Establishing an Employee Mentor Program

Strong mentorships can strengthen companies

handshakeHappy employees are the lifeblood of a company. One way small business owners can encourage their employees’ satisfaction and professional growth is to establish a mentoring program.

“As we move up the corporate or business ladder, we really need to reach out and help someone else. That’s why mentoring is so important in my company,” says Patricia Troy-Brooks, president and CEO of Advanced Staffing in New Castle, Delaware.

A mentoring program is a concerted way to schedule senior-level employees to meet with junior workers for the purpose of teaching them the skills needed to succeed. The benefits go beyond feel-good satisfaction. Companies with strong programs can enjoy increased customer satisfaction, improved staff performance, and increased workforce retention.

Here are some ways to establish your own employee mentoring program:

Do a survey to discover employee needs. “Regardless of the size of your company, find out what your employees are saying they need,” Troy-Brooks says. “When we’re in management, we think we know what people want, but a survey can reveal what’s really important.” When Troy-Brooks conducted her own internal survey, she discovered that in addition to formal training, her employees valued team-building events that boosted morale.

“The staffing industry is very stressful-it’s like an ‘emergency room’ for other companies who need temporary help quickly. We certainly have skills programs to help our employees do their jobs, but because of the survey, we also decided to plan fun activities,” Troy-Brooks says. For example, Advanced Staffing organizes team-building scavenger hunts, with competing groups that strategically combine junior staffers and senior-level mentors.

When you know your employees’ needs at the beginning, it’s also easier to determine if the program is successful. “You don’t want to wait until the end of a mentoring program to evaluate it,” says A. Tish Mercer, managing partner of ATM Global Resources, a human-resources consulting company in Chicago. “Know what needs to be accomplished at the beginning. The mentee should also know the specific goals they want to achieve, and how being paired with their mentor will accomplish them.”

Set a minimum six-month schedule. “It’s best to craft a program that allows mentors and mentees to meet regularly. I recommend having everyone commit to meeting at least 10 to 15 hours a month, with a minimum six month commitment,” Mercer says. “How that breaks down daily really depends on the availability of the leadership. “She says that the relationship can continue indefinitely, of course, but when you’re planning a program, give other mentees an opportunity to participate.

“Mentors need to be accessible, so they can’t help 30 people at once in a meaningful way,” says consultant Lydia M. Lewis, president and CEO of Lewis Business Services in Houston, Texas. To ensure commitment, limit the number of junior people who can be paired with a senior-level employee.

Encourage socialization skills. Mentoring also involves making sure employees learn soft skills. “Each organization has its own culture. As a mentor, it’s important to help a junior employee become well-rounded and

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