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How to Start a Mentorship Program

How do you hang onto your brightest young talent and prepare
them to lead? Simple: Recruit your more experienced employees to help teach and
guide them. Not only can a mentoring program boost your bench strength for top
jobs, research proves that people who learn more on the job are far less likely
to quit, says Terri Scandura, a University of Miami management professor. "It
makes the job more interesting to be learning from a senior person,"
she says.

The benefits don't stop with proteges: People who
mentor often are more productive, better socialized, and less stressed,
Scandura says. They also tend to develop a loyal network of supporters, gather valuable
perspective from younger employees, and gain insight into other parts of the
business. Here's how IBM, Nationwide Insurance, and other companies
create lasting programs that pay off.

Decide Why You Want a Mentor Program

Goal: Set your program up to succeed by defining goals
and involving top execs.

The vast majority of mentoring programs fail because businesses
don’t know what they want to get out of the effort. “When
you have fuzzy program goals, you have fuzzy outcomes,” says Dr. Lois
J. Zachary, author of “Creating
a Mentoring Culture.
” Some businesses start a program to help
newcomers adjust; others use it as a recruitment tool or a method of leadership
grooming. IBM started its program to build knowledge, foster learning, and connect
people in a company with 386,000 employees. The culture of mentorship runs so
deep that every IBM employee is either being mentored, mentoring others, or doing
both. “A lot of our people work virtually, and mentoring can erase
geographic and business-unit borders,” says href="">Sheila
Forte-Trammell, who manages IBM’s mentoring programs.

Businesses should ensure that top management is involved in the
program and in its inception, otherwise it won’t get the attention
and enthusiasm it needs to become part of the business culture. “You
should have their understanding and their support. That is absolutely one of
the keys,” says Barry Arbuckle, CEO of MemorialCare Medical Centers,
a six-hospital system in Southern California that uses mentoring as part of its
development program for middle managers. The company’s chief
operating officer, not human resources executives, runs the company’s
mentoring and leadership program.

Essential Ingredients

Three Ways to Make Mentoring Part of Company Culture

Brand the program.
Market it like you would a product, with success stories and messages from the
CEO. Stress what it means to the company, such as a more resilient workforce,
more creativity, and more knowledge sharing. IBM emphasizes a “give
back, reach back, and pull through” culture, where mentoring is an
expectation of all employees and vital for collaboration, innovation, and
maintaining institutional knowledge.

access to education. Hold seminars on mentoring and host networking events that
encourage people to find their own mentors. IBM offers mentoring
teleconferences, panel discussions led by executives, and even “speed
mentoring” sessions, similar to speed dating.

Make it
everyone’s job. Make being a protege part of a bigger leadership
training program and being a mentor a requirement for some kinds of job
advancement. Emphasize what’s in it for the employee: continued
learning, new skills, visibility, insight into business strategies and
priorities. Be sure managers recognize mentoring accomplishments and allow time
for the relationships.

Pair Up Proteges and Mentors

Goal: Create profiles and match people according to your

Identify how many people should be mentored and who they will
be. Will it be new recruits, managers, or promising young leaders? Next, create
a similar profile for ideal mentors. If you hope to use the program to aid
recruitment, seek out those who like teaching younger people. If your goal is
to groom the next generation of leaders, then team them up with top-level
managers. People who have been on the protege side before often make good
mentors, says Dawn Plimmer, the associate vice president of learning and
performance at Nationwide Insurance.

How to match up promising junior talent with mentors? You can
ask managers to set up matches, have human resources do it randomly, let people
pick each other, or have them fill out forms and match them based on skill sets
or goals. IBM relies on an online database that lets employees search for their
own mentors.

At Nationwide, human resource executives found themselves
over-thinking the matches according to technical discipline and personality.
Now, they’ve made it much more random, and it works better. “We
were trying to engineer the relationships,” Plimmer says. “There
is such a wide spectrum of things you are bringing to that relationship, and we
were only looking at a couple of dimensions.”

Larger businesses often encourage matches between people from
different parts of the country or from different operations of the business.
That removes the relationship from the traditional management chain and paves
the way for cross-company knowledge exchange. For some people, the separation
fosters trust more easily than a relationship between people who see each other
every day. Even with no ulterior motives, Forte-Trammell says, a perfectly
sincere manager can set up an apprentice for failure by blurring the
distinction between assigned tasks and mentored activities. “It’s
penalty-free speaking,” says Sharon Sadowski, an IBM product manager
in Chicago who talks monthly with her mentor, Lindsay-Rae McIntyre, a human
resources manager in Rochester, Minn.

Hot Tip

What’s in It for Mentors?

