For companies to remain competitive, they have to give employees more than just a paycheck. People come to work with the expectation that what they do all day has meaning and will provide opportunities for personal and professional growth. Mentorship programs go a long way in providing this meaning and upward mobility.

Organizations that ignore the opportunity to build a successful mentoring program fail to create workplaces with high retention rates, strong corporate cultures, and knowledge sharing between organizational leaders and less experienced employees. 

This article will explore what corporate mentoring programs look like, why your company will benefit from formal programs, and how to introduce mentor-mentee relationships into your organization. Are you ready to strengthen your corporate culture by supporting your future leaders’ career development?

What it means to have a mentor

Formal mentoring programs are relatively new, but mentorship has been around since antiquity. The word ‘mentor’ comes from Homer's Odyssey, where the character Mentor was a guide to Odysseus’s son while he was on his own. Mentor is the earliest example of what we now call mentorship

Hopefully, we can look back on our careers and point to mentors who had a positive impact on our professional journeys. Movies portray the self-made individual who accomplishes their career goals through their own hard work and determination. In reality, we need business leaders in our lives to look up to who will provide us with long-term support on our career path.

Why are mentors important in the workplace?

In the workplace, having mentors is crucial to success. As new graduates or people beginning a new career, having a mentor means having an example to look up to. “I want to be like them when I grow up.” 

Additionally, mentors are crucial to growing our professional networks. They’ll be the senior employee that connects us with those in leadership positions who can open doors for professional development and the chance to accomplish our professional goals.  

Organizations should have structured programs in place to provide every employee with a positive role model who helps them reach their development goals. By helping employees build successful careers, companies will create a strong workplace culture and reach their own organizational goals. 

There are so many benefits for organizations that create careful matches for one-to-one mentorship. To name a few, mentors can help close skills gaps through informal job training and encourage a level of ownership for junior employees.

Mentors give us something more intangible as well. They can be our sounding board for problems we’re facing or the objective view of in a sensitive situation. They make us feel heard and in turn, valued. In essence, the mentoring process keeps their mentees moving forward toward positive outcomes. 

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the main reasons why organizations are motivated to institute successful mentorship programs.

How does mentoring help an organization?

There are many obvious reasons companies should care about providing mentorship to their employees. For one thing, it’s just the right thing to do if they want employees that have a rewarding experience coming to work every day. But the bottom line has the final word. To start a mentoring program, more concrete benefits are needed. 

We’ll list three benefits mentorship programs provide to organizations and then unpack each of them:

  1. Mentorship programs promote a culture of learning
  2. Mentors strengthen a learning culture within the company and drive diversity initiatives, and
  3. Mentors become better leaders and mentees become better team players

Promoting a culture of learning

What do you think the biggest challenges are to building a culture of learning? LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report in 2017 found that time and money were the biggest barriers L&D leaders faced. The study revealed that there’s a gap in value between the organizations that pay for the learning and those who participate.

A company needs to buy into learning and development in order to allocate the budget to support it. Likewise, employees need to see value in the learning that they’re getting. 

Mentorship programs bridge the value gap. The mentees gain access to senior leaders to receive the benefits mentioned above. At the same time, leaders realize that mentoring more junior employees develops their leadership skills and gives them access to new perspectives. 

After both parties realize the value of mentorship it’s much easier to get the budget and time commitment for further learning and development initiatives—and to turn your company into a true Learning Organization:

Learning Organization Model CTA

Strengthens company culture and allows for new perspectives to be heard

In addition to promoting a culture of learning, mentorship programs strengthen culture as a whole by making it more inclusive. Everyone should get a mentoring opportunity. Mentorship is a great way to either:

  • Build community between diverse groups, or
  • Increase the visibility of employees of diverse backgrounds

Access to opportunities is not equally distributed among members of diverse groups. And even if members of diverse groups are given job opportunities, are they given access to growth opportunities equally? Mentorship programs are a way to provide access for members of diverse backgrounds to leaders within organizations. 

Developing an inclusive workplace culture through mentorship has a strong business case. As more members of organizations are included, employee engagement, retention, productivity will all increase, as the McKinsey report on diversity states. 

Moreover, according to Glassdoor, “companies with higher rates of diversity regularly outperform companies with more homogenous demographics.” Supporting a diverse culture through mentorship leads to a stronger and more productive organization.

Related: How to Make Sure Your Cross-Cultural Training Isn't Shooting You in the Foot

Leaders become better at leading and employees learn from their experiences

A study by Grovo revealed that 98% of managers feel managers would benefit from more training. That stat is startling. Furthermore, 87% of middle managers "wish they had received more management training when they first became a manager." 

One of the best ways to learn is through experiential learning. Usually, experiential learning is confined to educational programs, but managers can’t learn how to lead from books alone. Mentorship programs give both mentees and mentors immediate feedback and practical experience in communication and active listening skills. 

Related: Broken…or Just Bruised? Why Traditional Executive Education is Struggling, and How the Right Program Can Help Fix It

How to get started building your mentorship program

This article has broken down why every company should have a formal mentorship program. But you may be wondering how to start a mentorship program. Here’s what you need to know. 

The right tools make it easy

The most important part of a mentoring program is the quality of the mentoring partnerships. Nothing is worse to the credibility of a mentorship program than incompatible mentoring connections. It can be agonizing for both parties. 

Using mentoring software takes care of the pairing process because pairing algorithms do the heavy lifting to determine a good match. Administrators can then spend more time working out the finer details like providing resources and coaching to the participants, so each meeting is packed with value. Additionally, most mentoring software has customizable resource guides like mentor and mentee handbooks or agendas that add structure to the participants’ meetings. 

Getting leaders on board

As mentioned above, budgeting is the biggest barrier to learning and development programs, mentorship included. To get your leaders on board with the benefits of a mentoring program it’s helpful to have the numbers to back it up. Mentoring programs can:

  • Increase retentions
  • Reduce turnover by increasing employee satisfaction
  • Increase engagement among underrepresented employees
  • Drive productivity and employee satisfaction
  • Train employees by pairing them with an experienced employee

There are also different types of mentoring programs. Tying your mentorship program to company initiatives is an effective way to gain support. Corporate mentorship programs can be used for:

  • Succession planning and knowledge transfer from senior leaders to high potential employees
  • Skill development and employee development
  • Supporting diversity in leadership...and more

Can your company afford to pass mentorship programs by?

We've all had role models in our professional lives that helped us get to where we are in our careers now. They provide the guidance and opportunities that will help us solve the problems we face and reach the goals we aim for. Companies may recognize the importance of mentoring and want to provide those benefits for their employees, but have a misguided belief that mentoring relationships are something that happens organically. That's not the case. 

By providing the opportunity for leaders to transfer their experience to employees through structured programs, companies have a scalable way to create more collaborative cultures that have higher engagement and employee retention rates. It takes effort to get everyone bought into mentoring programs, but the pay-off is worth it. 

The question to ask is not if your company needs a mentoring program, but what it would look like if there were no mentors—if your company can afford that.