How to set up a mentorship program to drive career development

employee and mentorJust about everyone has experienced office politics at some point in his or her career. For example, what do you do if a colleague steals your ideas, how do you handle a difficult boss, how should you ask for a promotion, what new projects should you volunteer to take on?

A seasoned professional who knows how things work around the company can best answer these questions. No matter the level, all employees (including yourself, of course) can benefit from finding a mentor before making those career-ending mistakes.

Here’s how to implement an official mentoring program:

The buddy system

Many forward-thinking businesses appoint a “buddy” to each new hire. From the first day through the first few months, the buddy can show the new team member the ropes.

The buddy is usually someone from the new hire’s own department, so it might be a good idea to later encourage the newbie to find a mentor in another part of the company.

Get the process started

Setting up a mentoring program can be formalized or left up to the individuals to find each other. Most potential mentors are flattered to be asked.

Mentors should be long-term employees, preferably from the managerial level. Otherwise, the blind could wind up leading the blind.

If you believe your employees need some assistance getting started, ask for volunteers to serve as mentors.

Many companies also offer training for mentors to establish guidelines and offer advice.

But beware of making a mentoring program mandatory. Instead, explain the value of such a relationship and how it can help both the employee personally and the company as a whole.

Another key to success is to get support from upper management and make sure its enthusiasm for the program is communicated.

Suggested activities

Meeting once a month for an hour or less might be all the time commitment needed to achieve positive results. After general goals and boundaries are established and confidentiality guaranteed, the mentor and the protégé might discuss problems in the workplace and even role-play to practice dealing with a difficult co-worker.

The mentor could offer the opportunity to watch the protégé in action while conducting a meeting or making a sales call with a customer. Successful match-ups may be willing to share some of their experiences to others within the company to help recruit others to participate in mentorships.

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Pair up mentors, employees

While random match-ups between mentors and protégés might work sometimes, it’s better to establish a formal system.

A simple questionnaire can capture potential mentors’ main areas of interest. For example, some may want to encourage more women to take on jobs in engineering or sales, while others have an interest in retaining more minorities or developing future leaders.

Likewise, send a simple email questionnaire to all employees looking for a potential mentor. Ask what they hope to get out of the relationship. Some may be looking for advice on work-life balance, while others may want to develop specific skills.

As an HR pro, you and a small committee might be in the best position to match up the mentors with the mentees, and then check in occasionally to see how everyone is progressing.