A formal mentoring program aligned to common goals has great benefits

Mentoring can provide numerous benefits to an organization, in addition to the individual rewards it offers to both the mentor and the mentee, says Tim Phillips, COO at Westfield Bank.

“The beauty of it all is you’re promoting internal communication,” says Phillips. “It’s not bringing in highly paid consultants to coach your staff. You’re creating an environment where there is dialogue among different departments and a regular sharing of ideas. The value comes from being consistent as an organization, and discussing who is being mentored and what the content of that relationship is.”

That’s not to say that you want mentors following a script in the way they carry out their respective roles.

“Mentoring isn’t about on-boarding or orienting someone to your organization,” Phillips says. “It’s about providing a real time visual perspective into their career path, and building both leadership and communication skills. When you formalize a mentoring program, your mentors understand what the individual and the organization want to achieve. What’s great is that it can go a lot of different places, as long as they are aligned around that concept.”

Smart Business spoke with Phillips about building a strong mentoring program and how to know when it’s effective.

What benefits can mentoring provide?

As a mentor, you get to meet new people who you might not otherwise interact with on a regular basis. It can help you hone your leadership and communication skills and increase your awareness about the talent in your organization. Being a mentor demonstrates that you care about the organization because you’re helping to develop the next level of leadership.

From a mentee’s perspective, it makes you feel cared about. It can help build your  confidence when you interact with senior leaders and the private nature of it allows you to feel more comfortable in sharing candid dialogue.

Where should you begin in developing a mentoring program?

Be aligned around what it is your company wants to accomplish, whether it’s employee retention, improved communication or to develop the next generation of leaders. Have those things in mind and talk about them with your leadership team and then hold each other accountable to the process.

Take the time to document that process. You don’t want somebody to be mentoring the same person for five years, as it’s likely to will lose its value after a period of time. A mentoring program needs to be set up so that it is beneficial to both the mentor and the mentee and if it’s not, you should mix it up.

How do you identify your mentors?

We look for somebody who has been with the organization for a while, has a good perspective across all areas and can speak to the company’s history. You need a willing mentor, so don’t just assign somebody to be a mentor. The person needs to be engaged in the process and should be comfortable coaching others, otherwise it will be unproductive.

You also want somebody who is a good communicator and a good listener who can articulate on behalf of the organization. In general, a good rule of thumb is to have the mentor be one layer up in the organization from the mentee, in addition to being from a different department. You could do two levels up if there is a specific area of expertise to which you want to expose the person, but one level of separation typically works best.

If you’re struggling to find someone to serve in a mentoring role, go back to the benefits of being a mentor. You don’t want to make someone do it. But if you demonstrate that the person can become a better leader by mentoring someone else, it might change their perception of the opportunity.

How do you gauge the effectiveness of a mentoring program?

If you can find people in your company who have benefited from having a mentor at some time during their career, and are now themselves serving as mentors, that’s a sign that it’s been successful.

If it helps to retain your talented employees, enhances your culture, creates a belief that you care about your people and you are willing to invest in their personal and professional growth, you have strong evidence that your mentoring program is working.

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