A nice Wall Street Journal article, Benefits of a Mentor, by Rachel Louise Ensign, describes the benefits of a corporate mentoring program. The article points out the many positive aspects of a mentoring program. Here is one excerpt:
A mentor can help a young worker answer tough questions about his or her career path and get perspective on the industry. The relationship may even help you eventually land a new job. But you’ll need to be careful to pick a mentor whose expertise and attitude are right for you. And it’s important to maintain proper etiquette.
Some companies have formal mentoring programs that pair a young employee with a seasoned worker. “In a more formal mentoring program, you set specific objectives,” says Deb Cohen, senior vice president for knowledge development at the Society for Human Resource Management. You may be expected to set goals, such as learning about a new part of the company, and formally prepare for each meeting with your mentor.
I agree that mentoring programs can be a wonderful option for your employees. However, I would caution (from experience) that if your company is not careful, a mentoring program can just as easily have unforeseen and negative effects.
A mentoring program needs to be established properly, preferably with the assistance of your Human Resources Department. In fact I would suggest that the mentoring program begin with the HR Department, in order to give it the proper recognition and support. Having a mentoring program can make, or break, the morale and career growth of the employees involved, so the program should not just be slapped together willy nilly. In other words, your department should not attempt to start its own mentoring program without at least the blessing, and hopefully the full support, of experts such as HR generalists in your company.
I would also add that mentoring programs can have many faces, many levels of involvement, and many structures. Equally important to realize is the fact that a mentoring program is not necessarily a good fit for your type of workplace, department, or culture. The example I ran into was in trying to implement a mentoring program for new-hire employees in a small call center environment. We had a lot of trouble making the program work primarily due to the high turnover rate of the department, which is the nature of call center environments. But when you are in a small call center, the turnover problem is magnified.
We were never able to identify enough quality mentors who were also willing participants in the program. And by “quality” we were looking for candidates who were model employees with the following qualities: excellent sales numbers, performed all work functions “by the book,” excellent attitude, a spotless attendance record, and more. Unfortunately, in a call center with a total of about 35 candidates, finding mentors who fit these qualifications, and who had a tenure of at least 6 months, was impossible to do. Adding to the problem was that due to the ever-high turnover, we always had new-hires who needed mentors.
In summary, in my situation I think that some type of mentoring program for new-hires could possibly have worked. However, due to the reality of our high turnover environment, and in a small call center, it would require more planning upfront. Indeed, a successful mentoring program in that call center environment may not even resemble a traditional mentoring program. Perhaps a mentoring program where the call center new-hires had mentors “outside” of their own department could have worked.
In fact, in her Wall Street Journal article, Ensign discusses this very possibility. She suggests finding mentors in other departments, and perhaps even from another company in your same industry.
While mentoring programs hold much promise for grooming young and/or new employees, I would caution employers to be very careful in their planning of the program. The mentoring experience must vary to match the structure and culture of the company or department in question. And in some cases, a mentoring program may not be the answer at all.