Benefits of Mentoring
The growing interest in mentoring programs is largely due to the benefits mentoring provides to participants and their organizations. Research has shown that for individuals, mentoring is related to positive career outcomes such as increased compensation, salary growth, and promotions as well as greater career and job satisfaction. Mentoring is considered especially valuable for minorities and women and can also shape professional confidence in participants.  Further, according to Smith, “when people have mentors and when people become mentors, it makes them feel more included.” Likewise, compared to non-mentors, mentors experience higher job satisfaction and organizational commitment.
Mentoring also provides a number of benefits for organizations. These include lower turnover and higher job satisfaction, the transmission of organizational culture, and the ability to serve as a “deep sensing” mechanism by which top management can understand what is going on in their organizations.
Challenges of Mentoring
However, mentoring programs are not without challenges. Programs have been critiqued for creating power dynamics between more senior and newer employees or false impressions implying people are placed in mentoring programs because they need extra help or have some form of weakness. It can also be difficult to create effective matches of mentors and mentees whether it be based upon personality types, expectations or logistics of finding the right time and setting to meet creating unrealistic outcomes.   Many of these challenges could be avoided if the organization crafted a well-planned mentoring program that matches the organization’s culture and employees. This will vary based upon the needs and resources of the organization.  
Varieties of Mentoring Programs
Mentoring can take many forms, and individuals often have very different ideas about what is meant by the term mentor. This makes it difficult to define mentoring. While conducting a review of the mentoring literature published between 1980 and 2010, Haggard and colleagues encountered nearly forty different definitions of mentoring. Rather than create a new definition, they identified several core attributes that characterize workplace mentoring relationships: reciprocity, developmental benefits, and regular/consistent interaction.
Mentoring that takes place within the context of an official organizational program is referred to as formal mentoring. In contrast, informal mentoring relationships develop organically through mutual admiration and trust between the mentor and mentee. In this paper we focus on formal mentoring programs, since these are under the direct control of the organization and its decision makers.
Mentoring models range from very traditional to highly innovative. Below we discuss some of the most commonly used models in the workplace, providing specific illustrations when relevant.
Traditional Mentoring typically involves two people: a mentor, someone who is “ordinarily several years older, a person of greater experience and seniority…a teacher, advisor, or sponsor” providing support to a mentee or protégé, someone who has less experience in the organization. Mentors provide a combination of career and psychosocial support to their mentees.
Group Mentoring is structured around mutual learning regardless of the participant’s role in the organization, level of experience, or age. This form of mentoring is particularly prevalent in higher education and academic medicine. It is intended to provide a broader and more flexible network of support, is highly collaborative and reduces the hierarchy or power dynamics that sometimes exist in traditional mentoring. Pragmatically, it enables more people to be involved and therefore can be more efficient in coordinating. It facilitates exposure to multiple viewpoints and perspectives for each participant. However, group dynamics can make it difficult for each person to fully participate or receive individualized attention.
|Women faculty at Pepperdine from different ranks and disciplines meet in mentoring groups to discuss professional and personal goals.|
Cross-Organizational Mentoring (also referred to as inter-organizational mentoring) occurs when the mentor and mentee are in different organizations.   This form of mentoring may be helpful when your organization faces a shortage of qualified mentors. It also offers the advantage of an outside, perhaps more objective, perspective and could encourage mentees to raise issues that they may not feel comfortable discussing with colleagues inside their own companies. This form of mentoring may be particularly useful for small organizations such as family businesses, startups, and nonprofits.
|Managers from Reasoning Minds, a Houston-based nonprofit, are matched with mentors from Deloitte’s Houston and Dallas offices.|
Reverse Mentoring involves pairing a junior staff member with a senior leader to increase the senior leader’s knowledge, skills, or understanding in a particular area such as technology, diversity, or differences between generations.   
|At Estée Lauder, junior employees mentor senior managers on issues ranging from social media, to online shopping, to the millennial mindset.|
e-Mentoring (also known as virtual or online mentoring) relationships are facilitated using electronic communication tools such as email, social media, chat rooms, and instant messaging. Sessions can be conducted entirely online, primarily online, or as a supplement to in-person mentoring. e-Mentoring may be especially useful when mentor and mentee work in different locations. It can occur synchronously, or asynchronously, depending on program design and participant availability.
Anonymous Mentoring is a specialized mix of e-mentoring and cross-organizational mentoring, where the identities of the mentor and mentee, as well the identities of their organizations, remain masked. This type of mentoring is usually coordinated by an external provider.
|thirty2give has developed a mobile app that facilitates anonymous mentoring.|
Micro-mentoring involves the creation of short developmental episodes focused on a particular topic. For example, a junior employee might attend a small discussion forum to seek the advice of seasoned experts within the company, or she could schedule individual meetings with multiple senior experts. This exposes mentees to multiple senior leaders and their ideas, and it could lead to a longer-term mentoring relationship. Further, busy mentors may be more willing to commit to providing support due to a reduced time commitment.
Implementing a Mentoring Program: Process Matters
The ultimate success of any mentoring program will, in part, depend on the process used to develop and launch it. A quick internet search will reveal a wealth of information on designing and delivering formal workplace mentoring programs (see Further Reading for some examples), so much so that it can be overwhelming. Do you even need a mentoring program? If so, where do you start? What program format should you use? How do you know if your program is successful?
