How to Start a Mentoring Program

What do you do first? Where do you find mentors and mentees? How long should pairings last?

Photo by Shutterstock

By Barbara Frankel

Photo by Shutterstock


1. Understand the difference between "formal" company-sponsored mentoring and "informal" interpersonal mentoring.

    • Gain support from your senior leadership (for financial and people resources) by documenting the impact of formal mentoring on engagement, retention and promotions.

2. Start with a pilot program, usually at corporate HQ.

    • Make sure your top-level executives (CEO and direct reports) are involved as mentors from the start. That sends the message throughout the organization how critical this is to talent development.

3. Most mentoring programs are run by HR, but ensure that your Diversity department has input.

      • Ensure that as many relationships as possible are cross-cultural (across race/ethnicity, gender, age, educational background, orientation, disability, military status).

• It's critical to measure these diversity factors from the start so you can see how many pairings are cross-cultural and assess their success.


4. Track and measure EVERYTHING from the start.

    • Assess engagement, retention and promotion rates of mentees (and engagement and retention of mentors) and make sure results are communicated internally.

5. Make sure mentors and mentees have cultural-competence training before the pairings start.

    • Nothing can sabotage a relationship more than an inadvertent comment that is not culturally competent and/or offensive.

6. Make mentoring relationships finite.

    • One year is recommended, with assessments every three months.

7.  Communicate and publicize internally the values of mentoring relationships, both metrics and individual success stories.

    • Use website, video, blogs, social media and internal meetings.


8. Expand the program to include as many managers and potential managers as possible and make sure EVERYONE, including white men, participates.

    • Involve resource groups to find both mentors and mentees.

9. Measure participation of managers across the company and track results.

    • Do not ignore workers in remote locations. Virtual mentoring programs are viable.

10. Once mentoring is established, consider sponsorship (political advocacy).

    • Teach high-potentials the value of having multiple sponsors and how to find them.

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