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Starting a Mentoring Program

You are ready to begin a formal, cross-cultural mentoring program. What best practices should you follow?

How do you start a mentoring program? Based on DiversityInc research and interviews with more than 20 companies, here are five steps:


  1. Start small: Start with a pilot in your corporate office and ensure you invite as many managers as possible to participate and senior executives to be mentors. Focus it on a relatively narrow group as you begin the program, but make sure the group includes a wide representative based on gender, race/ethnicity, age, experience and job function. Once the pilot program is successful, you can expand it throughout your corporate office and into various business units. It's important, as you do that, to ensure that the same best practices apply everywhere—training for mentors and mentees, measurable goals, corporate-office monitoring, tracking results. You don't want to create uneven mentoring programs or, as we often see, have certain units that have strong formal mentoring and others that don't have it at all. While mentoring should be aimed primarily at managers as a talent-development tool, it can be expanded to the work force eventually.
  2. Have prospective applicants fill out questionnaires and YOU create the pairs: Do not allow voluntary pairings—use a web-based tool to create pairings that are cross-functional and cross-cultural as much as possible, and assess personalities to avoid "toxic pairs." Some companies in the earlier stages of diversity management tell us they don't need formal mentoring programs because they have great informal mentoring. The real danger of this is that a person will get "bad" advice from a malcontent or not get the right type of training, cultural awareness and help on negotiating the corporate culture. Instead of developing talent, you could lose key talent.
  3. Train the mentors and mentees: In advance of the formal start of the program, offer both mentors and mentees effective training in meeting company goals, culturally competent communications and learning/teaching styles. One of the most critical aspects of this training is cultural competence and microinequities training. Like good diversity training, this is essential in fostering communications and an inclusive workplace.
  4. Set measurable goals and finite periods: Most mentoring programs last one year and relationships can continue voluntarily after that time. Make sure there are goals and mileposts set throughout the period. The Sodexo mentoring program is exemplary in its one-, three-, six- and nine-month goals, including e-surveys. You can assess progress in a variety of ways: surveys, in-person debriefs, webinars and checkpoints.
  5. Track success: Monitor the success of the mentee (retention, promotion, productivity) and the value of the relationship to both. Continue to track the progress for at least three years after the formal relationship ends. Assess the performance and progress of mentees and mentors versus those who did not participate in the program. Assess the progress of those with more than one mentor/mentee versus those with only one. Assess the progress of those with cross-cultural relationships versus those with only same-culture relationships.
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