We use research and current organizational practice to outline a process for designing, launching, and evaluating a mentoring program. The overall process is shown in Figure 1. Each step is described below, and in more detail in Tables 1–4. The process is intended to be reflective as opposed to prescriptive. It can be repeated to refine, expand, or perhaps even discontinue the program. Regardless of whether or not you decide to start a mentoring program of your own, there is value in going through this reflective process. Even more so if you engage multiple stakeholders along the way.
Figure 1. Mentoring Program Process
For each step of the process, we provide examples of how two hypothetical organizations might make key decisions. The first organization, a software company, is considering mentoring as a way to decrease turnover of women programmers. The second, a nonprofit healthcare organization, is seeking to develop a pipeline of qualified leaders for senior management positions.
Although detailed, our process and tools are not comprehensive. Depending on your unique situation or level of experience with mentoring, you may need additional resources. A list of relevant articles and books is provided at the end of the article.
Step One – Identify Objectives and Compare to Current Practices
Do you even need a mentoring program? In this first step, detailed in Table 1, you will rate the importance of mentoring-related organizational objectives (such as to increase inclusion or develop job-specific skills) and reflect on the extent and effectiveness of your current people management practices in order to determine if a mentoring program might be beneficial to your organization. This step would be a healthy exercise for a small team of leaders within your organization who have an understanding of staff needs. If your current practices are not meeting your organizational objectives, a mentoring program may be beneficial. Conversely, you may determine a mentoring program is not necessary at this time. If you determine your organization would benefit from a mentoring program, you will formulate an initial program goal statement.
Table 1. Step 1: Identify Objectives (click here for pdf)
Step Two – Consider Resources and Constraints
Do you have the resources to launch and deliver a mentoring program? To determine if a mentoring program is feasible, you will determine the prevalence of human and financial resources as well as organizational constraints, noting those that will be critical to your program’s success. This process is outlined in Table 2. If you face a lack of critical resources or identify significant constraints, consider whether the resource can be developed or the constraint overcome. If not, you should proceed cautiously with developing a traditional mentoring program. Adopting an alternate mentoring approach (group mentoring, e-mentoring, micro-mentoring) is one potential solution. Alternately, you might choose to encourage informal mentoring or utilize other good people management practices (see Step 1). If you decide a mentoring program is right for your organization, you will revise your program goals to reflect your capacities.
Table 2. Step 2: Consider Resources & Constraints (click here for pdf)
Step Three – Design the Program
What will your program look like? In this step, detailed in Table 3, you will design your mentoring program. Using your revised program goal statement and the resources and constraints identified earlier, you will make key decisions about participants, program parameters, training, and potential problems that may arise. We guide you by offering a series of questions and special considerations that may be relevant to your situation. At this point in the process, your program should have a solid foundation. You are now ready to start building your mentoring program.
Table 3. Step 3: Design the Program (click here for pdf)
Step Four – Create an Evaluation System
How will you know if your mentoring program is successful? How can it be improved? This step is focused on creating an evaluation system and is outlined in Table 4. Here you will revisit your mentoring goal statement and organizational objectives and design tools to determine if you have met your goals. It is important to consider how you will assess your program before it is launched. As in Step 3, we offer questions and considerations about who should be involved in the evaluation process, what you should evaluate, how you should conduct the evaluation, and when you should do it. After you have completed this step, you are ready to launch and evaluate your program! As Figure 1 demonstrates, the program design process is a cycle. You may choose to refine, expand, continue, or discontinue your program based on the evaluation results.
Table 4. Step 4: Create an Evaluation System (click here for pdf)
In this paper we have presented different types of mentoring programs and discussed how these initiatives are used in different workplace settings. We have outlined a four step process for designing a mentoring program for your organization. We encourage you to adapt our tools and make them your own.
If you decide a mentoring program is right for your organization, it is important to understand that what has worked for another organization may not work for you. One size does not fit all. By going through a deliberate planning process you can design a customized program that meets the needs of your unique organization.
DeJong, T. J., Gabarro, J. J., & Lees, R. J. (2008, January). Why mentoring matters in a hypercompetitive world. Harvard Business Review, 86(1), 115-121.
Forret, M. L., Turban, D. B., & Dougherty, T. W. (1996). Issues facing organizations when implementing formal mentoring programs. Leadership & Organizational Development Journal, 17(3), 27-30.
Hegestad, C. D., & Wentling, R. M. (2004). The development and maintenance of exemplary formal mentoring programs in Fortune 500 companies. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 15, 421-448.
Meister, J. C., & Willyerd, K. (2010, May). Mentoring millennials. Harvard Business Review, 88(5), 68-72.
Thomas, D. A. (2001, April). The truth about mentoring minorities: Race matters. Harvard Business Review, 79(4), 98-107.
Allen, T. D., Finkelstein, L. M., & Poteet, M. L. (2009). Designing workplace mentoring programs: An evidence-based approach. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Johnson, W. B., & Ridley, C. R. (2018). The elements of mentoring: 75 practices of master mentors (3rd ed.). New York: St. Martins.
Labin, J. (2017). Mentoring programs that work. Alexandria, VA: ATD Press.
Lunsford, L. G. (2016). A handbook for managing mentoring programs: Starting, supporting, and sustaining. London: Routledge.
Ragins, B. R., & Kram, K. (Eds). (2007). The handbook of mentoring at work: Theory, research, and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Zachary, L. (2005). Creating a mentoring culture: The organization’s guide. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.