When John Fairclough started his facility maintenance company, The Resicom Group, he had only a few employees and enjoyed interacting with each one of them. As time went on, the company, based in Lemont, Illinois, grew and Faiclough felt more and more disconnected. So he decided to implement a mandatory mentorship program to help fill the gap.
His first step was to define the goals of the program. “I felt that there was a relationship gap between employees and leaders in the company—I wanted to bridge that gap. I also wanted the program to demonstrate that we have excellent leadership.”
After defining his goals, Fairclough determined what he did not want out of the program, which included mentors counseling their direct reports. “I didn’t want anyone to feel unsafe with what they were telling their mentors,” he notes. “I also didn’t want the mentor to be in charge. I wanted the relationship to be led by the mentee, by their needs and goals.”
Determining logistics was next up in the program planning process. Fairclough decided mentors and their mentees would meet four times per year formally.
Then it was time to pair people up. “This was the tricky part,” he says. “I explained a few rules to mentors. They were to keep things confidential and not to try to solve their mentee’s problems; just listen.”
Five years after implementing the program, “it is going phenomenally,” he says. “We have 75 full-time employees and I am finding that the mentors and mentees absolutely love it. As for members of my management team, they are mentored by persons in outside leadership forums.”
Susan Bender Phelps is president of Odyssey Mentoring in Portland, Oregon. She says there are several things that a small business owner needs to keep in mind when launching a mentorship program. First off, make sure to designate a program coordinator. “This person will hold any supporting paperwork including ground rules for participation and contact information [for mentors and mentees],” she says. “This person will also check in [on a regular basis] with both parties to see how things are going.”
Second, determine the length of the mentor/mentee relationship. Bender Phelps recommends a program lasting for at least nine months, and up to two years.
Third, make sure to create a way to evaluate the success of the program. She recommends asking questions such as: Did they meet as outlined? What improvements/changes did the participants report? Were any company milestones reached as a result of the program?
Fourth, she says it is important to create a formal ending to the program, such as a celebration meal. During the ending, participants can have the opportunity to share problems and accomplishments.
Finally, it is a good idea for business owners to survey participants at the end of the program, making sure to ask for ideas on improving the program, she notes. From there, start again.
When creating a mentorship program, it is important for the mentee to set the agenda for every meeting, says Artie Lynnworth, a business consultant based in Jacksonville, Florida and author of Slice the Salami - Tips for Life and Leadership, One Slice at a Time.
“The mentee should set the action plan for the next month,” he says. “A mentorship program it is all about the mentee. If people are happy about their work, they are most likely interested in growing and developing, in which case mentorship can be a great thing.”