Match game: How to build and get the most out of a mentorship program

Want to grow leaders, pass along the culture of your firm, or convince new hires that the company is vested in their career development? Encouraging mentorship might be your answer.

Mentors and mentees alike can benefit. As they interact, both parties hone their communication skills, learn from someone holding different perspectives, and establish bonds.

But despite mentoring’s role in strengthening employee development and retention, the majority of workers lack such relationships. A survey released by Accountemps shows that only 33% of men and 18% of women in office environments say they have a mentor.

Interested in seeing if mentorship could make a difference in competence and confidence at your workplace? Take a look at what’s involved in developing a successful program.


Creating a mentorship program simply because it’s trendy does little good. Rather, thoughtful goals get people engaged and make participation worth the time.

“It behooves an organization to not blindly roll out a program for the sake of saying that one exists,” says life and career coach Jacqueline Miller of Jacqueline DuJour Enterprises. “An effective mentoring program should be in sync with and in alignment with an organization’s strategic plan. Having unclear and undefined goals and expectations will inevitably lead to a failed program.”

Echoes Tim Hird, executive director at Robert Half Management Resources, “Determine your goals for the program. For example, do you want to help new hires get up to speed, support middle managers preparing for executive positions, or provide leadership development for star employees? Your objectives will help shape your program.”


Clarity also can encourage potential mentors and mentees to come aboard. Some people shy away from such programs because they fear the time commitment or worry that they’ll be stuck in a room with little to say.

“Train both mentors and protégés on how to make the most of the program (ideally separately so they can feel free to ask questions, express concerns, and share ideas with peers),” says Halelly Azulay, founder & CEO of TalentGrow LLC.

Other factors that can increase interest include:

  • Regularly scheduled company time for mentorship so as not to cut into already sparse free time
  • A predetermined “exit strategy” in place for relationships that don’t click
  • Suggested topics to discuss (with freedom to deviate as seen fit)
  • Support from top management that mentoring is a priority
  • Incentives to join

Experts tend to agree, however, to never make participation mandatory. As Azulay notes, “Compelling either party to the relationship can lead to poor adherence, ‘deadbeat’ participation, and ineffective results.”


Putting two people together because you feel they have something to gain from one another can work (or at least be worth a try). However, letting participants have some say-so in the pairing may generate a bond more in line with individual interests and personalities.

For instance, some companies ask mentors to write short bios about their background and strengths. Potential mentees read the descriptions and come up with a list of three people they think would best suit their needs. The program manager then does his best to match accordingly.

Another option is to hold informal gatherings where aspiring mentees and mentors interact with one another. Chemistry may make some pairs emerge naturally or provide clues on who might not work well with certain individuals.

When talking about matches, encourage people to consider expanding their horizons. Too often, participants look for partners who best resemble themselves. Mixing genders, races, work styles, or even departments can provide unique learning experiences.

Measuring success

Is your program on the right track? It may take some time to tell. If a goal was to reduce new employee turnover, look at retention numbers. If an objective was to foster skills of value to the company, check out how much the organization has promoted internally rather than needing to seek outside candidates.

Oftentimes, however, it pays to simply observe. Consistent participation rates, new requests to join, and people talking about the program and their relationships are all good signs.

And don’t be afraid to ask. Surveying both mentors and mentees can lead to valuable tweaks that can make the program even more effective.