• How to Implement a Mentor Program on a Small Budget

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    There’s been a lot of talk over the past several years about the younger generation’s desire for mentors. It’s an odd combo of wants for them. They’ve been told for decades by their helicopter parents that they can do anything. But in spite of that constant reassurance, they desire a consultative relationship with someone who knows what they’re doing, someone who’s been around the “rodeo” a few seasons.
    While you may dismiss that need in your business or think you don’t have time to address it, you might need to change that thought and consider helping carve, if not a formal mentorship program, then at least the beginning of an exchange. Here’s why it’s desperately needed and how you can do it even if you don’t have a large budget or operation.


    Reasons for a Mentorship Program at Work

    • Millennials desire it. Let’s face it, they’re already the largest generation in the workplace. Like it or not, we’ll need to adapt (at least to a certain extent) to what they want. Sheer numbers dictate that.
    • People who have friends at work are more likely to stay and be engaged in the workplace.
    • It helps career pathing. If a younger person can understand how to navigate situations that may have made them leave had they not had a mentor, that’s a good thing.
    • Your manager(s) likely don’t have time to give the kind of guidance this generation wants. This will take some stress for constant feedback off of your middle management and supervisors.
    • The closer your younger generation and more established employees get, the better working environment you’re creating. Some of the natural stereotypes may fade when they get to know one another better.
    • If you do decide to initiate a formal mentorship program, it can be sold as a company perk or benefit. 
    So let’s assume you like the concept but aren’t sure how to implement it. Here are a couple of ideas that can help a small business move in the direction of mentorship.

    Gauge Interest and Expectations

    Before launching anything, or investing any time or money into the idea, find out which of your employees are interested, if any. Assuming there are some, ask them what they envision in a mentorship program. What are their expectations? What do they think a mentorship program is? How would they (and how will you) gauge the success of the program? Try to make results as quantifiable as possible. Don’t just say you want it to improve morale. How will you know if it does?
    Use this information to design whatever program you implement. For instance, after talking with your employees you may find out they’re more interested in career pathing than a traditional mentor relationship. If that’s the case, go in that direction. Listen to your employees.
    Another reason to ask employees’ opinions is that those who help design a program are more apt to support it. If they feel like they’ve given their ideas, and you’ve used them, there will be a sense of pride and a desire to support the business’ efforts.

    Implement the Kind of Program You (and your employees) Want

    You don’t have to implement a full-blown traditional matchmaking mentorship program (although, if you want to that is an option). But assuming you’re not quite ready to do that, here are a few ideas of how to incorporate aspects of it on a more manageable scale.
    • Create a mentorship group, not a one-on-one program. You can organize a group of interested people and bring in speakers on specific topics once a month or on the timeline that fits your schedule.
    • Check with your chamber to see if they already have a mentorship program in place. No reason to recreate the wheel for your employees if a local program already exists.
    • Try a beta roll-out. Start a mini-program to gauge how successful and fulfilling it is for your employees. If it works well, roll it out on a larger scale.
    • Start a lunch group and place an interested employee in charge. If interest is on the smaller side, place the employees in charge of the organization of it. Just make sure that you create a mentor/mentee relationship with those organizing it so you don’t end up with a lot of eager mentees and no one to mentor.
    • Empower your managers to be mentees to their groups and communicate the importance of this.
    • Create a flash mentoring program. This can help people with an immediate concern. You could create a “board” of mentors and invite employees who are looking for guidance on a focused issue to talk to them on a one-off basis. This is often a popular option for people who don’t want to commit to an ongoing program.
    • Try a reverse mentoring group. Mentorship needn’t be a one-way street of the established employees helping the inexperienced ones. A reverse mentorship program can connect established employees who require help in certain areas of their professional lives with younger people who can assist them. For instance, aiding them with social media questions or giving tips on recruiting younger people may be valuable topics for this sort of exchange.

    Outlining the Specifics

    Any program, large or small, requires a couple of basic things. Give thought to:
    • How will enrollment occur? Is it open enrollment and employees can join at any time? Is it invitation-only?
    • What format works for your business? Remember, the answer may be signing on with a program that is already established, like a chamber mentorship program.
    • How long will it last? Is it something you’re offering for a short time that employees can choose to continue on their own after you match them or do you plan on continuing it for the foreseeable future?
    • What are your business goals for this program, if any? There are a lot of benefits that come out of mentorship programs like improved company culture, boosts in morale, increased retention so you would be well-served to collect data and monitor its success.
    If your employees are clamoring for more feedback or direction, if you want increased engagement and retention, implementing a mentor program could be the right fit for your business. However, not everyone has the ability to create a full-blown mentorship system. If you fall into that category, there are alternatives. The first place you may want to check is with your chamber of commerce or a young professionals group in your area.
    Even if you don’t think you have the resources to create a program like this, doing so can become a big enticement for recruiting younger people to your company in the future.
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