Plan to offer some sort of recognition to those who
volunteer as mentors by providing an appreciation luncheon, giving small gifts,
or incorporating mentoring into their annual reviews. Companies should also
remind mentors that the benefit can go both ways — whether it’s
understanding a different piece of the business or learning how to use
Facebook. IBM’s McIntyre says her protege, Sadowski, shares great
information about working in the Chicago operation and dealing directly with
clients, along with nuggets about what she’s learned in her MBA
program. “That’s the best part of being a mentor,”
McIntyre says.

Set the Rules for Engagement

Goal: Make sure people meet regularly — and
know what to talk about when they do.

Before employees launch into their mentoring relationships, help
both people determine the focus and purpose of why they’re doing
this. Is it to develop a particular skill, create a career plan, or orient new
employees? Encourage them to share learning styles, goals, bios, and resumes to
build a development plan. “Because the mentee knows what they want to
get out of the relationship, it’s a good idea to let them schedule
the meetings and decide what they should talk about,” Plimmer says.

Partners should also establish how often to meet and how they’ll
communicate. Without that, the mentor may not build the time into his or her
schedule, leaving the other person feeling frustrated. Monthly meetings that
last an hour or two are pretty common, but in some more intensive mentoring relationships
the partners could chat daily or weekly. To build trust, Forte-Trammell says
both partners should know that nothing about the relationship is to be reported
to anyone in the company and that no one will be evaluated or given a “grade.”
Encourage employees to do periodic checks to be sure they’re on track
to hit goals and determine if the relationship is really working.

In some cases, setting an end date can be helpful, so the two
can part ways and avoid a messy and awkward “breakup.” “There
is a point where you can continue the relationship or it’s time to
move on and learn from someone else,” Plimmer says. Be sure those who
work well together know they are free to extend the relationship if they want
to. IBM’s McIntyre and Sadowski have kept their relationship going
for more than four years. On the phone and over e-mail and instant message,
McIntyre has walked Sadowski through several job changes within the company and
provided a sounding board within a huge organization. “I can’t
imagine my career without Lindsay-Rae,” Sadowski says.

Case Study

Establish an Agenda

MemorialCare Medical Centers started with loose guidelines
for its mentoring program but later found it was better to have a prescribed
agenda, says CEO Barry Arbuckle. The hospital network now offers assignments
for each of the one- to two-hour monthly mentor meetings, complete with agendas
and questions for both participants. For example, mentors are asked to talk
about an ethical dilemma and how they handled it and then talk about barriers
to creating change in the organization. Meanwhile, proteges must talk about
their career aspirations and what leadership skills they need to develop. Later
they revise their resumes and write a two-page summary of their mentor
meetings. As part of the leadership program, the hospital network also requires
those receiving mentorship to do research projects that the company would
otherwise outsource to a consulting firm and go to their mentors for help with

Keep Tabs on the Program

Goal: Make sure mentoring is providing the results you

Although the relationships are mostly left up to participants
and are best not micromanaged, businesses should keep tabs on how the program
is going and check in at least once a quarter, says Les McKeown, author of href="">The Complete Guide to Mentoring and
Coaching Program Design
, who has helped create programs for Siemens,
Pella Windows and Doors, and United Technologies.

“Don’t assume no news is good news,”
says Roberta
Chinsky Matuson
, president of Human Resource Solutions, based in
Northampton, Mass. Measure whether your program is meeting your goals. If your
goal is to increase the number of women in senior management, what do those
numbers look like? If it’s to identify high fliers for promotion in
the company, then be sure deserved proteges are getting promoted. Surveys or
one-on-one interviews can offer feedback on training, problems, and matchmaking.
To figure out if the program is helping junior employees, McKeown recommends
that businesses check in with their direct mangers, because they can tell
better than anyone else if the relationship is working or not.

Be patient: the payoff for mentorship is hard to judge and can
often take years to show results. At Memorial Care, mentoring of middle
managers has paid off in succession planning. Ten years ago, when the program
started, the hospital network hired internal people for top management jobs
just 35 percent of the time. Today it’s up to 73 percent of the time.

Other Resources

Related Mentoring Books

href="">Creating a Mentoring
Culture: The Organization’s Guide
by Lois J. Zachary

href="">The Mentor’s Guide:
Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships
by Lois J. Zachary.

href="">In Action: Creating Mentoring and
Coaching Programs
by Linda Strome.

href="">Crisp: Mentoring,
Third Edition: How to Develop Successful Mentor Behaviors
by Gordon
F. Shea.

The Complete Guide to
Mentoring & Coaching Program Design
by J. Leslie

href="">Coaching and
Mentoring for Dummies
by Marty Broustein.

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