How to start a mentorship program at your company

Though the benefits of a well-executed corporate mentorship program have been well-enumerated, starting such a program from scratch can feel like a daunting undertaking. Here’s some good news - everyone has something they can teach others, so everyone can practice mentoring. It doesn’t have to be a complicated topic.

Nervous about starting? Pick something simple and mundane. Are you the only one in the office who knows how to get that finicky door lock to work every time? Teach someone else how to work the magic and, voila! You’re a mentor!

Some think of mentoring purely in regards to technical tools, but mentoring is certainly not restricted to that. Do you have a communication tip that would benefit someone? Are you a whiz at time management, organization, or simply managing stress (far from simple!)?

You can even offer a weekly, or monthly, lunchtime session to share a hobby. A craft, yoga, meditation, or exercise group can both benefit everyone with the newly learned skills as well as help form bonds between people who may not interact often. How much better would your team and company function if everyone shared even two skills at which they are adept? divider 600

Build your value to your company

A common hesitation around mentoring is the fear that teaching others what we know will somehow make us less valuable to the company. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s far easier to hire someone who knows how to use a particular tool than it is to find someone who is both willing and able to help others realize their full potential by mentoring.

If your company doesn’t have a mentoring program, consider suggesting one or starting a grassroots version. Mentoring isn’t something that is taught in (most) schools either, so this might, in and of itself, be a differentiating skill to impress employers! divider 600

What does a mentorship program look like?

Mentorship programs can take a number of forms. At WillowTree, we have a rich culture of mentorship. New hires are assigned both a short term (3 month) mentor as well as a long term mentor. Mentors are there to help with everything from “How do I log time against this new project in my timesheet?” all the way to long term goals and personal growth discussion and planning.

Given how fraught most onboarding processes are with crossed wires and morale draining confusion, this practice is a huge help to reducing the unnecessary churn that plagues so many companies. divider 600

What employees stand to gain from mentor/mentee relationships

Mentoring others can help you master skills in which you already have some level of proficiency. Guiding others through the pitfalls of learning helps reinforce your own knowledge of a subject, gives you an opportunity to learn tangential skills you didn’t previously know about (which a good mentee will inevitably find for you!), and helps you learn about yourself and how you interact with others; it’s a great way to cultivate good leadership skills across your company.

Mentoring helps get you out of your own headspace. It will help you become a better listener as you work to understand where and why your mentees are struggling most with some of the concepts you are sharing. And it will help you master your own mind as you occasionally feel frustration or exasperation at being unable to get a concept across. Recognizing when these feelings come up, being able to pinpoint the cause, and learning how to “catch and release’ these when they occur so that you can focus your energy more productively will serve you in every aspect of your life. divider 600

Learning from failures

There’s no doubt that mentoring is not all peaches and cream. There will be times when you will need to stretch yourself to find the right way to present a concept so your mentee can really understand it. Learning about learning styles and asking your mentee to take some time to reflect on, and share, what works best for them can be helpful here. And there’s no shame in pulling in someone else, a guest mentor, if you will, to help. The primary goal in mentoring is measured by what your mentee learns and can put to practical use. So whatever works best is fair game. There are no rigid rules in this.

Good mentoring is similar to good management and good parenting. Your job is to help your mentee grow, remove obstacles, either logistical or conceptual, from their way, and celebrate their successes. Far from making you less important, the success of your mentees is your success. Similarly, mentoring is a skill you can use in every aspect of your life - coworkers, family, and friends can all benefit from things you can share. Likewise, you’re more likely to be cognizant of where YOU can be the mentee and can then more graciously accept mentoring or even ask for it from others who might be happy to share. divider 600

Build stronger employee relationships

Finally, it’s important to include that mentoring can have personal and emotional rewards for both you and your mentee. In order to mentor someone well, you need to learn a bit about them—how they learn, what they value, what they don’t value, and their general pattern of interaction with you, others, and their work. In doing so, and, in the mentoring process, you are sharing something of yourself—something you cared enough about to spend many hours to learn, at the very least. So it’s not surprising that, in the process of mentoring, you will often build rapport with your mentees.

Think of your favorite teacher. Mentoring can form ties, respect, and relationships that can last a lifetime. And, when you watch the dawning joy of seeing your mentee realize that they finally have a level of mastery over something which, not too far in the past, either mystified or even frightened them… Well, there’s just no describing how amazing that feeling is. So go on - teach someone something. Then stand back and watch them soar!

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