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Fostering professional growth: How to set up an in-house mentoring programHeather
Fostering professional growth: How to set up an in-house mentoring program. 

Mentoring provides opportunities for both professional and personal growth. But mentoring programs focus on more than just improving professional practices, they also encourage personal reflection of the mentee’s skills, knowledge and professional values.

As such, in-house mentoring programs create a healthy work environment where communication is encouraged and diverse perspectives are valued. Plus, successful mentoring programs have shown that employee turnover decreases and productivity increases! New leaders emerge and previously unrecognized skills are developed.

Let’s discuss the nine basic steps to get you started on building your own in-house mentoring program:

1. Examine your motivations
This will determine the type of program you create. Are you looking to build skills and retain younger workers? Will your program be about developing leadership potential in key managers? Focus on your specific motivations to make it a worthwhile experience for the program’s participants.

2. Talk to your team
Find out who is interested in mentoring and what they’d want from the relationship. Consider holding an initial meeting where employees can ask questions and get a feeling of how the program will work and what the benefits are. Boost meeting participation by holding it during work hours and raffling off exciting logo’d prizes like embroidered company polo shirts, stainless-steel vacuum bottles or even pizza cutters to take home and stir up buzz.

3. Set parameters
Participants need to know their obligations. Provide minimum expectations (e.g. monthly meetings, weekly communication), and identify how long the initial program will last. This information should be given to all interested parties in an organized format, with all materials neatly put together in a monthly planner or imprinted junior padfolio for safe-keeping and easy-finding later.

4. Get mentor training
Effective mentors help their mentees identify personal goals by creating motivations and incentives for change. Provide your mentor team with resources and education to help them be effective. Consider bringing in a trained expert to facilitate your training and add to the conversation.

5. Start small 
Begin a pilot program with a small percentage of your workforce. Look for individuals who are not only interested in personal growth but who will help grow the program with constructive feedback and suggestions. Choose who you pair up with one another wisely, as their success will largely impact the amount of future employee involvement.

6. Reward
Recognize participant involvement with quarterly “thank you” gifts such as catered lunches, extra vacation days or special gift sets. Our favorites? The Normandy Wine Tasters Gift Set, Roadster Gift Set and the useful Savory Cheese Set. Regardless of what gift you choose, it will be sure to reflect your appreciation for their time commitment and their willingness to grow.

7. Evaluate
Find out how the program is going. Spend some time informally talking with participants throughout all departments. Also consider sending surveys so that people can share confidentially as well. The surveys can either be administered in hard-copy form, or via the Internet using an easy-to-build online survey tool (we like Survey Monkey and Zoomerang).

8. Adjust and Expand
Update your program as needed and begin expanding to more employees. Consider using the company intranet to post profiles of potential mentors and mentees, allowing people to self-select their matches. Continue to reward motivation and participation.

9. Resource
As a final step, you may want to create a company “resource library” filled with relevant books, audio books and online resource links so that mentors and mentees can read and discuss together. Reserve a pool of employee training dollars for mentor-recommended learning opportunities.

When developing a mentoring program, the key is to start small and aim for incremental successes. Once a few people have a good experience, other employees will join in and participate. Good luck!

For more information on mentoring, read our Mentoring Blue PaperSM.

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