3 Simple Ways Small Businesses Can Offer Employee Mentorships
Mentorships offer personal and professional development that keeps employees happy, and they’re not just for big business
Employees consistently rate personal development as a top benefit and a reason why they stay longer in a role. But it’s often overlooked by small businesses. Often small businesses provide access to training courses, but we don’t really look at how to grow people personally, or professionally. Sometimes that’s because they that ‘we’re too small, we don’t have the resources of the big guys’.
That’s where mentoring can be really powerful because it provides development to employees really inexpensively. Sometimes it requires no monetary investment at all, it just requires providing time for employees to engage in a mentoring process.
What is Mentoring?
In a nutshell, mentoring is a learning and development opportunity. It’s a relationship that is focused on growth and it is structured around the mentee’s goals or career ambitions. Mentoring is not management, and it’s not about providing direction and instruction. Mentoring is directed by the mentee, not the mentor.
Mentoring is not management, and it’s not about providing direction and instruction.
Let’s look at three different ways to implement mentoring in your organisation — developing an internal program, using a professional organisation, or helping employees to seek their own mentors.
You don’t need to be a massive organisation to have an internal mentoring program. At Amplify HR we develop mentoring programs with clients with as little as 30 to 40 employees. You’ll find that when you offer mentoring, usually only a handful of people put their hands up. So if you have 40 employees you may only have two or three that are actually interested and committed to participating.
Developing an internal mentoring program might seem like a lot of effort for just a couple of people, but it really only takes a few steps that are not very onerous.
Program Overview Document
The most important thing you need to set up your program is a document outlining the roles of the mentee and the mentor and the responsibilities of each of them. This helps to manage expectations and to determine if people are actually serious about being a mentee or a mentor.
These documents should only be a couple of pages long. They should outline the purpose of mentoring, which is to support the development and growth of the mentee. They should make it clear that the mentee must take control of the process, including arranging meetings, setting the agenda and setting the program goals.
Just as important is having a mentoring agreement. Again, these should be very simple, perhaps half a page, setting the terms of the relationship. For example:
- discussions are confidential
- the mentee is responsible for leading the meetings
- the mentor will not talk to the mentee’s manager on their behalf.
You’re really just taking that overview document, and putting it into an agreement so everyone is clear on the scope of the arrangement.
What Happens If It’s Not Working?
Sometimes you can match a mentee and a mentor together, but the mentorship doesn’t work out. Maybe someone fails to attend meetings or there’s a personality clash.
So your program should outline a process for what to do if this happens. For example, what steps should the mentor and mentee take to bring things back on track? And if that doesn’t work, who should they talk to about it?
The mentorship focuses on the needs of the mentee, but it’s just as important to provide mentors with some structure around mentoring. Remember that just because somebody is a manager, or they have a lot of experience in a particular area, doesn’t mean they necessarily know how to mentor. Mentors can sometimes default into managing mode where they just tell the mentee all the things they should be doing. This is not really what we’re looking for in mentoring.
Provide mentors with some structure around the role and the steps involved. For example, when the mentee and the mentor go into that very first meeting you don’t want them looking at each other and saying, ‘Okay, what do we do?’
In the first meeting, the mentee and mentor should set goals for the program, but it can be hard to get into this discussion. Give mentors a list of questions to ask upfront, to help them start that initial conversation. For example:
- how is your current project going?
- how is your current role going?
- Is there any advice that I can provide to you?
- Are there any projects you would really like the opportunity to work on?
- What parts of your job do you want to develop more skills in?
- Is there anything that you would like to ask me about my career path to help your own career objectives?
- Who do you really admire?
- If you had million dollars, what would you do every day?
These questions will help direct goal setting, and these goals will provide the structure for the period of the mentoring program. Some mentee goal ideas might be:
- for the mentor to introduce them to some industry context
- to get advice around their career path
- to understand more about the mentor’s career path
- to discuss things that worked really well for the mentor in their career, and things that didn’t, and gain from that experience
You need to provide the mentor with support, but it must be clear that the mentee drives the program, and the mentee sets the goals. This means the mentee is the one who sets up the meetings and monitors progress.
