Think back to your first job out of college. You were probably excited and wanted to learn everything. You may even have been eager to work your way up in the company.
What about now? Are you still at the same organization you joined right out of high school or college? Most people aren't. For one reason or another, people leave. They find new jobs with better opportunities, or more fulfilling work. That can be a problem for the organizations they leave behind, associations included.
Many associations struggle with employee turnover for a number of reasons. The stress that comes with a bare-bones staff doing many different tasks may be one contributor to turnover. The lack of advancement opportunities and professional development may be another.
Research from Bassi Investments indicates that a lack of professional development opportunities is also one of the major reasons why employees leave organizations. That means providing your employees with skills training and a career advancement path may help reduce turnover. Unfortunately, since a lot of associations are working with a small staff, there may not be many paths forward for employees.
So how can associations offer more professional development opportunities?
An effective employee mentoring program is one of the most effective options. Mentoring programs provide ongoing development that teaches employees the skills they need to succeed at their current job, as well as those they need for career advancement. A great mentoring program can benefit everyone involved, including both the mentor and mentee. It can even help reduce turnover.
5 Steps to Start an Effective Employee Mentoring Program
The best mentoring programs aren't designed in a day. To implement the most effective and valuable mentoring program possible, follow these five steps and ensure the needs of your organization, your mentors, and your mentees are taken care of.
Step 1) Set a Framework
The nitty-gritty part of the process, a solid framework will help your mentoring program hit the ground running. Start by answering essential questions. For example:
- How long will the program last?
- How often will mentors and mentees meet?
- Where will participants meet?
There should be a time limit included in your program. Usually programs last several months to a year, giving employees enough time to learn, but not long enough to grow bored. When the program ends, allow some downtime so participants can put what they've learned into practice.
Your framework doesn't have to be hard and fast. Build some flexibility into the program so that it can evolve to meet your employees' changing needs. Encourage participants to set their own guidelines as well. Mentors and mentees should feel comfortable discussing what they want to learn from one another at the very beginning, for instance. The clearer the expectations are, the more productive their time together will likely be.
Step 2) Secure Participation from All Levels and Departments
Getting buy-in from all parts of your organization is not always the easiest part of designing a mentor program, but it is essential. The best employee mentoring programs include staff from all levels and departments.
The more options available for mentors and mentees, the more likely it is that participants will be paired with someone they can learn from. For instance, by working with those from another level, employees may gain the skills they need to move up. By working with someone from another department, employees may be able to change their career trajectory in a way that makes them more satisfied professionally.
Expert Tip: If you're having trouble getting participation from top executives or a certain department, ensure that everyone understands the importance of the program. Clearly explain the value of mentoring, and how the program can solve the problems that your executives have.
For example, what if your membership director doesn't full understand how Snapchat could benefit your association? Or maybe they're having trouble engaging millennials. The perspective of a tech-savvy millennial mentee might help.
Step 3) Match Mentors and Mentees Based on Interest and Direction
Some traditional mentoring programs match employees with supervisors and managers in their departments, but don't be afraid to go beyond this. Mentors and mentees don't necessarily need to be from the same arena.
Match partners based on what they want to learn and where they want to go in their careers. This will often help increase satisfaction with the program, and improve the way employees see your association's developmental opportunities.
Think about a situation like this:
You have a top employee working in member services who wants to move into the IT department. If you match that employee with an IT professional, they'll likely learn a lot about the field they're interested in. At the same time, that employee will be more likely to feel that their job at your association is benefiting them, even though they're not technically working in their chosen field. Why? Because you're still helping them move toward their chosen field.
By allowing partnerships from different departments, you may also improve cross-training and encourage employees to be well-rounded. After the program, your member services representative may even be able to help fix a few technical issues while your IT manager is on vacation.
Step 4) Empower Both the Mentor and the Mentee
Mentors have a lot of skills and expertise that they can teach their mentees, but remember that mentees have a fresh perspective and specific skill sets that they can teach mentors as well. That means that one person should not own the mentor-mentee relationship, both people should.
Encourage your mentors to teach employees the skills they need to advance in their career or become more well-rounded team members. At the same time, empower your mentee to speak up and share their thoughts. Their perspective and fresh take on the market could help bring mentors up to date on other employees in the organization or recent trends.
When both partners have a voice in the program, it's more likely that they'll both benefit, walking away with useful skills or fresh ideas.
Step 5) Provide Feedback Opportunities
Your mentors and mentees should also feel comfortable providing feedback to one another and your association. What was helpful in the program, and what wasn't? Are there suggestions for future programs? Encourage feedback both during and after your mentoring program.
Make sure employees know how seriously you take their feedback. If they understand how valuable their input is, they'll feel more invested in the program. They'll also be more likely to give you helpful information that you can use to improve future mentoring opportunities.
Expert Tip: Have someone who is not participating in the program and can be objective, deal with the feedback. This will help make employees feel more comfortable sharing their opinion. It also provides a sort of feedback filter, giving you a chance to phrase any negative feedback in a constructive manner before others see it.
Employee Mentoring Program Takeaway
Your employee mentoring program should not end after one cycle. Take a break to allow employees to use what they've learned and give yourself time to adjust the program based on feedback, but then start the program up again. You could begin a new program six months after the first one ends, for example.
By creating an ongoing, off-and-on program you give employees who learned a lot the chance to continue working with a helpful mentor. When you end one program and starting a new one you also give employees who are interested in learning different skills the chance to change their mentor or mentee during a new program.
Use these steps, a set time frame, and break in between programs to encourage employees to learn and put new skills into practice. The continuing program will help provide the professional development your employees crave, making your association a more positive, productive place to work.