effective mentorship program

Developing a mentorship program

Given that more than five decades of research show that mentoring can transform lives and careers while bolstering retention and maximizing employee potential, it is unsurprising that mentoring programs have become popular corporate initiatives. More than 70% of Fortune 500 companies have put in place some form of mentorship program, and about a quarter of smaller companies have done the same.

Even though they are created with good intentions, mentoring programs risk floundering, falling flat, and even becoming detrimental to the company and to employees.

The challenge is that creating and sustaining a successful program is more difficult than many realize. A successful program requires leader buy-in, clear goals and objectives, as well as the appropriate resources, program structure, mentorship structure, and program lead. Also critical is selecting the right mentors. If a program lacks even one of these seven elements, the chance of success is slim.

Leader Buy-in

For mentors and mentees to dedicate time to a mentoring program and to the mentoring relationship, they need to understand where the program and relationship fall on the continuum of their priorities. When the leader of the organization makes it clear that the program is a high-priority activity and has their full support, the program is more likely to gain the commitment of participants and the organization.

If the program does not have buy-in, getting the appropriate resources, program lead, and participants will be difficult. What’s more, if the leader is not bought-in to the program, there will not be the accountability necessary to help drive and sustain the program.

Goals and Objectives

A mentoring program with the goal of breaking down silos within the organization will look different than a program with the goal of building a bench of high-potential leaders. Before you begin developing your program, getting clear on the goals and objectives of the program is critical.

Once you are clear on the goals and objectives, the program can be developed with the end in mind.


Mentoring programs are not free to implement. They require a significant amount of dedicated time not only by the program lead, but also by the leader of the organization, mentors, mentees, and others. In addition, financial resources must be allocated to trainings, events, and, in some cases, the cost of bringing in a consultant or organization to help develop and implement the program.

While these expenses are not insignificant, keep in mind that the top benefits to organizations with formal mentoring programs include higher employee engagement and retention, support for the growth of high-potential employees, the creation of intra-organizational relationships and collaboration, and knowledge management and transfer.

Sodexo tracked its mentoring program outcomes and results closely and determined the program had an ROI of 2 to 1, mostly attributable to enhanced productivity and employee retention.

study conducted by researchers at University of California-Santa Cruz estimated that an investment in mentoring programs for new teachers saw a return of 50%.

Program Structure

Putting structure to your program will make it easier to execute and sustain and will have a positive impact on its effectiveness. That said, there is a balance. If a program is too structured, it can become onerous, formulaic, and can negatively impact the effectiveness.

Here are some things to consider when developing your program structure:

  • Duration
  • Format
  • Cadence
  • Events
  • Trainings
  • Number of participants
  • How participants will be selected

Mentorship structure

Getting the mentorship structure right is critical to the effectiveness of the program. Possible mentoring structures include reverse, peer-to-peer, and leader-to-developing leader.

Consider too whether pairings will be made within or across divisions, geographic locations, etc.

Program Lead

A mentoring program is not something you can “set and forget.” A successful program requires ongoing support and attention. Having a program lead who is managing the day-to-day as well as the longer-term needs of the program is important.


Even the best-designed program will not succeed if you have poor or marginal mentors. In fact, research finds that while good mentoring may lead to positive outcomes, bad mentoring may be destructive and in some cases worse than no mentoring at all.

An effective mentor has functional skills, foundational virtues and abilities, and fundamental relational abilities.

Functional skills include generous listening, affirmation, challenge, feedback and insider information, networking, visibility, intentional role-modeling, professional socialization, advocacy, and increasing mutuality and collegiality. Research shows that these skills can be instilled and refined through mentor development training.

Foundational virtues and abilities include personal integrity, good judgement around boundaries and confidentiality, and an inclination toward caring and acting with their mentee’s best interest at heart. Fundamental relational abilities include other-oriented empathy and self-awareness. A mentor training workshop will not instill these virtues and abilities; therefore, it is important to select mentors who demonstrate them already in daily practice.

While bringing in a consultant or an organization is not required, it can be helpful if you have not developed a program before. Whether you choose to seek help or to develop a mentoring program on your own, be strategic in the planning stages and be sure to build in opportunities for evaluation and feedback once the program has been launched. When taken together with the seven elements that support a successful program, your mentoring program will be more likely to transform lives, careers, and the organization.