The first meeting should also set a schedule for meetings — perhaps fortnightly or monthly. It’s also important to have clear start and end dates for the mentoring program. The relationship may continue beyond the end date, but the mentor shouldn’t feel obliged to keep making time for regular meetings with the mentee.
If you don’t have the internal resources, or you don’t think you have enough people to do an internal program, take a look at programs offered by professional associations. For example, the Australian Human Resources Institute has a mentoring program with two intakes each year. Many different financial, professional organisations and engineering organisations do the same.
Find out if there’s a professional organisation in your employee’s industry that has a mentoring program. Costs and intake timings can vary — organisations commonly offer one or two intakes per year.
Mentorships with professional associations can give employees exposure to other professionals in their area of expertise, usually with a lot more experience than them. For employees in roles like HR or CFO in a small business, where they may be the only person in their profession, this could be a huge benefit.
These sorts of mentorships also offer exposure to other organisations and the chance to increase networks. There is always the risk that employees will find that other organisations have better policies and procedures, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They may develop new ideas to benefit your business. And sometimes employees learn that the grass isn’t always greener.
If neither internal mentoring or professional mentorships are available to you, you can help your employee to seek their own mentor.
These days, LinkedIn offers the simplest way to do this. You’ll see in the profiles of your connections, that people can indicate if they’re open to mentoring. If your employee is not very active on LinkedIn, encourage them to start connecting with people, particularly those that say they’re open to mentoring.
Your employee can also reach out and ask if people are interested in a mentor role. You might be amazed at how many people are more than happy to enter into a mentoring arrangement, provided that it is for a set amount of time, and that the mentee commits to being the one to drive the relationship.
Use Your Own Networks
If your employee doesn’t have a lot of LinkedIn connections, or they’re not confident approaching people you can also help them by reaching out to your own contacts, especially if you have a lot of connections within LinkedIn.
Sometimes it helps to have a third-party referral to say, ‘Hey, my employee Jeff, is really great at marketing, but he needs some more exposure to communications, particularly on social media. I can see that’s an area of your expertise, is there any chance you’d be open to a six-month mentoring program with him this year?’
A lot of people are really flattered by approaches like this and will agree. Some people might respond by saying ‘Look, I’m really sorry, I don’t have the time. But hey, I know this other person, that may be a good match.’
Use Your HR Consultant
Another avenue, that many of our Amplify clients use, is to ask your HR consultant. You can say, ‘Hey, Jeff is really keen to develop his communications skills. Do you know someone who can mentor him?’. HR consultants are across a number of organisations and they may well know someone who’s a great fit.
Evaluate the program
No matter what kind of mentoring you arrange, it’s a great idea to get some feedback from both the mentee and the mentor at the end of the program. Ask them:
- How did it go?
- Did you meet on a regular basis and stick to the meeting schedule?
- Did you keep minutes of your meetings?
- Did you develop clar goals?
- Did you have a to-do list?
- What did you develop?
- What did you get out of it?
- What are the next steps?
- What else would you like to develop?
- Are you interested in doing another mentorship?
Part of doing this is to encourage the employee to reflect on what they got out of the program. They may be surprised by how much they developed, and it will give them a strong appreciation of the support and progress offered by your organisation.
And there’s no reason why they can’t go on to do another mentoring program with a different mentor, which is why it’s great to ask some future-focused questions when you evaluate the program.
Mentoring enables personal development for your employee, and also brings in new skills, experiences, ideas and mindsets to benefit your organisation.
I’ll talk more about developing employees in my next post. We’ll look at what to do when you have a great employee, and you’re worried they’re going to go to a larger organisation to expand their skills.
Listen in for more on providing mentorships
For more discussion: listen to my FIND. GROW. KEEP. podcast episode on providing mentorships with more tips and examples.
Have your say
Have you arranged a mentorship for an employee?