How to Develop an Internal Mentoring Program

Invest a little time and effort into molding your company's best young prospects into top performers.
Freelance Writer and editor, Self-employed
August 15, 2012

Take a moment to think about your employees. Most likely, you have a few top performers and a few who are showing potential. Wouldn’t it be great if the "potentials" catapulted to the top and your company experienced a sales boost as a result? This is possible with the help of an effective, internal mentoring program.

Your top dogs are integral to such a program, as they will be the ones doing the mentoring. What’s in it for them? Explain that it will provide them with the opportunity to hone and exhibit their leadership skills and they will be engaged in no time. 

How do you recruit mentees? This shouldn’t be a problem especially if participating in such a program is considered an honor. 

“Participants in a mentorship program should earn it,” says Susan Bender Phelps, founder of Odyssey Mentoring and Leadership, a corporate training company in Beaverton, Ore. “A mentorship program needs to have a path to leadership or advancement for the mentees.”

Bill Rosenthal, CEO of Communispond, a professional communication skills training company in East Hampton, N.Y., sees huge benefit in such programs. 

“Mentoring programs can make a real difference in the dynamics of an organization,” he says. “Success flows upward. You can leverage a lot of human capital when you treat your people right.”

Here are a few tips to get you started.

Identify a program coordinator. This could be your human resources director, executive assistant or special projects person (you could also take on the role yourself), says Bender Phelps. The coordinator is the person who matches mentors to mentees. Choose mentors with good communication skills and mentees that are on the cusp of turning into top performers.

Provide training. Consider enrolling your mentors in a leadership training seminar or bringing in a third-party training expert to prepare them for their new responsibility. If you don’t have the funds to do this, stick with these two basic instructions: 

  •  Ask questions instead of giving advice. It can be tempting for mentors to tell mentees exactly how to solve problems. Instead, teach them to ask questions that might lead to a solution. “Good questions could be, ‘Have you ever had this problem before?’” offers Bender Phelps. “Or, ‘What have you tried?’ or ‘What had you going in that direction and why did you think it would work?’”
  • Give actionable, specific feedback. Words of praise or criticism are only effective when backed up by suggestions on how to improve. Tell your mentors to get specific in order to see results in their mentees. 

Set up a hard structure. Mentorship programs sound great in theory, but can easily fizzle when mentors/mentees play endless games of phone and e-mail tag. Make sure your program is structured with specific meet-up times, recommends Jason Womack, author of Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More.

“It’s a good idea to meet a set number of times and always have the mentee ready with questions,” he says.

Identify goals. Bender Phelps recommends setting up three goals for being in the mentoring program and making them measurable and specific.

An unspecific/unmeasurable goal: "I want to be a better sales person.

A specific/measurable goal: “I'm producing $100,000 per month in sales and I’m making X. In the next three months, I want to consistently produce $120,000 per month in sales," Bender Phelps gives as an example. "That way, both the mentor and mentee can identify the moment when the goal stayed on-track or veered off-track.”