Notes on People Development: Developing a Mentoring Program

“Notes on…” is a series, based on notes I took during courses I completed.
Each post highlights a key takeaway I took from the course, along with my own notes.


key Takeaway

This course got me to think about my own experiences of mentoring and being mentored. At Meetup, I was team mentor for awhile, where I had the opportunity to onboard brand-new hires. At Squarespace, I’ve done the same thing. This course came in handy as I was able to make suggestions and help come up with a framework for a mentoring program for CustOps. The “Pre-Program Needs Assessment” questions are hugely important and help clarify the mission and scope of a mentoring program.


An Overview of Mentoring Programs

What is mentoring and its different forms?

Relationship between a senior person in terms of age and experience that provides career and emotional support to a junior person.

  • Informal vs. Formal

  • Formal: Shaped by the goals of the mentoring program

The Benefits of Formal Mentoring Programs

Mentoring can engage and energize employees.

  • Greater employee retention (savings to the organization)

  • Better employee satisfaction

  • Employee onboarding

  • Serves to develop high-potential employees

Underlying Assumptions of Formal Mentoring Programs

  1. Mentoring Relationships - are a social exchange - reciprocal and mutually beneficial (both must give and get)

  2. Mentoring Relationships are not monogamous - they offer flexibility and opportunities for multiple forms of mentoring

  3. They look and feel like informal or spontaneous relationships

Types and Purpose of Mentoring Program

Four Most Common Types

  1. Traditional Mentoring: Senior executives paired with junior employees

  2. Peer Mentoring: Great at providing emotional support; employee affinity groups

  3. Electronic/Virtual: Can be just as effective as face-to-face; also opens up a world of possibilities (

  4. Reverse Mentoring: Generation Z or millennials serve as mentors to more experienced executives

5 Elements of Formal Mentoring Program

Going on a trip metaphor

  1. Conduct a pre-program needs assessment: Gather data - learn what you are trying to accomplish; is mentoring really the solution to the problems that exist?

  2. Create a checklist of essentials: What essentials do you need in place before designing a mentoring program?

  3. Decide on your program participants: Start small and get bigger; choose mentors and proteges who are committed, well respected

  4. Provide training and ongoing support

  5. Perform a post-program evaluation: What was most memorable or the best part? What could have been improved? What did you learn?

Pre-Program Needs Assessment

How to Design a Framework and Needs Assessment

Five questions to ask:

  1. What is the best way to gather data to understand what is happening? Why do you need a mentoring program? (Active Training by Mel Silberman) Use at least two methods.

  2. What is the overall purpose of your mentoring program?

  3. What are the specific measurable goals that you want to accomplish?

  4. How can your mentoring program align with overall org strategy and existing programs? Try to get it out of the “HR Project” box

  5. Who are the mentoring program champions? You need allies, resources, and a top management champion; tie to manager performance reviews

Infrastructure and Support

Creating a Mentoring Culture

  • What are your org’s values, philosophy, and mission? How to bring these to life via mentoring

  • What are your assumptions and beliefs about how people should behave at work?

  • Look around your office: What are the visible artifacts? What are informal rules/stories that people tell about your company?

Culture is like air: Important, but we don’t always notice it on a daily basis

Marketing and Communicating Your Program

Pre-suasion: Plan communication strategy carefully; think about the “what” and “how”

Seven by Seven: Communicate about your program in seven different ways

Reward Structure for Participants

Ideas to reward people:

  1. What does success mean to you in terms of your mentoring program? Trying to accomplish?

  2. Consider leveraging extrinsic and intrinsic rewards: Make it part of performance review

  3. Do you want to reward outcomes or behaviors or both?

  4. Help your mentors and proteges figure out what they want to accomplish on an individual level

Ensuring Organizational Support

  • What does the top management support?

  • What is the interest from potential mentors and proteges?

  • What are the resources/support/budget available?

  1. Ensure top management support

  2. Ensure bottom-up support

  3. Determine realistic goals and training needs

  4. Determine roles and accountability

  5. Make sure you have adequate resources

Choosing Participants

Recruiting Mentors and Proteges

Three tips:

  1. Begin with the end in mind: Start with goals

  2. Provide a realistic preview: Sell great aspects and be honest about challenges

  3. Use snowball technique: Get one participant to commit and ask him/her for recommendations

Matching Mentors and Proteges

Help the mentor and protege to set reasonable expectations

  • Choice: Matching without giving people choice can feel like a blind date

  • Connection: Match based on similarities and differences; goals, values, geography

  • Learning: Diverse teams are best for creativity and problem-solving; applies to mentoring as well

Training & Ongoing Support for Participants

Training Essentials for Proteges

  1. Assess needs

  2. Write learning objectives: 2-3 hour learning session; 3-5 objectives

  3. Use prepare, present (share information), practice (apply material), conclude (wrap up course)

Training Essentials for Mentors

  1. Presence of mentors at training signals that mentoring matters

  2. Training is a way to build community across an organization

  3. Mentors might learn something new

  • Prepare: 2 hours is about right - Agenda, objectives, ground rules

  • Present:  Core benefits of mentoring to mentor; detailed preview; review obstacles, discuss managing expectations

  • Practice: Apply the material; create relationship conversation guide; provide a jump-start

  • Conclude: Encourage feedback and making a connection

Action Learning Project

  1. Provides a focus in the form of a project

  2. Keeps momentum going

  3. Results in a shareable and measurable deliverable

Developing Continuous Learning Processes

Help Them Stay Engaged

  1. Follow up periodically: within a month of first training session; halfway point; formal or informally

  2. Provide conversation starter and ongoing coaching: Make them specific to your participants

  3. Build community among peers: Have mentors and proteges be part of a community; events, online networks

Concluding and Evaluating Your Program

Concluding and Celebrating Your Program

How to Wrap Up

  1. Showcase: Accomplishments; project that was created

  2. Recognize: Publicly and formally; both proteges and mentors

  3. Celebrate: Lunch, dinner, event

Evaluating Your Mentoring Program

Kirkpatrick’s Evaluation

  • Level 1: Reaction: how much people liked the program; survey or focus group; open and closed questions

  • Level 2: Learning: What and how much was learned; survey or interviews; final project

  • Level 3: Behavior: Was there a change?

  • Level 4: Results/ROI

Making Your Mentoring Program Last

How to make it sustainable.

  • Linkages: Link program to vision, mission, values, and existing programs

  • Ambassadors: Establish top-down and bottom-up support

  • Selling: Market your program to potential mentors, proteges, and decision makers

  • Taste: Make your program a reflection of your organization’s culture