and organized approach provides accountability. It can also be easier to manage and tie back to organizational objectives than informal mentoring. But exchanges can feel forced.

Informal mentoring is more flexible. Here, the mentee proactively contacts a mentor who has offered their time and expertise to those needing it. This mentoring style tends to be driven by the mentee and what they want to learn. There are not necessarily the same commitments regarding the number, and frequency of sessions or the duration of the mentorship. In some cases, the mentee may contact the mentee for help with a short term project or specific information.

Informal mentoring can feel more natural, however, it runs the risk of going off track and disintegrating if it doesn’t have a minimum amount of structure.

Combining elements of both mentoring approaches can be effective. This way your program is structured to help participants reach their goals but it is also flexible so that you can cater to varying individual needs, specific goals, and different learning styles.

Whatever the approach, the parameters of the mentoring (what’s in and out of bounds) and expectations around giving and receiving feedback also need to be defined. What each party wants from the experience and how they wish to be held accountable also needs to be clear.

Other key decisions include:

  • Enrollment
    Is the program open to everyone, do people have to apply, or will it be based on invite-only?
  • Connection type
    Will mentoring be in pairs or groups?
  • Duration
    Will the connection last weeks, months, indefinitely, or just be a single session?
  • The person responsible for the program
    It’s a good idea to have a central person to manage the mentoring program. This person should oversee all mentors and mentees and provide all the necessary help and resources to ensure that everyone gets the most out of the mentoring program.

What makes a great mentor?

The mentor is responsible for providing the tools, guidance, support, and feedback the mentee needs to thrive.

So what makes a great mentor?

Great mentors are not only leaders in their fields. They’re enthusiastic people who take pleasure in helping others achieve their goals. They can actively listen and provide targeted feedback—drawing on both personal experience and failures.

A great mentor values lifelong learning and is curious (no one wants a mentor who thinks they know everything).

Your pool of mentor talent should be as diverse as possible—representing different ages, ethnicities, economic backgrounds, genders, and so on.

Mentors should have good communication and leadership skills. However, if they don’t quite tick this box, you could consider some form of mentor training to get their communication and leadership skills up to scratch.

You’ll also need to train your mentors on the basics:

  • How available they should be
  • What information is confidential
  • When they should contact someone in the organization for help/ guidance
  • How to evaluate the meetings and the program

Don’t forget to make sure that each mentor has enough bandwidth to participate. You need someone that has the time and energy to commit to the program. A mentor, even with the best intentions, that is short on time won’t benefit anyone.

What makes a great mentee?

Mentees are also crucial to the success of the mentoring program.

You want people who are motivated to be part of the program to expand their skills. They need to have an eagerness to learn—especially from the person selected as their mentor. They need to be curious and open to trying new ideas and approaches.

Mentees must be clear and realistic about the results they want to achieve with the program. They need to be proactive in achieving these goals, for example, by asking the appropriate questions and bringing up relevant discussion topics with the mentor. Accountability is crucial.

The mentee must be willing and available to meet regularly and be respectful of the mentor’s time.

Quick fact

  • Research has found that graduates who had developed mentoring relationships with faculty members were more likely to experience a higher degree of success in persisting in graduate school, achieving shorter time to degree, and performing better in academic coursework.

Mentoring is more important now than ever.

Any organization, irrelevant of size can benefit from a mentoring program—especially at this moment in time.

Quick Stats

  • About 70% of Fortune 500 companies have a mentoring program.
  • 92% of small business owners agree that mentors have a direct impact on the growth and survival of their business and 89% of small business owners who didn’t have a mentor wish that they did.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented levels of uncertainty. As a result, many people are pivoting their careers and/ or seeking a higher level of support and guidance.

Mentoring is incredibly important during these testing times—providing participants with support and guidance, as well as helping combat isolation and anxiety.

Remember, your mentoring program should be continually improved. Use surveys, check-ins, or other feedback tools to gather feedback from participants. Be prepared to make tweaks and changes to ensure the best experience and outcomes for everyone involved.

For more advice on mentoring, download Hivebrite’s mentoring guide: How to create, manage, and measure an impactful mentoring program.

Discover our full library of community-building resources

Explore Guides