Mentoring for Employee Retention

Like most business owners, you’d love to start the new year out strong, but the effects of the Great Resignation, the ongoing talent shortage and the lingering pandemic may be dragging you down. If that’s the case, Dr. Sherry Hartnett, a marketing and leadership expert, encourages you to explore mentoring. “It’s one of the most powerful things you can do to create a more productive, engaged, and committed workforce,” says the coauthor of High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives, a book she co-wrote with former Waffle House President and COO Bert Thornton.

Here, she answers six common questions about formal mentoring programs.

1. What is mentoring, anyway?

It’s a personal, helping relationship between a mentor – an experienced and trusted advisor, and a mentee – someone who is willing to learn from that experience. Effective mentoring encourages and nurtures mentees by enhancing their knowledge, expertise, and attitudes to enable them to grow and develop.

2. Is there a difference between mentoring and coaching?

Yes! Mentoring is aimed at long-term growth and facilitates broad development and career progress. Coaching is typically for short-term performance. “The way I see it, the difference between coaching and mentoring is the same as the difference between training and development,” says Thornton. “Coaching is more about training to task, while mentoring is about developing someone to their full potential.”

3. What functions does a mentor provide?

Mentors provide role modeling, advice, and friendship. They help develop the mentee’s sense of competence, confidence, and effectiveness. Mentors are teachers, guides, exemplars, counselors, and supporters.

4. What’s in it for a business owner?

Mentoring improves employee engagement and drives up performance. It also makes your workplace more attractive to job seekers, and helps you retain your high performers.

5. What’s in it for mentees?

It helps them to learn the ropes of the business and develop a sense of competence and effectiveness. Mentorship shows them how they should behave in management roles and handle increased responsibility. It also provides employees with an opportunity to develop a network with a broad range of people, which can help with resources, ideas and advice, feedback, and career affirmation.

6. What causes mentoring programs to fail?
• Not enough buy-in at the top.
• The program was thrown together by overextended and overwhelmed people who’ve never built a mentoring program.
• Not training participants enough.
• Mandating that people participate

How to Start a Mentoring Program

Today’s employees, especially younger ones, are looking for companies that provide connection, feedback, and an active interest in their growth and development. They want a strong relationship with their boss, and they want to feel cared about and valued. Mentoring is a way your business can give them all of that. High-Impact Mentoring lays out the steps to building a solid program from the ground up. Here’s a quick overview of that framework.

Define your “why.” For instance, do you want to retain valuable employees or onboard high-potential new hires? By articulating how mentoring will improve your business, you can thoughtfully shape a successful program.

Set goals and metrics. You might want to increase employee retention by 10 percent, or double the number of women managers within 18 months. Tracking this data will tell you whether your program is succeeding and what you may need to change.

Start small. Systems should be in place for selecting mentors and mentees, training and communicating with participants, and evaluating the program. Remember, the enemy of greatness is perfection. It’s okay to start with a small pilot program to work out any kinks.”

Recruit and connect. It’s essential to attract, screen, and train mentors, but don’t make it compulsory. Likewise, decide what your ideal mentee looks like then, thoughtfully match mentor resources to mentee needs. Both parties must understand up front what the length of the mentorship will be (how about a renewable 12-month period?), how often meetings will take place, what the goals are, and that there will be work involved.

Nurture your people and your program. Provide plenty of ongoing support. Find ways to invite regular feedback from each participant and use that information to improve processes.

Measure to improve. Data allows you to review, revise, and continually improve your mentoring program. Informally poll and interview participants throughout the year, and try measuring outcomes semi-annually or annually. Don’t underestimate the little things – small tweaks can lead to significant results!

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